A Maryland teenager may have turned one of the most difficult challenges of his life into a way to help other young athletes detect and recover from traumatic brain injuries.
Eric Solender, 17, is developing a test that can help detect concussion symptoms using a popular video gaming platform. His path to this project began with a scary night at basketball practice several years ago.
"I was coming down for a rebound," Eric said, "and another kid was jumping up, and his nose slammed me in the back of the head."
Eric can't remember most of what happened after that: "My memory just blanks for probably six or seven months."
But it's a time Eric's parents will never forget.
"I don't know that we're expressing ourselves well enough, just how awful it was," Eric's mother, Gretchen Solender, said when the family sat down with News4.
"It was horrible," added father Max Solender. "You don't want to see your child going through that kind of agony."
That agony included months of excruciating headaches, extreme sensitivity to light and sound, and months of isolation from friends and schoolmates during Eric's recovery.
And the impact rippled across the entire Solender family. His parents had to take time off from work to help care for him and say Eric's younger sister had to get used to much of her family's focus being on his recovery.
It took a full year before Eric was able to go back to school full time.
During that year, Eric's family sought treatment from concussion experts at Children's National Medical Center, and his doctor said their fast response was key to helping Eric get better.
"Even though he had a prolonged recovery," Dr. Catherine McGill said, "the access to medical care he was able to get quickly did indeed help him."
Now, Eric is the one who wants to help others through his experience and growing love of computer science. He's independently coded and developed a series of tests designed to measure a person's coordination and response times to certain tasks -- tasks that can be difficult or even impossible for a patient with a concussion to complete.
It's a hands-free test that uses the Microsoft Kinect video gaming system, which Dr. McGill said could prove useful for younger patients.
"To capture their best ability to perform on a task, I think it makes a lot of sense to use a tool that they're familiar with in the first place," said McGill.
Eric still has a long way to go toward making his test available for use as an FDA-approved clinical tool, but he plans to see that through, with the help of doctors at Children's. He also hopes it can be available on the sidelines or at home for adults to quickly access when young athletes get hurt.
Eric's family couldn't be prouder.
"It's incredible to see where we were back at the beginning of [high] school, to where we are now," his father said. "It's it's just amazing."
Eric has also gotten high praise from teachers at Urbana High School but says it's not just about getting good grades.
"It's more than just a project to me," he said. "It's a way that I can kind of give back, because I genuinely feel that the doctors at Children's saved my life."
And the doctors at Children's want parents and coaches to be aware of concussion symptoms and how to respond, like Eric's parents were. Dr. McGill and fellow pediatric neuropsychologist Dr. Christopher Vaughan point to several websites and videos that can help:
- Safe Concussion Outcome Recovery & Education (SCORE) Program
- CDC Heads Up
- PAR Concussion Recognition & Response
- Concussion Management and Return to Learn (VIDEO)
Dr. McGill also wants everyone to know that concussions, while devastating, are treatable.
"Concussions are something that we can recognize and respond to and help kids get back to playing safely and having fun."