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Concussion-related work leads to high honors for WMS school nurse

Woodbury Middle School nurse Theresa Pines was named 2013 Public Health Nurse of the Year by the March of Dimes. (Staff photo by Mike Longaecker)

Theresa Pines knew in college that she wanted to be a school nurse.

She accomplished that goal and went on to become a school nurse in District 833. More than two decades later, Pines continues to live her dream – and then some.

Pines, a 23-year District 833 employee was recently named Minnesota’s Public Health Nurse of the Year by March of Dimes.

“I was super humbled,” said Pines, a school nurse at Woodbury Middle School and the district’s Next Step Transition Center, though she added, “I see it as more of a district award.”

After transitioning back into school nurse work after 18 years as a district administrator, Pines took up master’s level studies with a focus on traumatic head injuries and their impact on student learning.

The effort led to districtwide policy changes – and a master’s degree.

Liberty Ridge Elementary school nurse Tammy John nominated Pines for the March of Dimes award for her work in the study of traumatic brain injuries.

“It acknowledges the passion I have for (the issue),” Pines said. “I think that’s what it represents.”

In 2011, Pines – whose brother died at age 23 of a traumatic brain injury – began the process of establishing a new approach for teachers to handle students with concussions once they returned to school. Until then, the standing rule was that students were to be held out of physical education for a period of time.

But, Pines explained, it isn’t just physical activity that agitates concussions.

“They need to rest their brain,” she said.

She set out to answer the question of what school nurses can implement to assist the healing process in the classroom for students who have sustained concussions.

Seemingly harmless activities can also slow the healing process – and impede the learning process, she said.

Some teachers were jarred after being told by Pines what those students must avoid: computer work, band practice, homework and even classwork.

“It is hard, because there’s a lot of forgiveness for some school,” she said.

The effort has meant empowering teachers to know they needn’t – and shouldn’t – leave school restrictions to phy-ed if that’s all that’s listed on a doctor’s note.

“That is not going to do it,” Pines said.

Her efforts have led to a district form that goes out to parents and comes with traumatic brain injury information provided by the Centers for Disease Control. Before then, “there wasn’t any consistency in how our district looked at head injuries,” she said.

Her work in the field has done more than garner awards. Pines said she has presented her findings and recommendations at convention. Since then, other districts have begun implementing changes based on her work.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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