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UM's concussion program aims to educate young athletes, coaches, parents [Miami Herald :: BC-HEALTH-CONCUSSIONS-KIDS:MI]

In the competitive world of high school sports - where a standout performance can lead to a lucrative college scholarship - many top student athletes want to get back into the game, even after getting injured.

That can be especially true with a concussion, a brain injury that doesn't always manifest immediately recognizable symptoms.

That's why the University of Miami Health System Concussion Program hosted a workshop on Aug. 1 to educate 120 athletic trainers in Miami-Dade public and private schools about concussion management, prevention, and awareness.

UM's concussion program partners with Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the Miami Dolphins Foundation, the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at the UM Miller School of Medicine, Ransom Everglades School, and Gulliver Schools.

"It's important that we educate youth programs so that parents and coaches know what to do," said Gillian Hotz, Ph.D., director of the UM concussion program, which has hosted the program for five years.

From UM's countywide high school program, which includes 35 public schools, about 200 concussions are reported per year, Hotz said.

In 2013, almost 330,000 youths 19 or younger were treated for a sports-related concussion or traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But that number only includes diagnosed cases. The real number might be 50-75 percent higher as many athletes don't seek treatment, say UM concussion experts.

"The most commonly expressed view after a concussion or head injury is that the parent or athlete didn't know the signs and symptoms of a concussion," said Michelle Benz, the athletic trainer at Palmetto Senior High School in Pinecrest.

UM's program is educating trainers, coaches, parents, athletic directors, and most importantly, the student athletes.

"UM does this annual program every year that does a spectacular job of uniting us toward a common goal," Benz said.

The recent program at the Lennar Foundation Medical Center in Coral Gables included a demonstration of an assessment of a player who is pulled from play, a concussion-protocol review, a review of vestibular, or balance, issues associated with mild traumatic brain injuries, and baseline and post-testing tools used to assess concussions.

Although a concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury, one that goes untreated (or multiple instances) can result in permanent brain damage. Symptoms of a concussion include but are not limited to headaches, dizziness, confusion, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and sleeping difficulties.

"About 58 percent of concussions result from football," Hotz said. "The girls' concussions typically come from soccer and basketball."

Danielle Ransom, a clinical neuropsychologist and a UM assistant professor of neurology who specializes in sports-related concussions, led a workshop about testing. In baseline testing, student athletes are tested ahead of time so that if they get a concussion, doctors can examine the brain, pre and post injury, to assess any potential damage.

"We now have a grown awareness of concussions and doing this training every year ensures that our athletic trainers are up to date with recommendations and guidelines," Ransom said. "It's key to make sure that our student athletes are able to return to play safely."

The stigma around concussions is evolving, and the "let-them-play" mentality has become less common in recent years, Hotz said. Parents and coaches are much more hesitant to allow a child to play with a brain injury.

"Knowing that our athletes are better protected in the event of an injury has shown that they're not as fearful to come forward with a concussion," Ransom said.

Ransom urges student athletes to talk to their doctors and athletic directors about concussions to stay informed.

"Don't resort to Google," she said. "Enjoy your sport, this is your time to play, but play safely."

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