TAMPA — Dr. Richard Radecki has practiced as a pediatric physiatrist — what he describes as a fancy term for being a "rehab doc" — for more than 30 years.
He's spent the majority of his career in private and group practices in Albuquerque, N.M., except for a short stint at Shriners Hospitals for Children-Salt Lake City.
He'd long planned to retire in early 2017.
That is, until an opportunity he couldn't pass up came his way.
About six months ago Radecki — who is considered a leading expert in diagnosing and treating kids with concussions — was approached and accepted the newly created position of medical director of rehabilitation services for Shriners Hospitals for Children-Tampa.
As a person who in his youth tended to gravitate toward and befriend kids with special needs, Radecki heads the hospital's Rebound Advanced Concussion Center.
The first center of its kind in the Tampa Bay area is open to all children in the community — both able-bodied kids as well as those with disabilities — from birth through their high school years.
In line with the Shriners mission, no child is turned away from the center, regardless of a family's inability to pay.
According to a study reported in the June 20 online issue of the Pediatrics journal, close to 2 million U.S. children and teens may suffer concussions each year.
A related study reported in the July 10 publication of HealthDay showed that while concussion diagnoses more than doubled from 2007 to 2014, it could rightfully reflect a definite rise in the number of brain injuries or simply an increase in their diagnoses — or both.
Either way, Radecki's prime objectives are to provide pre-season physicals to kids playing sports and to administer a computerized IMPACT test with measurable brain-function biomarkers to use as a baseline tool during a follow-up visit, should a child suffer a concussion.
"Eighty percent of sports-related concussions are mild and kids get better in about two weeks, but the remainder will have challenges," he said.
A high-velocity incident such as falling off a horse or from a swing, Radecki also noted, can cause more serious and reoccurring effects.
Concussions, he stressed, should never be taken lightly and in all instances, need to be evaluated and treated.
Symptoms to look for are factors such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, ringing in the ears, fatigue and confusion.
Other issues he cites as possible concussion clues include memory, movement, vision and hearing impairments as well as personality changes and depression.
"Sixty five percent of kids with concussions have balance problems," said Radecki, who's ordered specialized computer games meant to help kids improve their equilibrium.
He is a strong proponent of a Florida law prohibiting sports programs from allowing children with concussions to resume play until they are cleared by a physician.
Radecki pointed out the reason for that is because blows to the head can damage brain cells, which can take a while to heal.
"A lot of kids have what is called the second concussion syndrome," said Radecki, meaning there is a higher probably for children to experience a subsequent brain injury if they've not fully recovered from an earlier incidence.
Another concern, he noted, is that some kids won't admit they're not feeling well because they don't want to have to postpone or give up playing sports. To counteract that issue, Radecki plans to implement what he describes as the first-of-its-kind vision test he contends is more telling than an MRI.
"My job is to get the schools involved in what we're doing here at Shriners," he said. "We have an excellent group of therapists here and the best resources available."
Shriners Hospitals for Children – Tampa Administrator Fleury Yelvington calls the new concussion center a "much-needed" service for children in the community.
"While we hope no one is injured, our new Rebound Advanced Concussion Center will provide families with the assurance of when it is safe to return to sports or other normal activities if an injury does occur," she said.
Sandra Smith, director of the hospital's rehabilitation services, expressed similar thoughts.
"The rehabilitation services team is very excited to be a part of the concussion center and we are also looking forward to the implementation of future rehabilitation programs which are currently being developed by Dr. Radecki," she said. To learn more visit shrinershq.org/hospitals/tampa/ or call (813) 972-2250.
Contact Joyce McKenzie at [email protected]