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Audiology and Speech Path Department Designated Center of Excellence


The Audiology and Speech Pathology Department at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) has been designated as the State Lead Center of Excellence for Pediatric Acquired Brain Injury (PABI).

The Audiology and Speech Pathology Department at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) has been designated as the State Lead Center of Excellence for Pediatric Acquired Brain Injury (PABI). The department is one of a network of 52 institutions, one in every state as well as in the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, selected for this designation by the Sarah Jane Brain Foundation. The Audiology and Speech Pathology (ASP) Department is located in Knoxville, Tenn., and the ASP program is administered by the UTHSC College of Allied Health Sciences from the main Health Science Center campus in Memphis.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization, brain injury is the number one cause of death and disability for children and young adults through 25 years of age in the United States. The CDC reports that for children aged 14 and under there are 2,685 deaths, 37,000 hospitalizations and 435,000 emergency room visits attributable to traumatic brain injury (TBI) annually. PABI is caused by traumatic events such as motor vehicle accidents, sports-related accidents, blast injuries from war, assaults and child abuse as well as falls. Some of the non-traumatic causes of PABI include strokes, brain tumors, pediatric AIDS, meningitis, infection and substance abuse.

In 2008, the Sarah Jane Brain Foundation (SJBF) assembled the nation’s leaders in PABI and together co-authored the first draft of the National PABI Plan. The foundation was started by Patrick Donohue, father of Sarah Jane Donohue, who was violently shaken by her baby nurse when she was just five days old, sustaining a massive brain injury. Sarah Jane is three years old now and cannot walk, talk, crawl, chew solid food or even sit up on her own. The Sarah Jane Brain Project aims to help all children like Sarah Jane who suffer from PABI by creating a model system — something that has never been done before.

The mission of the PABI Plan is to develop a “seamless, standardized, evidence-based system of care universally accessible for all children/young adults and their families regardless of where they live in the nation.” The first step in developing a PA/TBI model system to fulfill this mission is to create a structure that provides complete national coverage with the ability to standardize the system of care while still providing the flexibility for each state to have its own pathway to universal accessibility. To achieve the PABI Plan goals, each of the 52 State Lead Centers of Excellence must have collaboration experience, case management experience and a strong understanding of the existing structures within their states. The January 8th ceremonial ringing of the closing bell at NASDAQ signaled the official launch of the first-ever National Pediatric Acquired Brain Injury Plan

“The Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology at the University of Tennessee is excited to be a part of this national effort,” said Ilsa Schwarz, head of ASP. “Under the direction of Dr. Kristin King, our State Lead Center program is specifically charged with a focus on mild traumatic brain injury. In collaboration with other national sites that include the Mayo Clinic and the University of Vermont, we look forward to developing our capacity to provide services in this area, as well as increasing the research we generate specific to this population,” Dr. Schwarz stated.

Each State Lead Center will have certain essential, desirable and optional capabilities with the main responsibility to develop and implement a Statewide Master Plan to accomplish the goals and premises as outlined in the PABI Plan. They will work through and within the existing structures across the state, without duplicating current services, to help build capacity and provide complete coverage for children, young adults and their families. Part of each State Lead Center’s Master Plan will be to provide a specialized case management system for those affected by PA/TBI. Once PA/TBI is diagnosed, the State Lead Center will “attach” themselves to the families and never let go unless they move to another state. In that case, another State Lead Center “will meet them at the state border or airport.” These SJBF specialists will be highly trained case managers who understand the needs of PA/TBI families and have a great understanding of the services offered in their state.

To encourage increased geographic collaboration, the country was divided into seven regions, each comprising seven or eight states or territories. The Southeast Region encompasses Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, South Carolina and Tennessee. The 52 State Lead Centers national announcement will be made in Washington, D.C., on Capitol Hill at 11 a.m. on Friday, June 5 (Sarah Jane’s 4th birthday) in the Rayburn House Office Building, Rm. 2345, 4th floor. To view the National PABI Plan, visit www.TheBrainProject.org. For more information about the Sarah Jane Brain Foundation, visit https://www.TheBrainProject.org.