Headline: Jayden Moffa is one of the lucky ones.
On Friday night in spring 2016, Jayden sang the national anthem as she and her classmates at Greater Latrobe Senior High School gathered for commencement.
In the fall, she'll begin classes at Westmoreland County Community College.
And later this month, she'll compete in the Miss Pennsylvania pageant, where she'll tell the world how a concussion almost robbed her of all the great things happening in her life these days.
It all began spinning out of control for the loquacious teenager at the beginning of her sophomore year.
First, there were the headaches, some so bad that her mother, Phillene Moffa, could only stroke Jayden's back as she lay trembling and crying, curled in the fetal position.
Then her grades began to slip dramatically.
Jayden remembers her pediatrician's diagnosis.
“He said it was hormonal,” she recalled.
He was wrong.
Phillene and Denny Moffa didn't know it, but their daughter had joined the ranks of concussion victims.
A HOST OF DANGERS
A concussion is a brain injury that occurs with a blow to the head or the body sufficient to cause the brain to rattle about in the skull.
The headaches, vision problems, inability to concentrate, memory problems and personality changes are among a host of symptoms that can result from such injuries.
The dangers of concussions became increasingly apparent over the last decade. As researchers documented their impact on professional athletes and study after study was published, high schools began adopting concussion protocols and baseline testing for students involved in school-sanctioned sports.
Although Greater Latrobe Senior High School is among many schools that conduct baseline tests for athletes, Jayden did not play sports, so she was never tested.
The culprit in her case was a soccer ball that hit her in the head during a gym class.
She went to the school nurse, but aside from a red mark where the ball hit, she had no issues.
Ten days later, the headaches began.
Seven months after that, she began experiencing blurred vision. Her ophthalmologist referred her to a specialist who said she was suffering from ocular motor dysfunction, a condition in which the eye fails to properly track images.
The specialist sent her to Dr. James Masterson, director of sports medicine and concussion care at Excela Health.
It was only after telling her tale once again, this time to Masterson, and undergoing a battery of tests that Moffa finally was diagnosed with a concussion — 14 months after the fact.
“I think it's a pretty easy thing to miss. It's a little bit sad. We see good kids who want to get better. Fortunately, Jayden responded to the right treatment,” Masterson said.
MANY GO UNDIAGNOSED
Despite all the publicity about concussions, experts believe many still go undiagnosed in children.
An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported in May 2016 of researchers at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia concluded a study suggesting emergency department records substantially underestimate the true incidence of pediatric concussions.
With her diagnosis, Moffa was able to obtain an individual education plan making allowances for her disabilities.
She said little things, like being able to take an extra 15 minutes on a test, getting class notes printed out and pacing herself made all the difference as she clawed her way back from the brink of a very black hole.
As of June, 2016, she relies on a planner she takes everywhere and a whiteboard in her bedroom to stay on track with a busy schedule.
“I'm very independent. I don't like to get help. So I didn't take advantage of everything they offered me,” she said.
Help came from another sector when Georgia Teppert, assistant to the superintendent in the Greater Latrobe School District, heard Moffa sing at a cabaret performance and learned about her story.
Teppert, a former Mrs. Pennsylvania, saw in Moffa the qualities pageant judges are looking for and encouraged her to get involved in the pageant circuit.
“It's a volunteer thing with me. I try to work with girls and empower them to get out there and say it if they have a message. Jayden is very talented, and she has an important message. She's lived it,” Teppert said.
Moffa has muscled her way into meetings with elected officials, pressing them to do what they can about boosting concussion awareness.
State Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, met with her some time ago and came away impressed.
“She's chosen something important, something personal that she's lived and made it a positive thing that can help others,” Ward said.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Masterson, who saw 500 concussion-related patients in October alone, hopes Moffa can make a difference.
He worries about the concussions that go undiagnosed and untreated.
Teens and children, whose brains are developing, can be at serious risk if a concussion goes untreated, he said.
“I think about it all the time. I think Jayden has an important message for parents,” he said. “Even if your kid is not an athlete, if you see performance changes, if you see academics falling, at least ask the question and get him in for a diagnosis.”
Moffa said that believing that she can make a difference for even one other person will be enough to help her smile as she belts out the lyrics to “Don't Rain on My Parade” this month at the Miss Pennsylvania Pageant in Sewickley.
And if the 18-year-old, one of the two youngest contestants in this year's competition, does not win, she says she'll be back.
For now, she wants to take life one step at a time, getting in two years of college classes while living at home and working a part-time job.
Eventually, she hopes there will be more pageants, maybe a scholarship, more studies and a career as a neuropsychologist.
It doesn't hurt to aim high, she said.
She is, after all, one of the lucky ones.
- Debra Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or email@example.com.