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Meeting concussions head-on: West Brains Clinic offers workshops for athletes

PEORIA, Ariz. -- With school sports seasons fast approaching, Northwest Valley student athletes will be looking for concussion education courses to satisfy Arizona Interscholastic Association requirements. They have a new resource in Peoria.

Barrow Neurological Institute opened the West Brains Clinic in May and the staff will host concussion seminars to provide information about the head injury, treatment and prevention. The clinic is located within the It’s All in the Game space at 7797 W. Paradise Lane.

“We wanted to expand because there were not a lot of concussion-focused facilities in this area, but there are a lot of high schools,” said Kareem Shaarawy, MD, one of three doctors that staff the West Brains Clinic. “Accessibility to Phoenix (from the Northwest Valley) is sometimes a challenge.”

The AIA, Barrow at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, and the Arizona Cardinals collaborated to create a mandate (Aug. 16, 2011) that all male and female student athletes must undergo concussion education and take a test before playing to follow suit of Arizona law passed in April 2011.

“This is the first program in the country that student athletes have to take concussion education before playing,” said Javier Cárdenas, MD, neurologist at Barrow Neurological Institute, and another doctor who works at the Peoria Brains Clinic.

Dr. Cárdenas specializes in traumatic brain injuries and concussions in children and adults. AIA and the Cardinals approached him in 2010 to create the concussion prevention and education program.

Dr. Cárdenas also has developed a traumatic brain injury program that comprehensively treats mild to severe brain and spinal cord injuries, which was the first in the nation.

Gov. Jan Brewer signed April 2011 Senate Bill 1521 into law, which requires school districts to implement guidelines for students participating in school-sponsored athletic activities.

Peoria Unified School District has a 2-part concussion education program in place, according to Erin Dunsey, district spokeswoman. The first part is a 45-60-minute online program students can watch at home, in school or anywhere else they have Internet access, she added.

“Once they pass the course, they receive a certificate of completion,” Ms. Dunsey stated in an e-mail. “The school is then notified of completion.”

This is a one-time test for students to take some time during their high school career.

PUSD officials also developed their own plan to test and assess the cognition level of high school student athletes.

“The cognitive tests will be taken under the direction of the athletic trainers,” Ms. Dunsey stated.

Coaches and athletic trainers are required to take the same educational-based online training program as the students, she added.

“Student athletes are required to sign a waiver that says they will study the “Brain Book,’” Dr. Shaarawy explained.

The Brain Book provides a variety of information on concussions. In addition to providing the base for concussion workshops conducted by West Brains Clinic, it is available online, according to Dr. Shaarawy. It is modeled from social networking sites and created by Barrow and Arizona State University Ph.D. students.

Student athletes must pass the concussion test with an 80 percent or better score to play in AIA athletics. As a former teacher, Dr. Cárdenas believes testing the athletes on their knowledge at the end of the program was very important.

“There are approximately 3 million sports-related concussions nationally each year,” Dr. Cárdenas said in a May 9 concussion workshop during the West Brains Clinic open house. “Players recognizing the signs and symptoms of concussion can prevent death and disability.”

Dr. Shaarawy said concussions are not limited to high school and other level sports, and they are not unique to younger people.

“Concussion has no age limit,” he said.

People tend to associate concussions with head-to-head contact, but Dr. Shaarawy said it is not limited to only that action.

“We see them in car accidents, routine falls and many other activities,” he explained.

What makes concussions worse is returning to regular activity — whether it be sports, work or others — before the brain has had a chance to recover, according to Dr. Shaarawy. However, there is no specific period of time off that covers all concussion patients, he added.

“Everyone is different, so there is no optimal rest time,” he said.

Doctors prescribe rest for concussions because elevated heart rates and blood pressure aggravate concussions, according to Dr. Shaarawy. Doctors assess the patient’s recovery based on a daily system score, he added.

“The higher the score, the longer it takes before they are released for normal activity,” Dr. Shaarawy said.

Patients can shorten their recovery time by getting more rest, sleeping well, staying hydrated, eating well and avoiding stress, the doctor said.

Dr. Shaarawy also said treating concussions is not just about the physical aspects, including social.

“There are a lot of depression and anxiety issues with concussions,” he said.

There are 22 symptoms associated with concussions, according to Dr. Shaarawy. The most concerning are worsening headaches, significant pressure behind the eyes, vomiting and numbness or tingling in the extremities.

The Brains Clinic at Barrow Neurological Institute, 350 W. Thomas Road, Phoenix, has been operating for three years.

Editor’s Note: Reporter Phoebe Volk contributed to this story.

News Editor Rusty Bradshaw can be reached at 623-445-2725 or rbradshaw@newszap.com.

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