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U of U Pediatrics Department to Lead Utah in National Effort to Address Child Brain Injuries

SALT LAKE CITY—The University of Utah Department of Pediatrics has been named the state’s lead center in the Sarah Jane Brain Project, a national network of 52 health-care institutions collaborating to address the No. 1 cause of death and disability for children and young adults in the United States–brain injury.

Kimberly D. Statler, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah School of Medicine and associate director of Pediatric Intensive Care at Primary Children’s Medical Center, will direct the project for Utah. The University, with support from Primary Children’s, will establish a statewide plan focusing on preventing pediatric brain injuries, improving the diagnosis and treatment of such injuries, research to better understand and improve recovery, and coordinating support for families and schools.

“There really hasn’t been a coordinated effort to study brain injuries in children, so there is much we need to learn,” Statler said. “With the resources of the Department of Pediatrics’ and Primary Children’s Medical Center, as well as national collaboration through the Sarah Jane Brain Foundation, we can build an excellent network to address this problem.”

Primary Children’s is Utah’s only hospital to care for children with moderate or severe brain injuries, admitting about 600 traumatic brain injury patients a year. One-fifth—or approximately 120—of those admissions are related to motor-vehicle accidents. Falls are the second most common cause, with about 60 admissions, while assault account for about 25 admissions yearly.

The Sarah Jane Brain Project (SJBP) is named for a 5-year-old girl who received traumatic brain injury after being shaken by a baby nurse when she was 5 days old. Her father, Patrick Donahue, established the project in October 2007 after realizing there was no national plan to address the diagnosis and care for children who suffer traumatic brain injuries.

In January of this year, more than 60 of the top pediatric neurologists in the country came together in New York City and drafted the first-ever National Pediatric Acquired Brain Injury (PABI) Plan, which called for the development of a national system of collaboration to address the issue. In March, the SJBP accepted applications from institutions to fill the roles of lead center in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

The SJBP National Advisory Board announced the lead center selections on June 5 in Washington, D. C.

A network to address pediatric brain injury is long overdue, according to Donahue. “It is shocking to realize that despite brain injury being the leading killer and disabler of our children, nothing has ever been done to develop a nationally standardized medical or educational plan to address it,” he said. “There is very little public awareness of pediatric brain injury.”

The National PABI Plan is estimated to cost $125 million annually to implement across the country and will address each of the seven categories of care for each aspect of brain injury treatment – prevention, acute care, rehabilitation, adult transition, rural/telehealth, mild TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), and the virtual center.

Other medical schools and hospitals joining the SJBP include the University of Washington/Harborview Medical Center, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., Mattel Children’s Hospital/the University of California, Los Angeles, and Children’s Hospital of Boston/Harvard Medical School.