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Better Balance offers team approach to treating concussions

FARGO-Taylor Zetocha's first concussion seemed like little more than a bump on the head. But by the time she suffered her third and fourth concussions, all on the basketball court, she could no longer shrug off the effects."The symptoms have gott...

Fargo Davies sophmore Taylor Zetocha takes a vision test while treating her concussion syndrome with Skip Frappier at Better Balance of North Dakota located in south Fargo.David Samson / The Forum
Fargo Davies sophmore Taylor Zetocha takes a vision test while treating her concussion syndrome with Skip Frappier at Better Balance of North Dakota located in south Fargo.David Samson / The Forum

FARGO-Taylor Zetocha's first concussion seemed like little more than a bump on the head. But by the time she suffered her third and fourth concussions, all on the basketball court, she could no longer shrug off the effects.

"The symptoms have gotten worse," she said. They have included difficulty sleeping, dizziness, balancing problems, memory problems, nausea and irritability as well as sensitivity to light and noises.

Her struggle is an example of the serious problems concussion patients face, therapists say, and a reminder that football players aren't the only athletes who must be aware of the risk.

Before Zetocha's symptoms became too strong to ignore, her main concern was to keep playing basketball. She suffered her first concussion while in the eighth grade. Now 16, the Fargo Davies High School sophomore's top concern is getting well.

With help from a team of caregivers and therapists, she is working to overcome the problems caused by her multiple concussions. After 15 months of therapy, her sense of balance has improved and she rarely feels dizzy, but continues to struggle with her memory.

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"I don't have a good memory," she said. "I can't remember anything."

Before her concussions, Zetocha had an excellent memory. Her performance in school has suffered, and she is allowed accommodations, including more time to take tests.

Progress came slowly at first, which is common with brain injuries, said Skip Frappier, who runs Better Balance of North Dakota, a service to help diagnose and monitor symptoms in people with balance problems, including concussion patients. It is affiliated with ProRehab, a physical and occupational therapy clinic.

Cases vary considerably, but it takes on average two years of therapy to recover from concussive syndrome, said Lynden Kurtz, a physical therapist at ProRehab who is part of Zetocha's care team.

It's not uncommon for symptoms to appear long after a concussion, and the problem can go undiagnosed for years, he said.

"They stumble through the medical system and (providers) say, 'There's nothing I can do for you,' " Kurtz said.

One woman suffered a concussion at the age of 18 and endured her symptoms for many years before being diagnosed and referred to therapy. After six to eight months, "She's back to her old self," he said.

Zetocha's case was compounded because of her multiple concussions over time, Frappier said.

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"It's not the first time that's devastating," he said. "It's the second, third, fourth that is devastating, especially if the brain hasn't had a chance to heal."

The location of the brain trauma from a concussion is also significant in determining how severe the effects will be, he said. There really is no way to predict the extent of a patient's recovery, or how long it will take to heal, Frappier said.

Parents have a critical role to play in helping to prevent aggravating their child's concussion injury by continuing to play after a concussion in a game or practice. Even if the injury doesn't at first appear to be serious, the full effects might not be clear until hours or days later, Frappier said.

"We learned the hard way," said Steve Zetocha, Taylor's father. Because there are no obvious physical scars for a concussion, some of his daughter's friends and classmates have accused her of faking her injury, he said.

"As a parent, you just don't want any kid to go through this," he said.

Related Topics: HEALTH
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