Concussion Quiets Swampscott Cheerleader





The interactive transcript could not be loaded.



Rating is available when the video has been rented.
This feature is not available right now. Please try again later.
Uploaded on Jun 14, 2011

Kristin Wheeler, 17, president of her junior class and a varsity cheerleader for Swampscott High School, would seem to be an unlikely candidate for a concussion, but she's already suffered two—the last of which required six weeks for recovery. Today's cheerleaders do more than stand on the sidelines. They tumble, flip, dance and perform stunts requiring them to be thrown into the air to execute a twist or split. This increased athleticism and showmanship also puts them into surprising category—alongside football, hockey and soccer—as athletes more likely to receive a concussion.

Five of the 20 cheerleaders on Wheeler's team were diagnosed with concussions during the Fall 2010 season. Concern about concussions has received increasing media and public attention over the past few years as new research has shown the long-term effects that multiple concussions have on the brain, including changes in personality or mood, anxiety, depression, cognitive and memory problems, and even dementia from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

In a 2009 study, 18 percent of Massachusetts students reported a head injury in the previous year. In response to this, Massachusetts enacted new rules in June 2011, that require middle and high school athletes suspected of having a head injury or concussion to be removed immediately from practice or competition and be barred from returning to play the same day. They must be cleared by a physician or a certified medical professional and have a "graduated reentry plan" before returning to the classroom or field. In addition, coaches, parents and students are required to receive training to recognize the symptoms of concussion.

For Wheeler, pre-season testing and concussion awareness, helped her recognize that she might have suffered a concussion. This past September, while practicing stunts with her team, Wheeler was hit repeatedly in the head while catching another cheerleader.

"After the last hit, I stepped out and started crying because I couldn't take it anymore. Instantly, I had a really bad headache, felt nauseous, foggy, and was just out of it," said Wheeler. She took some ibuprofen, but the headache continued. "As soon as I heard her symptoms, we went straight to the pediatric emergency room at MassGeneral for Children at North Shore Medical Center," said Joanne Wheeler, Kristin's mother.

Kristin was diagnosed with a concussion and referred to NSMC pediatrician Donald McAuliffe, M.D., who is experienced in concussion management. "I initially laughed when Dr. McAuliffe told me to just lie down and rest in a quiet place," said Wheeler. "I'm usually always on the go and I didn't think a concussion could shut me down. But Dr. McAuliffe was right; I just couldn't stand the noise and the constant pounding in my head and I had to rest in my room with the lights off. I couldn't even read a paragraph without feeling enormous strain."

"The most important part of treating a concussion is to give the brain time to heal without risk of further physical trauma or even the cognitive strain of learning or concentrating too hard," said Dr. McAuliffe. "If an athlete broke a leg, they wouldn't put pressure on the injury for a couple of weeks. It's the same with the brain; it doesn't heal overnight. Why risk further damage by rushing back before it's fully healed?" Navid Mahooti, M.D., an NSMC family medicine and sports medicine physician adds, "If an athlete goes back too early, they are more at risk to suffer an additional brain trauma leading to Second-Impact Sydrome, which could cause a cascade of dying brain cells."

To help physicians and coaches determine when the brain has healed and athletes can return to play, Swampscott instituted ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) testing in 2010. Students take a computerized test at the beginning of the season to measure verbal and visual memory, processing speed and reaction time. This baseline assessment helps to objectively evaluate the athlete's post-injury condition and track recovery for safe return to play, thus preventing the cumulative effects of concussion.

Wheeler was allowed to return to school after a week, but her headache and other symptoms persisted. "Just the noise of pushing in of chairs would cause an awful headache. Because I didn't have any outward signs or bruises, I had to remind my teachers that I had a concussion, so they could give me extra time to complete an assignment or test," said Wheeler. "It was frustrating because I wanted to get back to normal and to cheering. I couldn't even go to the games because it was too loud."

After repeating the ImPACT test for six weeks, Dr. McAuliffe determined that her brain had finally healed and cleared her to return to cheering. "If we hadn't had the ImPACT test, I'm sure Kristin would have gone back to cheering too soon and I don't like to think about what could have happened if she got hurt again," said Joanne Wheeler.


