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GMC-Duluth unveils concussion institute

Staff Photo: Keith Farner Former South Gwinnett High and University of Georgia quarterback David Greene spoke on Tuesday at a sneak peak of a new Concussion Institute at Gwinnett Medical Center-Duluth. The Concussion Institute is the first of its kind in the Southeast and third in the nation.

Staff Photo: Keith Farner Former South Gwinnett High and University of Georgia quarterback David Greene spoke on Tuesday at a sneak peak of a new Concussion Institute at Gwinnett Medical Center-Duluth. The Concussion Institute is the first of its kind in the Southeast and third in the nation.

DULUTH -- As Paige Havens began to tell the story of how a concussion changed her daughter's life, she gave a crowd of about 200 people a warning.

"Hold tight," she said. "I'm a Momma with a cause."

Havens and her daughter Rachel then separately gave their testimonials of how two head injuries suffered playing soccer led to Rachel having permanent scarring on the brain and a seizure disorder. The second concussion came in November 2011. Among the symptoms Rachel suffered as a result of second impact syndrome, which came after one concussion was not properly diagnosed or treated, were 132 straight days of headaches, severe depression and post-concussion syndrome.

"The injury was invisible," Rachel said. "I didn't have a cast on my head."

Rachel said translating English to Spanish was virtually impossible, and it was a struggle to finish a school day.

"People just didn't get it," she said. "We joked that I needed to wear a T-shirt, 'I'm concussed, please go slow."

The Havens told their story on Tuesday at a reception to unveil the new Concussion Institute at Gwinnett Medical Center-Duluth. The facility is the first of its kind in the Southeast and the third in the nation. GMC representatives visited a similar facility in Pittsburgh to gather information after the idea to have such a facility came five years ago.

The institute is based on a model where concussion injuries and sports rehabilitation are all under one roof. It's scheduled to open in August when many school-aged athletes return to the field.

It will be housed in a recently renovated space in the Hudgens Professional Building, and will feature eight exam rooms, three therapy rooms and access to two physical therapy centers in the area.

Former South Gwinnett High and University of Georgia quarterback David Greene said at the ceremony that he could present five different plays on a video screen and attendees could not guess the play where he suffered a concussion.

On the play, Greene said he was tackled and his head hit a thigh pad.

"I could get up," Greene said. "But I couldn't spell my name."

Several speakers at the event referenced the legislation signed in April by Gov. Nathan Deal called the Return to Play Act, which includes developing return to play policies for young athletes who get a concussion and educating parents on the risks of concussions.

Dr. Gary Levengood, a GMC sports medicine physician and orthopedic surgeon, said concussions previously were treated in a haphzard way. Undiagnosed concussions can cause 'A' students to "all of a sudden" become 'C' students.

"An athlete going to school on Monday may or may not be able to perform," Levengood said.

The Havens understand the magnitude of the new facility, and because of that, have pledged to name the first exam room after Rachel, Paige said. Rachel's jersey will hang on the wall to serve as an inspiration for other athletes to never give up.

"It wasn't just a concussion," Paige said. "It changed her life."