In this photo made Saturday, Sept. 25, 2010, players line up during a 6th grade youth football game in Richardson, Texas. Some of the boys play with a new type of football helmet designed to reduce the risk of concussions. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Brett Sholtis is WITF’s Transforming Health reporter, covering health policy and community health issues that affect Pennsylvanians. Brett strives to share personal stories that have a tie to broad issues and emerging trends. He seeks to give voice to diverse viewpoints, including those of people living with mental illness, disability and those living in poverty. He plays a key role in WITF’s mental health series, Through the Cracks, which reports on problem areas in mental health services and efforts to reduce stigma around those living with behavioral disorders. Previously, Brett was a business reporter at the York Daily Record, where his work included award-winning examinations of the nuclear power industry and food safety. He is a University of Pittsburgh graduate and a Pennsylvania Army National Guard veteran.
(Harrisburg) — The state-funded BrainSTEPS program is raising awareness about the risks of concussions among children and teens.
The group, which was created by the state Department of Health in 2007, helps young people to recover from traumatic brain injuries. It also trains teachers and coaches to identify symptoms and safely return students to school and sports. Traumatic brain injuries range from mild concussions that don’t require treatment to severe injuries like brain swelling and bleeding.
At a recent media event, coordinator Brenda Eagan-Johnson said about 4,000 children and teens are hospitalized with a brain injury each year in Pennsylvania.
Overall, about 22,000 young people suffer from a concussion each year in Pennsylvania, Eagan-Johnson said.
In 30 percent of those cases, the brain doesn’t heal adequately within a month, she said. That’s when a patient is referred to the BrainSTEPS program.
“Some students, not a lot, but some, do take several months to recover,” she said. “And according to the Centers for Disease Control, a very small number may have symptoms that last a lifetime.”
About half of the young people who come to the program suffer from sports-related head injuries. The other half were injured in falls, car accidents or other incidents.
The majority of those injuries are in people aged 14 through 17, Eagan-Johnson said, and the initiative focuses on helping students to heal before they return to schoolwork and sports.
Since the passage of the 2011 Safety in Youth Sports Act, the program also helps schools to comply with the law, training coaches and developing policies on when it’s safe for a student to return to sports.
Eagan-Johnson said concussions are under-reported. She urged parents to monitor warning signs like memory and attention problems and changes in mood and personality.
Returning to schoolwork and sports prior to proper healing can lead to worse problems down the road, she said.