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Healing a Hero

Concussion rehabilitation helped avid reader, Mahliyah Perez, enjoy reading again


When Mahliyah Perez was 9 years old, she finally convinced her mom, Alecia Aungst, that she was ready to attend her first sleepover. When the day arrived, Mahliyah could barely contain her excitement as she made her way to her best friend’s house after school.

However, on that rainy Friday night, Aungst received a phone call from paramedics and learned her daughter was in an accident. The car Mahliyah was traveling in hydroplaned, flipped and landed in a wooded area.

“She crawled through the trunk of the vehicle, ran up to the road and flagged down help,” says Aungst. “Then she went back and removed her friend and friend’s young sister from their seats.”

Not acting like herself

Mahliyah was evaluated in the emergency room at Lehigh Valley Hospital–Cedar Crest before going home that same night. She returned to school the following week.

However, Aungst knew something wasn’t quite right when her daughter – an avid reader – stopped reading books. Aungst made an appointment with the LVHN Concussion and Head Trauma Program. “We wouldn’t choose anyone else for our care,” she says.

Mahliyah’s concussion evaluation

Concussion specialist Daniele Shollenberger, CRNP, with LVPG Neurosurgery, evaluated Mahliyah.

“She had visual function, sleep, memory and emotional changes,” says Shollenberger. “Mahliyah also experienced headaches, dizziness, imbalance, abnormal eye movements and cervical pain.”

Shollenberger referred Mahliyah to Heidi Sensenig, OD, neuro-optometrist with LVPG Neurology.

“While Mahliyah’s story is unique, her symptoms are common in that her visual issues did not arise immediately, but became evident after she returned to school,” says Sensenig.

Reading, writing and computer work require sustained convergence and accommodation (focus), organized oculomotor skills, as well as the ability to process a lighted screen,” says Sensenig. “Those visual tasks can trigger symptoms in a person who has sustained a concussion injury.”

Visual hygiene strategies, home support activities and academic or workplace accommodations are often a part of the treatment plan for patients with concussion.

A team approach to treatment

Since concussions are multi-faceted and affect many body systems at the same time, it’s important that all systems are assessed and treated.

Having a team that works together to manage care for concussion patients leads to better outcomes.

“We work together to meet the needs of patients faster and more comprehensively,” says Sensenig. “A vision therapy program may last three to six months, and potentially longer if needed.”

Recognizing Mahliyah

After treatment in the concussion rehabilitation program, Mahliyah was able to enjoy reading again. She also enjoyed a moment in the spotlight in July 2019 when she was honored for her heroism and bravery with the first ever Citizen Hero Award presented by Cetronia Ambulance Corps.

Concussion treatment

Early evaluation and diagnosis are important so treatment and a path to recovery can begin.

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