Often kids don't connect with serious illness or death....that's something for old people. However, Bay Lane Middle School students have known intimately that life is precious at any age, and you don't have to be old to encounter traumatic events.
Evan Coubal was a 6th grader at the school when he died after a fall on the playground during recess in September 2010. His passing brought attention to the seriousness of children who receive concussions, either through sports or by just being kids.
This year, twin sisters and eighth graders Kat and Lauren Wahlen experienced a similar struggle as their brother Webb, a 10-year-old who attends Tess Corners Elementary, experienced more than one concussion. The events sent him to Children's Hospital of Wisconsin for several days, according to their mother, Nicole.
"It was a really tough time for him, and with his sisters knowing of Evan, they decided to research the subject of brain injury in their Project i classroom," she explained.
Project i is student-driven learning, and it was apparent that other students were equally driven to learn more about the subject, specifically of the effects of concussions in youth.
The girls and two others in their study group, Jami Donnelly and Bobby Watson, worked on their research while also seeing the opportunity to fundraise for juvenille brain injury research at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW).
"It was a great learning experience for them, both in the research, and how to fundraise for a cause," Nicole said.
They ended up raising $450 and were invited to formally present the check at MCW during a daylong event on Monday that also included a tour and lunch.
“The fact you chose this cause to honor your brother and friend, and to support this work, is just awesome. This generous donation will make a difference, and I am grateful for all your hard work and support,” Dr. Michael McCrea, professor of neurosurgery and neurology and director of brain injury research, told the students.
Dr. McCrea said his team is working on a plan right now to use the funds to directly enhance his work in identification of concussion in kids ages 5-12 years old – just like Webb Wahlen.
According to MCW, an estimated 3.8 million people sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI) each year. TBI is a contributing factor to one-third of all injury-related deaths in the United States. More than 75 percent of the TBI’s that occur are concussions or other forms of mild TBI with many going undiagnosed.
“Traumatic brain injury is a major public health problem that often leads to significant impairment and disability,” McCrea said. “Research that furthers understanding of brain trauma is key in improving outcomes for those affected by TBI and developing effective injury prevention strategies.”
Nicole Wahlen said she was extremely proud of what her daughters did for their brother, "but more importantly I think they are all proud of what they have accomplished, and it's pretty exciting to see the results of their efforts."