When is a headache more than a headache?
The Neurosurgery Outreach Program is helping to highlight the must-knows of brain injuries
By Colleen O’Toole
Traumatic brain injuries can be difficult to understand for both those who experience them and those who treat them. Through the Neurosurgery Outreach Program, SickKids is working to better provide education and integrate access to neurosurgical services within the province. With education comes understanding for patients, families and health-care providers in our community and beyond.
The program is made up of different initiatives directed at health-care providers and the public, and is designed to provide the tools they need to better understand neurosurgical care. It is facilitated by Critical Care Services Ontario.
Elisabeth White works as a nurse practitioner within the program at SickKids. As part of her role, she educates the public on traumatic brain injury, which is a component of neurosurgical care. A hockey mom herself, White began giving talks about concussions in 2014 to the Unionville Minor Hockey Association. Since then she has spoken with parents and trainers in a number of hockey associations in Ontario about recognizing and monitoring concussions.
Concussions are the most common type of mild traumatic brain injury. They occur when the head, face or body suffers a direct or indirect hit and the brain is “jolted” in the skull. White explains that symptoms often include headaches, vomiting, and trouble falling asleep. A child with a suspected concussion should be monitored, and if any red flags occur like worsening symptoms, seizures or double vision, the child must be taken to the emergency room.
“Because concussions are a hot topic right now, people have questions and it is important to have them answered,” White says. “When the public understands more, the outcomes of a potential brain injury can be managed and possibly improved.”
Due to education, public outreach and a better understanding of concussions, many sports organizations are currently providing baseline testing, which evaluates an athletes’ function before they hit the ice or the field. The test is performed by a health-care professional prior to the start of a sports season and if an athlete suffers a brain injury, a comparison can be made.
On June 7, a new bill was passed, named in remembrance of a 17-year-old Ottawa girl who died from second impact syndrome when she suffered multiple concussions in one week. Rowan’s Law will now govern all youth sports with specific concussion guidelines and concussion education must now be included in the Ontario curriculum. White was thrilled by the passing of this legislation and says she plans to continue her presentations and extend them to school groups in the future.
Along with public outreach, SickKids is also focusing on reaching health-care professionals. The latest project by the Neurosurgery Outreach Program is the development of a new provincial guide for the standardized assessment of children with potential neurological decline and traumatic brain injury. Created in conjunction with the CCSO, the Guidelines for Basic Paediatric Neurological Observation were released at the CANN (Canadian Association of Neuroscience Nurses) Conference on June 14.
“We hope that by standardizing the way we treat our patients throughout the province, we will ultimately improve the care they receive,” says White.