JACKSON, Miss. – Sophia Heffelfinger is an active high school student, but after suffering a concussion, headaches were making school and show choir difficult.
The 16-year-old Madison Central High student was the first patient in a weekly concussion clinic at the Kathy and Joe Sanderson Tower at Children’s of Mississippi. Aimed at getting follow-up care to concussion patients quickly, the clinic was opened by Dr. Michelle Goreth, an acute care pediatric nurse practitioner and a founder of Heads Up Mississippi, a population health-focused concussion awareness and education program.
The clinic is part of the academic practice partnership between Children’s of Mississippi and the School of Nursing at the University of Mississippi Medical Center where Goreth is an associate professor and director of acute/primary care pediatric and neonatal nurse practitioner tracks.
“Care following concussions is essential to recovery,” Goreth said. “The sooner concussion patients can get follow-up care, the better their chances are for making a full recovery. Having a dedicated clinic just for concussion care once a week makes that care available more quickly.”
A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that’s caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or body. The brain moving quickly back and forth or twisting can cause damage to cells and changes in brain chemistry.
Concussion symptoms such as headaches, vision problems, trouble thinking clearly, anxiety, irritability, fatigue, nausea or changes in sleep schedules require follow-up care.
Most children recover from a concussion within a couple of weeks, but some concussion patients will have symptoms for months or longer. This post-concussive syndrome is believed to occur most commonly in patients with a history of multiple concussions, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Every concussion patient is different,” said Goreth.
Post-concussion treatment can include medical management, physical therapy, speech therapy, cognitive therapy, headache care, psychotherapy and more.
“Many times, post-concussion syndrome patients have to cope with not feeling like themselves, and for athletes, not being able to go back into the game can be frustrating,” Goreth said.
On Thursday, the clinic’s first day, Goreth tested Sophia’s balance, looking for other concussion
“I had my concussion in December, but the headaches came back,” Sophia said.
Her mother, Paula Hosapple-Howard, knew that could be a sign of lingering concussion symptoms. A referral from her primary care physician sent them to the concussion clinic.
“People don’t understand that concussion symptoms can be long-lasting,” Hosapple-Howard said.
Concussions can happen to anyone, Goreth said. “Car accidents, slips and falls, and sports injuries are just a few of the ways children and teens can have a concussion that can affect them for months or longer.”
Transitioning back into school activities can require accommodations, so the concussion clinic will work with school districts in developing plans to help patients ease back into a routine, Goreth said.
Dr. Colette Parker, chief of the Division of Pediatric Neurology at UMMC, said a clinic focused solely on concussions is a needed addition to Children’s of Mississippi clinical care.
“We are very excited to have this clinic for post-concussion care,” said Parker. “Caring for patients after a traumatic brain injury and helping them recover is an important part of what we do.”