Brain Health and Wellness Center
Patient Stories | Andre Jr. and Concussion

Youth Football Player Back in the Game after Help from the Advanced Brain Injury Clinic

Andre Boyd Jr. comes from a football-loving family. While the foursome can’t agree on their NFL favorites, all are diehard fans of the Louisiana State University Tigers. So it seems only natural that the 11-year-old would want to become a football player like his heroes on the field.

Once the regular (tackle) football season ended last fall, Andre Jr.’s mother, Deanna, breathed a sigh of relief. He got through the season without any major injuries. When Andre Jr. wanted to play flag football this winter, Deanna felt less anxious. She thought her son was less likely to sustain an injury in flag football.

During a February game, however, Andre Jr. collided with another player who was reaching for his flag. When he fell, Andre Jr.’s head hit the turf.

"I knew something was wrong immediately because Andre Jr. became dizzy and got a headache," Deanna said. "He also seemed confused, repeating the same questions over and over."

Deanna took her son to urgent care for an evaluation and pain management. The medical team there treated his immediate needs but referred the family to Cincinnati Children’s Advanced Brain Injury Clinic at the Brain Health and Wellness Center. Andre Jr. needed follow-up care and education about managing his concussion.

Concussion Care for the Whole Person

At Cincinnati Children’s, pediatric rehabilitation medicine specialist Priya Durgadas Bolikal, MD, conducted a thorough neurological examination on Andre Jr that included testing factors such as his strength, sensation, reflexes, balance and coordination. His care team included a behavioral psychologist who addressed his feelings about the injury, anxieties about long-term effects and other emotional needs. School intervention specialist Ryan M. Hanna, MEd, worked with the family to develop a plan for returning to school.

“I was just scared how the concussion was going to impact my life and … my education because I want to be great, and I want to have a great education and be a great kid,” Andre Jr. said. “This concussion worried me because I wondered how long I would be out from sports and school, and missing my teachers and friends.”

While addressing Andre Jr.’s medical and psychosocial needs was critical, an important element of his care at Cincinnati Children’s included family education about concussion management. The multidisciplinary team offered recommendations about everything from managing headaches, getting adequate sleep and staying hydrated to minimizing stimulation and avoiding high-risk activities.

“Much of our role is educating children and their families about concussion and helping them to gradually get back to the activities they enjoyed,” said Dr. Bolikal. “We guide them in terms of slowly increasing their activities so that they can continue giving their brain more stimulation as it's healing, but not overdo it when their brain is still in that recovery period. We all work together to make sure that we’re treating the whole patient with both the medical aspects of their recovery as well as the psychosocial aspects.”

Back to School

Returning to the school environment after a concussion is challenging for many children. Hanna builds on patients’ medical and psychological evaluations by assessing their educational history and any academic needs moving forward. He also determines the family’s readiness for coordinating with the school and their comfort level advocating for their child. That includes developing a plan for easing back into the school day (partial days or frequent breaks, for example), identifying appropriate points of contact at the school, and communicating their needs. The school liaison, with input from the physician, also creates documentation outlining that recommended plan so it can be shared with school personnel.

“When I met with Andre Jr. and his mom, I did feel that they had those skills very well intact,” Hanna said. “With some families, I spend time coaching them on how to communicate with the school to make sure that everybody's informed appropriately about the child’s needs and the clinic’s recommendations. With other families, it's very clear that they would benefit from more direct assistance from me as the liaison to do that type of coordination with the school.”

Andre Jr.’s plan included reduced activities for two weeks. After missing two full days of school and going three half-days during the first week following his accident, Andre Jr. was ready to go back full time. He was cleared to resume normal activities after two weeks—including getting back in the game.

“The team at Cincinnati Children’s helped us to understand how to ease Andre Jr. back into school and sports,” Deanna said. “And because the medical professionals gave advice directly to Andre Jr., it was easier for me, when he begged to play sports, to stand my ground and remind him, ‘The doctor said this is the protocol. We've got this many more days left.’ It was an extra layer of support and a comfort to know that we were doing the right thing for our son.”

Mom’s Confidence in Doing the Best for Her Son

For Deanna, the comprehensive care Andre Jr. received at the Advanced Brain Injury Clinic brought peace of mind. Not only was her son getting the best medical care possible, but also his emotional and academic needs were being addressed. Working with the healthcare team to develop a detailed plan for Andre Jr.’s treatment gave her a roadmap toward recovery for her son. 

“They give you a stepwise approach, so you’re just not out here on your own,” she said. “They give you a very, very detailed plan so that you know exactly what you’re doing, and you feel confident that you're doing your best for your kid.”

For other parents caring for children with a concussion, Deanna advises seeking out the kind of multidisciplinary care her family found at Cincinnati Children’s.

“Don't just think you are only left with the emergency room or your pediatrician—there are all kinds of resources when you live in an area with a great children's hospital like ours,” Deanna said. “They were excellent. I wouldn't have wanted to go through this experience without [Cincinnati Children’s] because it just made me feel like I knew what to do.”

As for Andre Jr., he learned a lesson from the experience as well. 

“I learned that you must take care of your body,” Andre Jr. said. “You only have one body in this world, one life, and you have to cherish it because you never know when freak accidents can happen to you and ruin your life. That's why I learned to love life and to love being alive and just to love being me.”

(Published June 2023)