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Polson athlete navigates evolving world of concussion treatments

Posted at 8:16 PM, Aug 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-30 01:14:15-04

MISSOULA – Medical care after suffering a concussion is evolving quickly as doctors learn more about the long-term effects of head injuries. One Polson teenager is putting his future ahead of football after seeing just how his concussion rattled his health.

Andrey Bauer, 17, is getting a lot of screen time these days, not for fun, but for function.

He was in a car crash a month ago. His head hit the windshield of his car. You can imagine what the impact did to his brain.

“I felt tired, emotionally. I felt like I was drained of my sleep and I just wasn’t myself at all,” Andrey said.

Andrey, a Polson High School student, is a very athletic kid who was bewildered at how a couple bumps on the head could make him feel so off.

“When I first realized that I had a concussion, I was like, I’ve never felt this way. I was really slowed down. I couldn’t focus on moving parts, driving, just watching cars go by, walking down a hallway. It was really hard with my eyes.”

Andrey played for the Polson Pirates, is a three-time all American weight lifter and a state champ in shotgun shooting. He needed help with his head injury, so he connected with physical therapist Jill Olson of Peak Performance in Missoula, who put him on what’s called the ‘right eye’ Neurovision software. It reveals the injury to his ocular motor function, part of why he was so off his game.

“There’s a part of the brain that really controls the eye’s ability to move smoothly and symmetrically,” Olson said. “And when that area’s been impacted it’s not able to pump the breaks on that part and keep it smooth.”

What a concussion does to our brain can get pretty technical, from problems with the vestibular system to the ocular motor system. For patients, they know something’s not right.

This computer program gives doctors and physical therapists actual data revealing the problem, so they can fix it.

“It looks at smooth pursuits, which is your eye’s ability to track smoothly,” Olson said. “It looks at seccades, which is the ability to look quickly side-to-side, that’s what’s involved with reading. It looks at seccades up and down, the ability to track your eyes up and down. We need that for scrolling on computers. It looks at your vergence, your ability to focus from far-to-near, from near-to-far. We use that if we’re catching a ball or if we’re driving and cars are coming at us and going away.”

Olson puts Andrey through the paces with balance work, eye tracking exercises, even game time drills with a little multitasking on top. He’s on his way to healing, but even so, after playing football since the fourth grade and a stellar season last year with the Polson Pirates, he’s now decided to give up the gridiron for his health’s sake.

“I just don’t want to take that risk. Because once you get one concussion, you’re at a higher risk of other ones, just by hitting your head again or other ways. I just don’t want to risk that for later in my future. I don’t want to play football for one year and end up getting three more, just for that one year of football.”

Andrey is part of an important conversation about concussions from diagnoses to treatment.

“We have to grow our service and understanding of vestibular rehab and ocular-motor rehab,” Olson said. “And if you talk to people that’ve been through rehab and physical therapy and concussion rehab, those are the areas that usually take the greatest insult and need to be addressed to get them back to full level.

Olson is the director of the Dylan Steigers Concussion Project, named after a former Sentinel High School student who later died of a concussion suffered while playing a football scrimmage at Eastern Oregon University. The project was launched to provide a resource for coaches, parents and athletes to learn more about concussions and traumatic brain injuries.

Olson recommends people set baseline concussion testing in the event they do suffer a head injury, in order to give doctors and therapists a better idea how the concussion has affected the patient.

Peak Performance also provides detailed instructions for teachers when a concussed student returns to school. The guide can help the student easy back into their busy schedules.

Story by Jill Valley, MTN News