The concussion recovery journey 10/5

By Sports Medicine & Performance Center staff
Posted: October 6, 2016 - 8:46 AM

Claire Long is an outgoing, passionate young athlete whose life has always been centered on sports. She grew up playing a variety of sports, but had a special love and talent for soccer.

As she approached high school and her play got more competitive, she saw a few of her teammates suffer concussions that affected their play and forced some of them to quit the sport for good.

Claire encountered her own first concussion injury in a basketball game during her freshman year at Shawnee Mission East High School. She hit her head while trying to go up for a rebound.

“I knew something wasn’t right the night we came home after the game,” said Jean Long, Claire’s mother. “She was complaining of a headache, which was rare for her, so I decided it was best to get her evaluated.”

Claire was referred to Dr. David Smith at The University of Kansas Hospital’s Sports Medicine & Performance Center. She was diagnosed with a concussion, but she healed quickly under his care and was able to get back to playing without any problems.

A second concussion
Unfortunately, Claire was injured again later that summer while playing defense in an out-of-town soccer tournament. A ball struck her on the side of her head, causing another concussion that resulted in more severe symptoms.

“I’ve never felt so horrible,” she said. “I remember going back to the hotel and having to sit in a dark room the rest of the weekend because I couldn’t open my eyes and I felt sick.”

Rather than taking her to an emergency room in an unfamiliar town, Jean wanted an expert who knew her daughter’s previous history. So she contacted Dr. Smith and drove her back home for an evaluation.

“I trust Dr. Smith because of his knowledge about concussions and his history with Claire,” said Jean. “He is so thorough, and his matter-of-fact approach was very reassuring to help us stay positive.”

Claire had to stop playing sports and scale back on many activities that summer, which was hard for such an active teenager. But Dr. Smith felt it was also important to keep her as engaged as possible.

“While a concussion is a very serious injury that needs to be closely monitored, research has shown that forcing a young athlete to stop all activity can many times cause more harm than good for the injured brain,” said Dr. Smith.

“Concussion care is unique with each patient. It is really about building an individualized care plan and having the right supportive resources to help the patient and their family appropriately manage it.”

The return-to-play process
Since Shawnee Mission East is a partner school with the Sports Medicine & Performance Center, Dr. Smith was able to care for Claire by working closely with her parents, the school nurse, physical therapists and others. Megan Burki, the Sports Medicine & Performance Center’s head athletic trainer at Shawnee Mission East, played a critical role in that process as well.

“Communication is key when it comes to a concussion care plan,” said Burki. “Dr. Smith and I work closely together, so I knew exactly what the plan was for Claire to help support her.”

Once Dr. Smith cleared Claire to return to play, Burki helped her through the process that focuses on a gradual progression of symptom-free activity. Her 5-step return-to-play process included a series of short runs, light practice warm-ups, then full practices with the soccer team, full warm-ups for a game, and finally a full warm-up and game play.

“Dr. Smith and his team were great about following up with me, and it's so helpful having Megan there through each step,” Claire said.

Today, Claire is stronger than ever. As a junior, she plans to run cross-country, play soccer and participate in other fun activities with her friends.

“Claire has such a positive attitude and always has a smile on her face,” Burki said. “She kept a positive outlook through her whole treatment process, which really helped her heal and come back strong.”

For more sports medicine articles and information on the Sports Medicine & Performance Center at the University of Kansas Hospital, go to or follow @KUSportsMed on twitter.



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