Emerson Hospital to Bring Concussion Testing to Low-Income Schools

A $1 million grant will further concussion education, testing, and research.

Robert Cantu

Robert Cantu/Photo provided

Children under the age of 15 account for 38 percent of emergency department visits for traumatic brain injury, according to a CDC report released Wednesday. But a larger issue, perhaps, is how many children suffer brain injury and never seek treatment at all.

A grant awarded to Emerson Hospital’s Robert C. Cantu Concussion Center may shrink the latter number. The $1 million grant, given by the Oak Foundation, will help Emerson doctors improve concussion care, treatment, and education for local children and teenagers. Further, it will allow Emerson clinicians to perform baseline concussion testing—assessing brain function in an uninjured state, to serve as a comparison in the case of trauma—for students from low-income schools.

“These families [often] don’t have the time, resources, or support in place” to seek testing and care, explains Director of the Center for Rehabilitative and Sports Therapies Terrie Enis. With the grant, Emerson will be able to visit schools, non-profits, and youth centers across the state—it’s already got a list of ideal partners—to provide those services directly.

Robert Cantu, the concussion expert for whom Emerson’s center is named, says socioeconomic factors influence how families respond to brain injury. Studies have shown that lower-income families could benefit from additional concussion education, and Cantu says he’s noticed that families from under-resourced areas sometimes aren’t aware of the hallmark symptoms of a concussion.

“When you’re dealing with education…the public that gets educated in the greatest amount is the most educated part of the public,” he says.

Emerson’s grant will also help Cantu and his team hire more clinicians, and further concussion knowledge and treatment. The money will fund research focused on the Vasper compression and cooling machine and the MyoWorx electronic stimulation system, both of which may speed recovery.

Cantu’s research stands to make a sizable impact on concussion management, but both he and Enis say education and preliminary screening, the kind made possible by the grant, could prevent brain injury in the first place.

“A lot of kids see sports as a way out, as a way to change their life,” Enis says. “With education, we want kids to play sports. But we want them to do it safely.”