Local traumatic brain injury clinic sees huge increase in young patients

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - It's estimated 300,000 athletes suffer concussions every year. That includes student athletes, right here in Central Virginia. Doctors have seen so many injuries in recent years. VCU's Children's Hospital of Richmond decided to opened a clinic specifically for treating traumatic brain injuries in our young.

Since opening in January, the number of patients showing up with head injuries in Central Virginia has nearly tripled. Doctors at the clinic believe it's a sign. More people are taking concussions seriously and more teens are finally getting the right diagnosis and treatment.

Whether it's on the football field, sliding into home plate, or an errant elbow in a soccer match, teens from across our region are ending up at the Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic. They are ending up in Dr. Charles Dillard's exam room.

Dillard asks a patient: "So, how are things going?" The student says, "Oh, it's been good! I took summer school."

Dr. Dillard calls concussions the invisible injury. He says they're tricky and often go miss-diagnosed. "It's not like a broken leg where somebody can't walk. You know, a lot of it is cognitive issues, headaches, problems remembering, problems sleeping."

On this day he's checking up on the recovery of Middlesex High School senior Reese Harris.

"I can't play my drums anymore because the sounds too loud. I have to use ear plugs now," Harris tells the doctor.

Harris suffered two serious head injuries wrestling.

"I went forward, the boy came up and hit me. That was a hairline fracture and that knocked me out. And I came back to and my head slammed and I blacked out again," he said.

Dr. Dillard is testing for problems with balance and concentration. He pushes his hand toward Harris' eyes.

Dr. Dillard: "Problems with that? Causing any headaches or anything?"

Harris: "Um, it's like a slight migraine."

Children's Hospital treated about 97 head injuries over a one year period. After this clinic opened that number skyrocketed to 245 patients in just seven months.

"I think we're doing a better job of recognizing the symptoms. I know when I was coming along getting a ding or just getting your bell run was just part of the game," said Dillard.

Now researchers know concussions can cause permanent brain damage. Repeated concussions can even cause death. You don't have to be knocked out either. Often students get back up and don't even know they have a concussion.

"We were seeing kids who were honor students who all of a sudden were failing or dropping their grades significantly," Dillard said.

Dr. Dillard says the brain is like a snow globe. After a serious hit or fall it stretches. Nerves can shred and neurochemicals get kicked up.

"You take the kid out of school, out of whatever they're doing as far as sports or almost anything fun and you just allow the brain to just kind of reset itself," he said.

The clinic is on Brook Road. It's not just sports injuries. They see children and teens who have fallen off a bike or had a bad car accident. For more information you can call 1-800-443-0893.

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