Two doctors lead Kennedy Krieger’s Concussion Clinic, focusing on getting young people ‘back to normal.’
Jordan Hobson was getting ready for school one morning when she fell down a flight of stairs in her home, hitting her head several times before landing at the bottom. After a trip to an emergency department and an appointment at an area concussion clinic accomplished little in alleviating the 15-year-old’s symptoms, Jordan’s mother, Jackie, learned about a specialized program at Kennedy Krieger Institute.
Led by Dr. Beth Slomine and Dr. Stacy Suskauer, Kennedy Krieger’s Pediatric Brain Injury Program combines compassionate and holistic patient care with cutting-edge brain injury research. Soon, Jordan, who was suffering from hyper-emotionality and constant headaches, was on her way to full recovery.
“It was very real, very awful and very scary,” Jackie Hobson says of the experience.
The Pediatric Brain Injury Program is nationally recognized for treating children and adolescents with intensive rehabilitation needs caused by neurological injury or illness. In 2010, the program added the Concussion Clinic to address the needs of child and adolescent patients who experience mild traumatic brain injuries, such as concussions, but don’t need intensive rehabilitation.
An estimated 2 million children in the United States suffer a concussion each year and thousands more go undetected, according to a recent study in the journal Pediatrics.
Despite the prevalence of concussions among youth, misperceptions and uncertainty about how best to manage them leave many parents frustrated and looking for answers they sometimes feel pediatricians aren’t trained to provide. Many of these parents find their way to Kennedy Krieger’s Concussion Clinic. Their first visit consists of an in-depth medical history, physical exam and cognitive evaluations conducted by an interdisciplinary team of pediatric brain injury specialists.
Dr. Slomine, a neuropsychologist with a sub-specialty in pediatric neuropsychology, says it’s perfectly acceptable for families whose pediatricians are comfortable managing concussion symptoms not to seek additional input at a specialized clinic like Kennedy Krieger’s. But she acknowledges that certain circumstances do warrant a second opinion. For instance, children who have had multiple concussions, pre-existing learning problems or severe or lingering symptoms may benefit from the Concussion Clinic.
“We’re happy to see any child at any time — right after a concussion, or a year after,” says Dr. Suskauer, who is board-certified in pediatrics, physical medicine and rehabilitation, and pediatric rehabilitation medicine.
Dr. Suskauer is quick to note that Dr. Slomine is the lead neuropsychologist for studies exploring cognitive and functional outcomes in children with brain injuries.
“Beth is recognized nationally as the lead person looking at outcomes for brain injuries,” she says of Dr. Slomine, who recently co-edited a book aimed at medical professionals titled “Cognitive Rehabilitation for Pediatric Neurological Disorders.”
Similarly, Dr. Slomine touts her colleague’s roles in research and general leadership in the profession. She notes that Dr. Suskauer co-authored the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s first and only evidence-based guidelines on diagnosing and managing pediatric mild traumatic brain injuries, or mTBIs, released in early September.
Dr. Slomine also shares that her colleague will soon lead a study that will aim to evaluate whether youth who’ve been medically “cleared” to return to sports and other recreational activities still show subtle motor deficits and altered brain activation, as compared to their peers who’ve never had an mTBI.
While the co-directors’ research activities regarding pediatric brain injuries make them leaders in their field, it’s clear that this is not their singular goal. Every new research discovery that Dr. Slomine and Dr. Suskauer make has the potential to better inform how they manage the patients they see at the Concussion Clinic.
“We think about our patients returning to sports safely, what they need for school, and how other aspects of their lives have been affected,” Dr. Slomine says.
The Hobsons appreciated this practical approach to Jordan’s recovery. “The strategy was, ‘Let’s get Jordan back to her regular life,’” says Jackie Hobson. “They took a team approach, and they were all awesome. The doctors talked to Jordan, not at her. They educated her, saying, ‘This is what you can expect, and this is how we encourage you to manage it.’”
The Concussion Clinic professionals, led by Drs. Slomine and Suskauer, met with Jordan every two weeks for a few months after her concussion, overseeing her progress and gradual return to good health. They guided her recovery holistically, thinking beyond just how she felt physically to helping her manage all aspects of her life that were affected by her concussion, like schoolwork, which can suffer when teenagers are trying to get back up to speed after a concussion.
Two years after her concussion, Jordan is a healthy 17-year-old embarking on her senior year of high school, thanks to the expertise of Dr. Slomine and Dr. Suskauer and their shared philosophy: “Let’s get her back to her regular life.”
Elizabeth Heubeck is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.