Therapy re-trains the brains of serious concussion sufferers

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by SHELLY SLATER

Bio | Email | Follow: @wfaashelly

WFAA

Posted on November 24, 2011 at 12:00 AM

Updated Thursday, Nov 24 at 2:48 PM

DALLAS - Risky motocross moves changed Dillon Terry's life. As he was competing one day, he catapulted in the sky and fell.
 
"When he did, he landed perfectly wrong," said Terry’s mom, Diana. "His brain shook back and forth inside the skull an estimated 10 to 15 times."
 
Two years later, that concussion is still not fully healed.
 
"I have tiny cuts all throughout my brain," Dillon said.
 
A helmet saved Dillon’s life.

But he's had to start over. He's learning how to count, even re-learning his family members.
 
"I walked over to him and said, 'Do you know who I am?'" his mother said. "He said 'No.'"
 
Then there is Bethany Laprade, a cheerleader who also suffered a concussion.

While cheering at the top of a pyramid, she came tumbling down.
 
"I blacked out and my coach had to carry me out," Laprade said.
 
Bethany lost her memory for three months.
 
"I still today have tons of memory problems," she said. "There will still be little things, and I'll say, 'Oh yeah.'"
 
Both Bethany and Dillon are part of a pilot study called SMART. The Center For Brain Health runs the program, to re-train the brains of kids suffering from concussions.
 
A healthy brain has strong connections. But with a traumatic brain injury, those connections are missing. This program is meant to create new ones.
 
To do that, Dr. Lori Cook works the frontal lobes of the brain - the part that develops in teenage years, for reasoning, planning, and judgment.

Through intense problem solving questions, and a lot of practice, she works one-on-one with students to push the brain to create new connections. Brain imaging tools show the progress.
 
"In the beginning, it's just a mish mash of brain activity," Dr. Cook said. "But after, [it's] a much more organized pattern of activity in the brain."
 
Before the training Bethany says she couldn't reason through information.
 
"It was kind of like my brain was running a marathon, with no training," she said.
 
Now after eight sessions of SMART therapy, both study participants see progress on their brain scans, in school and in how they feel.
 
"I am organizing my thoughts better," Bethany said.
 
"It's helping me understand more," Dillon agreed.

Cook said protecting the brain is particularly important for the young.
 
"It’s important to give a child's brain even more attention and care, because they are still in development really until age 25," Dr. Cook said.
 
And that means no more cheering. And no more competing in motocross. It's too dangerous a risk.

One more fall could do irreversible damage.

E-mail sslater@wfaa.com

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