Brain injury awareness month

March is brain injury awareness month—traumatic brain injury, in even its mildest form, concussion, can result in persistent headaches, sleep disturbance, personality changes, and cognitive deficits. An estimated four to five million concussions occur annually, with increases emerging among high school athletes. Dignity Health is educating students and training coaches and athletic trainers on concussion prevention and treatment methods. Through the Dignity Health Concussion Network, we are raising funds and awareness around sports-related head injury.

Young girl in a soccer uniform stands confidently with hands on hips in a stadium environment

(March 2018) – When the Sequoia Union High School District first learned about the Dignity Health Concussion Network, there were some reservations about jumping right into the program. But through community partnerships, education, and great results the school district has come to embrace the program and is now examining how it may help even more students.

The initial hesitation was natural, says Dr. Karen Li, wellness coordinator at the Sequoia Union High School District, because the program was new and not yet well understood.

“There were some concerns. Is this evidence-based? Is it backed up with data?” she says. High school athletes in the U.S. sustain more than 300,000 sports-related concussions and the risk of Second Impact Syndrome can result in disability or even death.

The Dignity Health Concussion Network is a concussion education and prevention program that combines baseline and post-impact testing, e-learning, and telehealth consulting to champion the safety of young athletes. Dignity Health launched the initiative in 2015.

Marie Violet, a health and wellness director at Dignity Health serving Sequoia Hospital, learned of the program and believed it could be of great benefit to the local school district’s 5,000-plus student athletes. She convinced staff at the Sequoia Union High School District, including Li, to start small and pilot the program at a few schools.

“The initial positive experiences at Woodside and Carlmont ironed out most of the concerns. We saw this was not just about business. This was the medical community helping us,” says Li.

Today, all four schools in the district are piloting the network. More than half of all athletes have completed the athlete-focused e-learning module, Barrow Brainbook, and the neurocognitive testing, ImPACT.

Both Violet and Li agree that this program could not have blossomed without partnerships across the community. Dignity Health Foundation was able to help with funds and the program structure to get started. Palo Alto Medical Foundation helped the schools bring on athletic trainers. Suzanne Lim, a Dignity Health Sequoia Hospital RN, and Vicky Fukuhara, a speech pathologist, lead the coordination and administration of ImPACT testing with student-athletes throughout the school year.

“The medical community has every reason to work on prevention for these young brains and the school needs to see how to incorporate that. It takes a lot of trust,” says Violet. “I’m thrilled about the collaboration where the health care agency can work with the high schools. That’s not something that always happens easily.”

The district is now developing a far-reaching protocol, using tools from the Dignity Health Concussion Network, to involve not just athletes and coaches, but athletic trainers, teachers, nurses, health aides, guidance counselors, and others.

“The nurses began saying, ‘What do we do for a student who comes in Monday and over the weekend they fell off a skateboard and hit their head? That’s not a school sport, they were just playing, and things happened.’ Now we’re going to offer that education so everyone understands concussion,” says Li. “We feel strongly that this education has to reach all students.”

The Sequoia Union High School District is also looking at rolling out Brainbook to even younger students through their middle school health programs.

“This is a hot topic,” says Li. “We’re really protecting the brains of our students. In the old days, they would just hit you on the helmet and say get back in the game. Now we know that the brain is precious and here’s what we can do to protect it.”