A Different Kind of “Back To School” Story

Clinical Expertise

by Deborah P. Davis, M.S. | Aug 31, 2017

Each year, the Brooks School Re-entry Program (BSRP) has the immense responsibility and great privilege of assisting more than 150 families maximize their child’s successful transition back to school following a disabling illness or injury. A school re-entry coordinator serves as the liaison between the child, their family, Brooks Rehabilitation, the school system and various agencies to ensure the child’s academic needs are met.

As a state-designated treatment facility for brain and spinal cord injury for children, Brooks routinely receives referrals from acute care hospitals in the region to provide these specialized rehabilitation services to children. Upon admission, BSRP begins working with the child’s family and school district to determine the child’s immediate and long-term educational needs. Some patients receive educational services from the local school district while still in the hospital, while others begin after they have been discharged to their homes.

The BSRP works with more than 30 school districts in Florida making sure appropriate and needed educational services are provided. The child’s family, their peers and the school system are all critical to the recovery process. The BSRP works to bridge all these entities to ensure the child’s successful school re-integration. The program may include education for classmates, school professionals and families to help them understand the challenges and needs of each student. With the support and knowledge gained through BSRP, parents become informed and active participants in their child’s return to school as well as advocates for future school success.

The Zekas family is one example of how BSRP is making a difference in the lives of our young patients and their families.

In December 2015, like most middle school students, Larson Zekas was looking forward to the Christmas holiday. Although he loved his private school and excelled in all his advanced classes, Larson was still eager to finish semester exams so he could enjoy the holiday with family and friends. However, on December 16, 2015, Larson experienced an excruciating headache and blacked out. He was rushed to the hospital where he was diagnosed with a ruptured brain aneurysm. He underwent a special emergency procedure to seal off the aneurysm in the hopes he could avoid extensive brain surgery. Thankfully the procedure was successful and after the New Year Larson resumed regular activities.

Everything was going well until March 10, 2016, when Larson was found unresponsive and was again rushed to the hospital. Doctors soon discovered that the same brain aneurysm had ruptured again and his survival was questionable. Larson underwent surgery to deal with the ruptured aneurysm and its aftermath. In addition, Larson suffered a stroke which left him paralyzed on his left side.

This once energetic and bright 14-year-old was left with severe neuromotor and cognitive deficits. Once medically stable, Larson was transferred to Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital (BRH) to begin intensive inpatient rehabilitation.

My initial meeting with Larson’s mom, Susanna Zekas, took place in his hospital room at BRH, two days after he was admitted. During our meeting, I explained BSRP and shared various options for school. I let Susanna know that I wanted to “worry about school” so she didn’t have to…so she could use her time to focus on Larson’s rehab and recovery.

Over the course of the next few days, I contacted Larson’s private school and discussed school concerns. Once it was determined that his private school would not be able to meet his current educational needs, I assisted Susanna in getting Larson enrolled at a local public school so he could be referred for Hospital/Homebound (H/H) school services.

This began a process of H/H enrollment meetings with the school, weekly team conferences at Brooks and ongoing communication and decisions made with Larson’s parents. Just as the school year was coming to a close, Larson was discharged from BRH and returned home. He finished the 2015-2016 school year with H/H and based on the outstanding grades he earned before his hospitalization, was promoted to the ninth grade.

Once a child receives aid through the BSRP, the service is ongoing and may be continued throughout the child’s entire formal education.  We continue to work closely with the Zekas family and many others to ensure a successful transition back to school and ongoing school success. Our goal is to inspire families with hope, confidence and courage to seek excellence in educational opportunities for their children.