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New clinics in Fort Worth, Dallas focus on athletes' concussions

Outpatient facilities open in Fort Worth and Dallas

08/23/2012 11:37 PM

08/24/2012 12:04 AM

FORT WORTH -- Lauren Gunter, a Crowley High School softball player, crashed into the ground this spring while diving for a ball. Soon her vision blurred and painful headaches set in.

She later went to see a sports medicine physician and learned that she had a concussion, despite the fact that her head didn't take the brunt of the fall.

"I just jarred myself so hard when I hit the ground and they said it was really bad," said Gunter, 18. "It was like whiplash."

Hospital officials say Gunter and other young athletes would benefit from the outpatient concussion center that opened Thursday at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth. The clinic and a similar one that opened at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas are the only centers in North Texas dedicated to sports concussions, according to Texas Health Resources.

The potential long-term damage from concussions for athletes has raised scrutiny in recent years over whether the injuries are diagnosed and treated properly. Some ex-athletes have shown evidence of trauma-based brain disease, which is thought to lead to depression and other problems.

Last year, a Texas law started requiring, among other things, that high school athletes who show concussion symptoms be pulled from competition and receive written medical clearance from a medical provider before returning.

Known as "Natasha's law," it's named after a Texas high school soccer player who suffered a concussion but returned to competition before her injuries healed.

Immediate help

The new centers will help athletic programs comply with the law by allowing young athletes to be "promptly seen by a concussion specialist who can accurately determine whether the athlete may return to competition," said Dr. Damond Blueitt, medical director of the Fort Worth clinic. The centers do not require a referral.

"You see a lot of concussions that go to primary care physicians or other physicians who may or may not be comfortable treating them," he said. "There are a lot of concussions out there that may go undiagnosed or may not be treated as serious they ought to be treated."

An estimated 140,000 high school students suffer concussions each year, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Access to healthcare professionals with experience treating concussions can be a challenge to some athletic programs, though primarily in rural areas, said Mark Cousins, director of athletics at the University Interscholastic League.

The Fort Worth center has six to eight staff members, which could increase depending on patient volume, Blueitt said. Patients undergo physical exams, balance control and computerized cognitive tests.

While football players are the athletes generally at highest risk of concussions, Blueitt said he also has treated baseball, softball and basketball players.

"You can't do much"

Gunter, a senior who plays catcher, said she suffered a second concussion three or four months after the first one while goofing around with friends at school. Recovery time is tough for a teenager -- not only did she miss time on the softball diamond, but she also wasn't allowed to text or watch television.

The only medication she could take was Tylenol, she said.

Depending on the seriousness of the concussion, some patients have to miss school, Blueitt said.

"You can't do much," said Gunter, who is one of Blueitt's patients. "You just have to lie around."

Alex Branch,

817-390-7689

Twitter: @albranch1

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