New Concussion Center at Navy Yard dedicated to treatment, research

For all the attention concussions have received in recent years, even the leading experts will admit that the sports medicine community has only scratched the surface when it comes to learning—and teaching the public—about these dangerous injuries.

That’s why leaders at Rothman Institute, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Wills Eye Hospital have collaborated to create the Jefferson Comprehensive Concussion Center (JCCC), located in the heart of the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

Robert Franks, D.O. of the Rothman Institute is the medical co-director of the center along with Mijail Serruya, M.D., Ph.D., a top neurologist at Jefferson. The Center hosted its first patient at the end of October.

Dr. Franks has endeavored for years to create a facility solely dedicated to treating and researching concussions. “I wanted to create a single-facility complex for concussion management, from point of intake to point of discharge,” he says. “We really are able to run the entire gamut of care.”

The multi-disciplinary approach was critical. Experts in sports medicine, neurology, opthamology and physical rehabilitation—just to name a few of the disciplines involved—collaborate to make the “one-stop shop” a reality. “It’s that combined expertise than I think will be the deciding factor in ultimately making us successful,” adds Dr. Franks.

Upon visiting the 6,800 square-foot center, it was surprising to walk into a well-lit, lively waiting area. The term “concussion center” may conjure images of dark rooms with researchers huddled over computer monitors in complete silence. Instead, patients and their families read periodicals or watched Action News on the flat-screen television.

“We knew it would be essential to put patients—and their families—at ease from the moment they walked in the door,” says Linda Mazzoli, M.S. Mazzoli is director of the JCCC and the concussion program at Rothman Institute.

Mazzoli has been on board since May and in addition to her role as director, also serves as an unofficial tour guide of sorts at the Center. It’s clear that this is her favorite part of her job, as she leads the way through the soundproof exam rooms, which allow for evaluation and testing. The mini-tour concludes with a trip to the therapy room, where patients can walk or run on treadmills while clinicians test their tolerance for exercise.

At the center of the evaluation and testing area is a set of computer pods—standing terminals that allow doctors to make notes on a patient and continue moving. “The pods allow us to create a free-flowing atmosphere in what could otherwise be a very complicated environment,” says Mazzoli.

When most people think of concussions, they think of crushing tackles in an Eagles game—but it’s a very small segment of the population that plays competitive sports. Mazzoli reports that the average person seen at the Jefferson E.R. for concussion is age 42. “It can be as simple as someone standing up and smacking their head against a lamp,” she reports. “A few days later, they’re still having headaches. We can treat them just as we can a football player.”

“The strength of putting [the Center] together is the cross-linkage of individual clinicians,” says Dr. Franks. “We’re equipped to handle everyone, from the football player to someone who’s injured doing yard work.”

The other segment of the Center is the presence of a research component. Rothman, Jefferson and Wills Eye all stand alone as prestigious institutions for research and development. Collaboratively, the sky’s the limit.

“Our projects will go across age groups,” says Dr. Franks. “We want to start looking at some of the big questions in regards to concussion—best practices, equipment—and using the power of each of these entities to move research forward.”

“In terms of research and education, the timing is perfect,” confirms Mazzoli. “The general public is becoming more aware, and they’re very receptive to new knowledge.”   

Read more Sports Doc for Sports Medicine and Fitness.