Central Cambria targets concussions

EBENSBURG – Central Cambria High School senior Tim Shoff remembers being blindsided by another player during a hockey tournament two years ago in Pittsburgh.

Shoff, the team’s goalie, had his head slammed into the goalpost and then onto the ice as he fell. He said the hit left him dazed but he continued playing. After the tournament, he left the team’s celebration early to return to his hotel room.

“He said his head hurt,” Tim’s mom, Maxine Shoff, said.

Her son had a “goofy” look on his face – he was spaced out and could not seem to focus, she said.

“Out of it, completely out of it,” Shoff said of his injury.

After speaking with his family physician, Shoff was diagnosed with having a concussion and told to refrain from strenuous activity as he recovered.

He also was referred to the school’s concussion management team, comprised of school nurses, teachers and the district physician, who help students who have suffered a concussion slowly readjust to school.

“Hockey players are very common to get head injuries,” said Dr. R. Scott Magley, Central Cambria School District physician and school board member. “That’s a very contact-oriented sport.”

Many students, including Shoff, suffer from post-concussion syndrome as they recover from their injuries, Magley said.

Any student under watch by the concussion management team must be cleared by the district physician and athletic trainer before he or she can return to play.

“We evaluate these kids daily and exercise them … to make sure that they don’t get headaches and that they don’t have problems with their exams,” Magley said.

“If a student has a concussion, whether it be an athlete or a car accident outside [of the district], we will meet with them, and we will follow them for four weeks,” said Michele Aurandt, a certified registered nurse practitioner and Central Cambria High School nurse.

Each student takes a baseline test, Aurandt said. The team then uses that to assess a student’s academic level and progress of recovery in the event of a brain injury, she said.

Members of the concussion management team work to “slow down” the students under evaluation by limiting their cellphone and technology use. The team also works to eliminate school work that causes stressful concentration or headaches, such as exams, Magley said.

“Basically, we’re trying to rest the brain as much as we can,” Aurandt said. “And the teachers here have been very supportive of that.”

“I think it’s so important to have that concussion management team involved because a concussion is like any other injury,” Principal Kim McDermott said. “That team is very proactive in collaborating with our teachers to make sure the right accommodations are in place for the student.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, school officials should focus on increasing the student’s cognitive activity as well as addressing his or her behavioral, social and emotional areas.

Twice a week, Shoff met with the school nurse to perform a cognitive test to track his progress. Before he passed the test, Shoff said even basic subjects were difficult to focus on. Once, a headache forced him to stop taking a math test, Shoff said.

“It was a little frustrating,” he said.

After passing the cognitive test, he took a physical exam: 15 minutes of running in the school gym, without having a headache during or after the exercise. After clearing that, Shoff was back to playing hockey after only two months of recovery.

Academically, a reduced class load, peer note takers, increased repetition and time to complete assignments are recommended for students with concussions to maintain progress in the classroom, according to the CDC.

The student should also be in an adjusted learning environment where they can be moved closer to the front of the class or away from distractions such as bright windows or talkative students.

To meet a student’s emotional needs, the CDC recommends school officials and teachers provide a consistent, structured learning environment and set reasonable expectations.

Apart from trying not to text or use his cellphone, the recovery process was slow but relatively manageable, Shoff said.

“It was good,” Shoff said. “There was no stress or anything.”

Mirror Staff Writer Zach Geiger is at 946-7535.