Akron Children’s Hospital is launching an effort to prevent Summit County’s youngest residents from suffering life-altering or even fatal injuries to their brains.
The pediatric facility recently received a five-year, $400,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Health to help fund a traumatic brain injury prevention program.
The hospital will hire a traumatic brain injury prevention coordinator for the initiative, said Heather Wuensch, the hospital’s director of community benefit, advocacy and outreach.
Initial efforts will include distributing injury prevention information sheets during well-child visits at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics’ offices and working with a to-be-designated local community to pass rules for youth bike-helmet use, Wuensch said.
“We thought it would be a great opportunity for us to expand some of the existing things that we were doing in order to better serve the community,” she said.
Traumatic brain injury is a broad term that includes everything from mild concussions to blunt or penetrating injuries to the brain, said Dr. Tsulee Chen, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Akron Children’s Hospital.
Short-term symptoms can include headaches, problems with memory and concentration, personality changes, weakness, numbness, and tingling, Chen said.
“Long term, depending on the extent of injuries, some of those issues can be chronic,” she said.“With the severe traumatic brain injury patients, they tend to have lifelong considerations and changes in their lifestyles. It affects schooling. It affects development. It can affect the activities they are or aren’t allowed to do in the future.”
David Haller is one of the fortunate ones.
In 2006, he spent a week and a half in Children’s pediatric intensive care unit after the front passenger-side tire of his family’s Ford Expedition rolled over his head.
His mother, Nairmeen Haller, was moving the vehicle at the family’s Sharon Township home and didn’t realize her son, then 2½, was following her as she left for work.
Haller, director of medical research at Akron General Medical Center, used her CPR training to keep her son alive until emergency medical responders arrived.
He was taken by medical helicopter to Children’s, where doctors initially gave him a grim prognosis. When he left the hospital to go to an inpatient rehabilitation program, he was unresponsive and unable to feed himself.
“They pretty much thought he was going to be bedridden for the rest of his life,” Haller said.
Fortunately, David quickly showed signs of improvement and began talking, eating and walking.
Now an active fourth-grader, David is celebrating his 10th birthday today. The only lingering effects from his ordeal are some vision problems in one eye. He’s also not allowed to play football or soccer because of the risk of a concussion.
“He’s doing well in school,” his mother said. “He’s very active, very rambunctious — a typical boy.”
Haller said she supports efforts to prevent others from facing a similar situation.
Traumatic brain injury is the leading cause of disability and death in children nationwide, according to the Brain Injury Association of America. Each year, these injuries account for about 2,685 deaths, 37,000 hospitalizations and 435,000 emergency department visits among children 14 and younger.
From 2008 through 2012, Children’s provided care to more than 1,800 patients with traumatic brain injuries.
The most common cause for the brain injuries treated at Children’s were falls, which accounted for 38 percent of cases, according to hospital data. Motor vehicle accidents account for about 13 percent of cases, followed by sports injuries (10 percent), bike accidents (9 percent) and assaults (8 percent).
Children’s will work with other community organizations to help prevent traumatic brain injuries, Wuensch said. Safe Kids Summit County already has an initiative promoting the proper use of car seats.
For preschoolers, the new program will promote fall prevention and safe sleeping environments, she said. Among children 15 and younger, efforts will focus on bike helmet use.
The initiative also will work with the hospital’s sports medicine and school health programs to encourage concussion prevention among teen athletes.
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/CherylPowellABJ.