Making a Difference
After recovering from a concussion with help from Shepherd Center’s Complex Concussion Clinic, Catherine McLean returned to work at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Catherine McLean has a demanding job at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. A medical epidemiologist and internal medicine physician, she’s a Captain in the United States Public Health Service. She is often deployed to public health emergencies, including responding to the coronavirus pandemic. She’s also the Associate Director for the Southern Africa Region for the CDC, supervising teams based in six countries working to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
So, she admits it’s “a little embarrassing” to recount the day in July 2017 when she decided to try a kick scooter for the first time.
“I’d never ridden one before, and it started going so fast,” she recalls. “A little bit of a decline down my front driveway, and I ended up in the road in front of my house, having landed basically on my face.”
Catherine didn’t lose consciousness – she picked herself up and went inside to get cleaned up. It wasn’t until almost a week later that she decided to seek treatment.
“I began not to think as clearly. Something wasn’t right, and I knew it,” she says.
Catherine was taken to the emergency room and found out she had sustained a concussion, along with several complications. She was immediately admitted to the ICU.
“I began to learn a lot about what can happen under the umbrella of concussions – migraines, disequilibrium, and a variety of ocular-vestibular symptoms,” she explains. “I had a real eye-opener about how much more injured I could have been by not wearing a helmet that day.”
Catherine was discharged after a week of hospitalization. Then, a friend, a patient advocate and nurse, recommended Shepherd Center’s Complex Concussion Clinic (CCC). The clinic, led by Russell Gore, M.D., works with clients experiencing symptoms from a concussion that don’t resolve within a few weeks after their injury. It provides comprehensive care, addressing each client’s specific physical, emotional, cognitive, and sleep symptoms, some of which can be hard to detect without specialized diagnostic equipment and expertise.
In her initial assessment at the CCC, Catherine says she scored poorly on balance, memory, and organizational capacity. So, her care team got to work, setting up a program to aid Catherine in her recovery.
“The amount of time and attention to subtle signs and symptoms was impressive,” she says. “They were able to bridge the gap between where I was and what they know to take me further toward recovery.”
In addition to the Shepherd team, Catherine credits her recovery to her partner, Debbie Mosure’s, unwavering support, advocacy, and team-based philosophy. Debbie established a team and coordinated between physicians, nurses, and loved ones. Catherine recalls how friends and neighbors each had a role, checking on her, driving her to appointments, and helping her maintain exercise routines, all focused on her health and recovery.
“We have an unbelievable community of friends and loved ones, near and far, who were difference-makers, each one of them,” Catherine reflects.
Debbie was equally impressed with the care the CCC provided.
“This wasn’t just about getting better so she could function. It was really practical skill-building, teaching us about new ways to live our lives even more fully and successfully.”
Catherine resumed work at the CDC almost four months after sustaining the concussion.
“I am so grateful each day to have a level of function, as well as self-awareness and mental health, well above where I was before the concussion. I am even more committed to my work at the CDC and federal public service. I don’t want to waste a minute of what I almost lost,” Catherine says.
Recently, she returned to the clinic after some of her symptoms began recurring.
“They did an assessment, and Dr. Gore said, ‘This is not surprising in the era of COVID when we have all retreated some.’ He said, ‘We just need to plug you back into structured therapy,’” she explains.
Now, as the world begins to open, Catherine can enjoy activities, like attending an Atlanta Braves game with friends, that might have felt overstimulating and uncomfortable before therapy.
“With the CCC, it's about the scientific knowledge Dr. Gore and his team are advancing. They are making services accessible to more people and in real-time,” she says. “My hope is that people the country over can have access to this kind of high-quality care from an extraordinary team.”
Written by Ruth Underwood
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neurological conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.