Dr. Stacy Suskauer, director of Kennedy Krieger Brain Injury Program, said it becomes clearer in the first few weeks how well the children there will fare. She said it's apparent, however, that immediate care and early intervention and therapy benefit all of the injured children.

Researchers are working on improving treatment and ways to use magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) to better evaluate the extent of damage and the length of time recovery might take, she said. "Those are always the first questions."

In the meantime, she said, use of helmets by kids on bikes and better protection for student athletes is crucial. She supports efforts in many schools to teach athletic trainers to identify symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury, or concussions, such as dizziness, blurred vision, confusion, ringing in the ears and mood changes.

Suskauer supports the many schools, including the University of Maryland and Howard County public schools, that are doing baseline testing of kids before an injury happens so they can tell when something is wrong.

"Our goal is to maximize the potential of these kids," she said of Kennedy Krieger patients, who include more than 13,000 children with neurologic injury or illness, as well as those with spinal cord injuries, behavior problems related to autism, feeding disorders and other maladies.

But she argues that not getting hurt in the first place is the ultimate goal. "Traumatic brain injury is the No. 1 cause of acquired disability among kids," she said. "Recovery is long and hard and not everyone does as well as Austin. ... Preventing injury would be huge."

In addition to the physical damage, the costs are high, about $56 billion a year, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke .Those who survive may need physical, occupational and speech-language therapy, as well as psychiatric care and social support and care for the rest of their lives.

Shane Story says the family is thankful for church and friends, who are taking care of the family's house and dogs. And he's grateful for support at work, where he returned this week, and his health insurance. He still frets about the freedom Austin will soon crave.

"I survived my teens and early 20s and realized later in life how foolish young men can be," he said. "This is a reminder life can turn bad very quickly. ... We need to overcome the idea that there's something cool about getting back in the game after a blow to the head. We need more attention, more research and more seriousness."

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

twitter.com/baltsunhealth



Traumatic brain injury



•About 275,000 people are hospitalized annually because of one. The majority are treated and released from an emergency room.

•About 52,000 a year die from one.

•Children up to 14 years old make up the largest group of sufferers, making up a third of the total.

•Falls are the leading cause, ahead of car crashes.

•An estimated 10 percent to 20 percent of service members serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have sustained one.

Sources: Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, the CDC

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