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ThinkFirst Program Helps Educate Kids on Head Injuries

Dad helping son with bike helmetMadison, Wisconsin – Some parents may think concussions only occur in contact sports like football. But the reality is that they can occur in any sport or play activity. In fact, the leading cause of concussions in children under four is playground accidents.

To help educate parents, teachers and kids about the dangers of concussions and brain and spinal-cord injuries, American Family Children’s Hospital is sponsoring ThinkFirst, a national injury-prevention program.

Dr. Casey Madura, a neurological surgery resident at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, along with Aimee Lemrise, from the UW department of neurosurgery, began piloting the ThinkFirst program with Verona Core Knowledge Charter School. They shared the results of their efforts at the sixth annual Healthy Classrooms Symposium.

Concussions can occur any time there is a forceful blow to the head or body that results in a rapid movement to the head. Sometime, however, there may be obvious symptoms – a change in behavior, ability to think clearly, or even in physical function. Sometime, however, there are not obvious symptoms and the challenge is that an MRI or similar imaging test may not reveal the injury.

“If you think of it like a computer,” explains Dr. Madura, “it’s a ‘software’ issue, not a hardware one. A scan is not going to necessarily show the extent of injury.”

Approximately one-third of all emergency-department visits by children each year are due to traumatic brain injuries, including concussions. And, more than 51,000 hospitalizations for kids result from traumatic brain injury.

“Neurons can’t grow back,” comments Dr. Madura. “Traumatic brain injuries, including concussions, come with lifetime consequences.”

During the pilot program, third graders at Verona’s Core Knowledge Charter School learned firsthand about the anatomy of the brain and spinal cord. This was followed by a lesson on helmet and sports safety and sportsmanship, along with motor vehicle and pedestrian safety. Another key element to the program is a parent-child seminar where parents can learn important ways to help keep kids safe.

“The goal of the program is to promote a community mindset focused on safety,” explains Dr. Madura.

And while they would like to eventually expand the program to other schools and grades, Dr. Madura pointed out ways that parents and teachers can help kids understand the importance of safety and sportsmanship.

“It’s important to understand the long-term consequences of concussion,” says Dr. Madura. “Even though a young athlete may say he or she is okay, the brain is very vulnerable to further injury.”

Dr. Madura referenced the extensive resources offered by the Centers for Disease Control for parents and coaches to help recognize and understand the consequences of concussions, available at www.cdc.gov/concussion. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also offers a variety of resources, including bicycle helmet safety www.nhtsa.gov/Bicycles, and motor and pedestrian safety at www.safercar.gov/parents.

American Family Children’s Hospital’s Kohl’s Injury Prevention Program and the Kohl’s Safety Center also provide resources on helmet safety, and offer a variety of bicycle helmets for sale, along with expert staff who will help make sure the helmet fits your child properly.


Date Published: 04/22/2013

News tag(s):  safety