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HAMMOCK: GMC's Concussion Institute life-changing for Gwinnett athletes

The Concussion Institute at Gwinnett Medical Center-Duluth, which begins working with patients next week, is currently operated by (left to right) Tim Simmons, Ashley Feeney, Marla Shapiro and Stephanie Gentry. The new venture will offer patients unparalleled care for head injuries, particularly important in sports-heavy Gwinnett. (Staff Photo: Will Hammock)

The Concussion Institute at Gwinnett Medical Center-Duluth, which begins working with patients next week, is currently operated by (left to right) Tim Simmons, Ashley Feeney, Marla Shapiro and Stephanie Gentry. The new venture will offer patients unparalleled care for head injuries, particularly important in sports-heavy Gwinnett. (Staff Photo: Will Hammock)

Sports dominated the majority of my youth, whether it was tackle football in the neighborhood, competitive soccer league play or kickball at the school.

Through it all I had a few injuries — a twice-broken leg from soccer included — but never a concussion, which probably says less about my toughness and more about my lack of speed or leaping ability to do any serious damage to my head. I may have suffered a concussion from a crowd-surfing fall in the late 1990s, but that’s another story.

That said, I’ve seen countless concussions both as a player and a sports writer. Enough to know that it’s a serious problem at all levels, not just to former NFL players whose stories of past head trauma frequent news stories these days.

We see them all the time in a variety of sports, from hard-hitting high school football to youth soccer, and I know one young girl who was concussed by a soccer ball kicked into the back of her head.

The frequency of those head injuries is the bad news.

The good news? Athletes in Gwinnett couldn’t be in a better location for treatment of concussions.

The Concussion Institute at Gwinnett Medical Center-Duluth, which begins treating patients next week, will make sure of that.

The new, state-of-the-art facility is an all-encompassing treatment center for head injuries, one of only a handful of its kind in the country and the only one in the Southeast. A diverse group of doctors and sports medicine professionals will offer unmatched care of an ultra-sensitive injury.

“To have this many disciplines under one roof is amazing,” said Marla Shapiro, the center’s neuropsychologist. “It will be a team approach, all in one place.”

Shapiro’s comment stresses one of the center’s primary positives. Instead of driving a child with a concussion from specialist to specialist around the city, parents can get all of the care they need in one place.

The institute will offer treatment paths for neuropsychology, visual therapy and vestibular (inner ear/balance) therapy, working directly with the numerous GMC athletic trainers who abound in Gwinnett County. Those trainers can evaluate athletes immediately on the sideline and if necessary, send them directly to the new office.

The Concussion Institute’s mission is then to get the patients healthy. That doesn’t mean just getting kids back on the field, it also means getting them back to normal in the classroom and in their normal lives.

Tim Simmons, director of the Concussion Institute and GMC-Duluth’s Sports Medicine Program, played a major part in launching the facility and in the implementation of ImPACT Testing, which gives preseason baseline scores that help monitor the severity and recovery from concussions. The GMC database has ImPACT results on file for more than 40,000 athletes.

From a sports perspective, the recovery process at the institute will be cutting edge, too.

“We’ll have sport-specific, position-specific rehab protocols,” Simmons said.

For young athletes, that’s huge. For parents, the Concussion Institute is a blessing.

The office staff already has fielded plenty of calls and inquiries before the official opening, so the initial wave of appointments will come next week. The facility can treat eight kids at a time in patient rooms, while it also features three large rooms for rehab.

It’s a great fit for now. But if the clinic succeeds like I think it will, it won’t take long to outgrow its current digs.

“After we’re established here, we may look at expansion plans and growth into a new property,” Simmons said. “What we’ve built now is the foundation.”

The foundation of something pretty special for Gwinnett’s athletes.

Will Hammock can be reached via email at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.