Concussions: Lack of 'Return to Learn' training a problem in Kansas

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Kallie Hutchison undergoes physical therapy tests at Wesley Medical Center's Pediatric Concussion Clinic. Kallie Hutchison undergoes physical therapy tests at Wesley Medical Center's Pediatric Concussion Clinic.
Antonio Carrillo is testing his grip strength after suffering a concussion that knocked him out for several days.  His strength has doubled since the last check. Antonio Carrillo is testing his grip strength after suffering a concussion that knocked him out for several days. His strength has doubled since the last check.
Posters with sports-related concussion statistics cover the walls of every treatment room at the Wesley Pediatric Concussion Clinic. Posters with sports-related concussion statistics cover the walls of every treatment room at the Wesley Pediatric Concussion Clinic.
WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) -

Talk of concussion is more commonplace as organizations from the NFL to your local high school zero in on how to help victims get better.  But there's a missing piece to this puzzle when we’re talking about our kids.

"Some of your really severe concussions might even cause kids to drop out of school for a semester," said Rich Bomgardner, program director of Athletic Training at Wichita State University.

After his own son suffered a concussion playing high school football, Bomgardner discovered something disturbing.  While Kansas has a plan to get kids back on the field, mat or court, there's no statewide plan to get them back to class.

"My wife sent an email to the teacher in his high school and by the next morning we had a reply from one of his teachers that was assigning him a homework project and a deadline before he'd even seen a physician," Bomgardner said.

This spurred him to use his position at Wichita State to do something.

"I started investigating more into what's out there with returning to learn ad what do we have locally," Bomgardner explained. 

The short answer, he found, is not much and we're not alone.

His research showed that while every single state has 'return to play' legislation only five have a plan for students' academic success after a concussion.

Armed with that information, Bomgardner surveyed 1200 Kansas teachers and coaches.  Forty-four percent reported teaching students with concussion based learning problems.  Subjects like math and foreign languages proved most challenging.

Those are results we saw first hand.

"I'd say, like, homework," Antonio said.  "Like, I couldn't concentrate on it."

Last month, KAKE News Investigates met Kallie Hutchison and Antonio Carrillo at the Wesley Pediatric Concussion Clinic.  Both reported having a hard time in school after concussions.

"I couldn't stay in school for more than an hour...I slept all day," Kallie explained.

Much of their trouble in the classroom boiled down to a common denominator: their eyes.

"Vision therapy and understanding how important vision is to academics...blurred vision, double vision.  Students won't be learning at the same level because they can't see things clearly," Bomgardner said.

That's where the Brain Trauma Rehabilitation Clinic at Child and Family Eye Care in Wichita comes in.  Doctor Patrick Pirotte treats students like the WSU volleyball player we saw the day we visited. 

"When the brain is damaged and swollen, which is what a concussion is, you must be gently and let it have it's time to get well," said Dr. Pirotte.

He recommends a minimum of two weeks rest.  That means no reading, no iPads, no video games, and very limited television time.  That's a scary thought for most teens.

"The take-home message is that it's really common.  There's four million concussions per year.  The vast majority are going to be in young people.  Don't let your athlete or student suffer," Dr. Pirotte said.  "But there's just a gap of information that schools and teachers have and school nurses have."

Bomgardner hopes his research will change that.  Recently, he received a grant from the National Federation of State High School Associations to expand his study to every single Kansas high school.  His goal?  To eventually introduce ‘return to learn’ legislation. 

"Hopefully  one of these days, years down the road, when a student returns to school immediately that plan is put into place. every teacher knows what their responsibilities are, the parents is understanding of their role in this plan is as well," Bomgardner said.