In November of 2013, leaders at Rothman Institute, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Wills Eye Hospital collaborated to create the Jefferson Comprehensive Concussion Center (JCCC). Located in the heart of the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Robert Franks, D.O. of the Rothman Institute is the medical co-director of the center along with Mijail Serruya, M.D., Ph.D., a top cognitive neurologist at Jefferson.
Now, the professionals at JCCC are celebrating their first anniversay in a big way.
"In our first year, we had 365 days of patients who were not properly educated on concussions," said Linda Fabrizio Mazzoli, MS, JCCC director. "So we partnered with ImPACT for the 365 project; we're giving away a free baseline test for every day we were open."
The free baseline concussion testing is available on a first come, first serve basis to ages 6-years-old and up.
"We've adopted a preventative thought process here," said Mazzoli. "What we're seeing is there's still a huge need for patient education on just having a baseline and knowing where they stand."
Fortunately, in recent years, there has been a much better response in high schools making baseline testing mandatory for their athletes.
"When I first started with Dr. Franks 10 years ago, we were begging schools to do the tests, even offering to buy it for them if they would just implement it," said Mazzoli.
"So now ages 15 and up have the proper testing, but it's more crucial for the younger kids."
Just like growth plate fractures in bones, the brain is very sensitive at a younger age because it is still developing. It's in the younger kids that the doctors at JCCC are seeing the more severe issues in vision, personality, and everyday functionality like reading a book or taking a test.
Second hit syndrome is also a worry in younger concussed patients as that can range anywhere from really bad symptoms, to brain bleeds, to death.
"Statistically, if you look at concussions, 80 percent get that one hard hit and they're symptom-free within the week," said Mazzoli. "But it's that 20 percent whose symptoms go on that we're most concerned with."
Mazzoli says those cases usually have some underlying issues before hand that will often come into fruition after a head injury. Underlying issues can include, sensory processing, cognitive, and emotional issues that make the brain wiring totally different.
It's cases like this that baseline test really comes in handy to show how the patient's brain operated before the head injury occured.
Yet, ImPACT testing is just one piece of the puzzle to treating concussions.
"With concussions, there is no 'most important part', you have to look at the whole picture," said Franks. "When I look at concussions, I look at six different issues: neck pain, vestibular issues, ocular, cognitive, sleep, and emotional issues. Everyone of those aspects needs to looked at in order to treat the patient."
For Mazzoli, the best part of the work is watching their patient's transform.
"We have people come in with that blank look and they don't have the energy to even look at you, but then you watch them go through the program, and suddenly one day they're saying good morning to you, they have a personality again."
The center treats concussions in athletes of all ages, but it's not just tackles on the field. Many of the center's patients are older; a geriatric comes in after suffering a fall, or a middle-aged patient has an accident at work.
"Unfortunately, after our first year, we're busier than ever," said Mazzoli. "Moving forward, we're focused on getting out there and continuing to give more education, and showing why it's important to treat concussions quickly."
"Concussions are like a blank wall, there's no certain pathway. Now, our team is starting to solidify and we can focus on the next steps in our research."