  1. 44

    2012 North Shore Cancer WALK/RUN

  2. 45

    Kristy Cahill, MD - North Shore Physicians Group - Danvers, Massachusetts

  3. 46

    Cancer Walk Commercial

  4. 47

    Weight Loss Surgery

  5. 48

    2012 Taste of the North Shore

  6. 49

    Outsmarting Cancer - Targeted Drugs Fight Lung Cancer in North Shore Patient

  7. 50

    Helen Ireland, MD - North Shore Physicians Group - Beverly, Massachusetts

  8. 51

    Elizabeth Maier, MD - North Shore Physicians Group - Beverly, Massachusetts

  9. 52

    Jaime Rivera, MD - General and Bariatric Surgeon - North Shore Medical Center

  10. 53

    Bernard Benedetto, MD - General and Bariatric Surgeon - North Shore Medical Center

  11. 54

    Hearts in Hand - How a Procedure Through Your Wrist Can Save Your Life

  12. 55

    John Trautman - North Shore Physicians Group - Beverly, Massachusetts

  13. 56

    Radial Cardiac Catheterization at North Shore Medical Center

  14. 57

    On the Fairway - Danvers Golfer Trades Constant Pain for Hip Replacement

  15. 58

    Nancy Petersen, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology - North Shore Physicians Group - Danvers, MA

  16. 59

    2011 North Shore Cancer WALK/RUN

  17. 60

    Adrienne Allen, MD, MPH - Internal Medicine - North Shore Physicians Group

  18. 61

    Flu Fighters

  19. 62

    Paul Nemeskal, MD - Internal Medicine - North Shore Physicians Group - Danvers, MA

  20. 63

    Warning Signs: Beverly Man Catches Heart Disease in the Nick of Time

  21. Concussion Quiets Swampscott Cheerleader

  22. 65

    Claudia Luque, MD - North Shore Physicians Group - Lynn, MA

  23. 66

    (en Espanol) Claudia Luque, MD - North Shore Physicians Group - Lynn, MA

  24. 67

    North Shore Cancer WALK/RUN 2011 Radio Ad

  25. 68

    Dr. Jason Archibald - North Shore Medical Center - 2011 Boston Health Expo

  26. 69

    Dr. Navid Mahooti - North Shore Medical Center - 2011 Boston Health Expo

  27. 70

    Marblehead man lives to tell "medical miracle"

  28. 71

    Danvers Woman Survives Viral Attack on Heart

  29. 72

    2011 Taste of the North Shore - North Shore Cancer WALK

  30. 73

    New Minimally Invasive Options for Gynecologic Surgery at North Shore Medical Center (NSMC)

  31. 74

    Knee Replacement is Music to Marblehead Composer's Ears

  32. 75

    Laura Simpson, MD - North Shore Physicians Group - Marblehead, MA

  33. 76

    Vidya Raju, MD - North Shore Physicians Group - Saugus, MA

  34. 77

    Tejal Patel, MD - North Shore Physicians Group - Saugus

  35. 78

    Rebecca Lee, MD - North Shore Physicians Group - Danvers, MA

  36. 79

    Cynthia Walendziewicz, MD - North Shore Physicians Group - Marblehead, MA

  37. 80

    20th Annual North Shore Cancer WALK

  38. 81

    Steven Kapfhammer - President - North Shore Physicians Group

  39. 82

    Cancer WALK Radio Commercial

  40. 83

    NSMC Cancer WALK 2009

  41. 84

    Stepping into Spring - A Taste of the North Shore

  42. 85

    NSMC Puts Patients First

  43. 86

    NSMC Patient Gives Back

  44. 87

    NSMC Uses Technology to Avoid Mistakes

  45. 88

    NSMC Patient Experiences Electronic Medical Records

  46. 89

    NSMC Cancer Care

  47. 90

    NSMC Cardiac Care

  48. 91

    NSMC Cancer WALK 2009 - Salem Willows

Sign in to add this to Watch Later

Add to