The Scary Thing About Concussions

By Gremlyn Bradley-Waddell

A little more than a year ago, Tatum Brown was having a day most horse-crazy girls only dream about. 
The 11-year-old was astride a rescue horse at a Mesa riding arena, helping train the steed. But then something — such as Tatum’s foot slipping out of the stirrup, perhaps — spooked the animal. 
“She (the horse) freaked out,” recalls Tatum, now 12. “I flew sideways and hit my head on the fence.” 
Tatum, who was wearing a riding helmet, sustained several scrapes. In fact, Tracey Fejt, her mother, says the girl mostly complained of pain to her side while being examined by on-site nurses. All day, though, Tatum also felt a pulsating pain in her head. A registered nurse as well as the outreach manager and injury prevention coordinator for Banner Children’s at Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa, Fejt figured it was a migraine headache, a nuisance with which her daughter frequently contends. But as evening fell and Tatum began vomiting, “I knew we weren’t dealing with a migraine,” Fejt says. 
A visit to the emergency room confirmed Fejt’s suspicions: Tatum had sustained a concussion, a temporary loss of normal brain function. The severity of the injury was not lost on Fejt, whose cousin died from a head injury at high school football practice years ago. 
“My kid could’ve been killed if she’d not had a helmet on,” she says. 
Tatum fully recovered and was cleared to return to riding after a few months. But her experience illustrates the importance of recognizing concussions in children and how they can occur even when a child wears protective gear. In fact, pediatric neurologist Tamara Zach, M.D., of Banner Children’s at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale, cites a report that indicates that for every 100,000 kids, 150 will sustain a concussion. However, since not all concussions are diagnosed and reported, it’s believed the number may be closer to 500 in 100,000.
Zach says parents, caregivers and coaches should watch for a concussion any time a child is struck in the head. While concussions often happen in high-contact sports like football and ice hockey, one can occur after a child falls on the sidewalk and hits his head. And although she acknowledges that one concussion is one too many, Zach says that if the concussion is mild or moderate, generally the long-term effects are minimal. It is important to give the brain time to heal after a concussion, she notes, adding that not doing so could lead to another concussion, permanent brain damage or even death. 
Healing time depends on a number of factors, but a child should always get clearance from a doctor before resuming sports activities, like Tatum Brown did. And while she is sympathetic to those kids (and their families) who “live” for a particular sport, Zach says children who sustain multiple concussions are the ones most likely to face permanent brain injury, and it’s her duty to keep them from harm. 
“If there have been several concussions within a short time period, I will usually say ‘you have to rethink the sport.’”


Tamara Zach, M.D., says a wide variety of symptoms may accompany a concussion, which is essentially a bruising of the brain that leads to a temporary loss of brain function, typically brought on by a blow to the head. Some of the more common symptoms include:

• dizziness
• headache
• nausea
• slurred speech
• vomiting
• trouble concentrating
• memory loss
• fatigue
Some symptoms last a few weeks or even a few months after the injury occurs; patients with a severe concussion may experience symptoms for as long as six months. Also remember, Zach says, that because of their age and inexperience with injury, youngsters may not be communicative about pain or symptoms. Loss of consciousness doesn’t always accompany a concussion, but anyone who passes out or experiences a change in mental status (such as a change in personality or disorientation) after a blow to the head should go to the nearest emergency room as soon as possible, Zach says. But don’t rely solely on a CT scan, she cautions, because the images don’t always reveal the full extent of an injury. “I will do more neurological and cognitive testing,” she
For information, visit Banner Health, search: concussion.