A Concussion with a Cause

After Jack got a concussion during a go-kart race, he received care from Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital to help him get back on the track.

Published in Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital - Spring 2022

It was something 15-year-old Jack had done numerous times for the past three years, racing go-karts at Andersen Race Park in Palmetto. Because of his hard work, he has been on the podium multiple times in both the second and third positions, an accomplishment he is proud of. While he has never come in first, he dreamed about what it would be like in victory lane as he competed in a 16-lap club race last fall. His aggressive driving was paying off and the finish line within his reach. Then things got out of hand.

“I was pushed wide about midway through the race and lost a bunch of positions,” Jack says. “I was trying to get back to the top making a pass to gain second place.” Then several of the karts got tangled up. Jack ended up flipping his kart and miraculously landed upright.

He managed to get out of the vehicle on his own power but was shaken up. The EMTs at the track checked him over. He was very lucky. He had no broken bones. “I felt disoriented,” he says. “I really don’t remember much more about that day.”

“I don’t know a time when Jack wasn’t interested in cars and racing,” says Jack’s mom, Janelle. “From a very young age, he was mesmerized by the sound of automotive engines and fast cars. So, as any parent would do, I looked for ways to spark his interests and we stumbled upon the karting program at Andersen Race Park. Me and my husband started taking him there to watch weekly races. He was only 13 at the time but, I’m pretty sure he was hooked from that point forward.”

Karting is a popular motorsport in which small, four-wheeled vehicles called karts (or go-karts) are used to teach kids about learning how to race. It’s considered the first step to moving into other motorsports.

“Even though Jack had been checked out by the medical team at the track, we could tell something was not quite right with him,” Janelle says. “He kept repeating the same two sentences over and over. Since we live in St. Pete, we took him directly to the Emergency Center at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, where doctors quickly diagnosed his concussion.”

Jack was sent home with instructions to follow up with the hospital’s sports medicine physician in the next week, along with a list of things to help him begin to recover from a concussion, like no TV or computer screen time.

“When Jack came to see me, his dad brought the helmet he was wearing during the crash, so I could see the damage,” says Patrick Mularoni, M.D., who specializes in sports medicine at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. “That helped me reenact the injury so I could understand what symptoms to look for based on the type of injury he had suffered. It also helped me better focus on his concussion, since he had no other injuries from the accident.”

But that’s not all Jack and Mularoni talked about during his appointment. They realized they had something in common. A love for motorsports and a program called Kart 4 Kids, an annual fundraiser for Johns Hopkins All Children’s.

“When Jack first came to my clinic, he immediately introduced himself as a kart driver,” Mularoni says. “He told me about his connection to the hospital through his association with the Kart 4 Kids organization. From that conversation we bonded because I have also driven a kart at Andersen Race Park in the Kart 4 Kids Pro-Am Kart Race."

“I’m also honored to be a benefactor of the proceeds from the Kart 4 Kids Pro-Am event,” Mularoni says. “Through funds raised at this event, we have created the Kart 4 Kids concussion initiative, which funds the Johns Hopkins All Children’s concussion research program providing physicians and other clinicians the opportunity to perform a multitude of concussion research studies.”

“Since Jack had a strong desire to get back into racing, we asked him to get into an electronic (simulator) racing vehicle first to make sure that he would be able to perform the tasks associated with racing without having the risk of crashing,” Mularoni says.

“We were so fortunate that Jack was under the care of Dr. Mularoni,” Janelle says. “Imagine getting paired with a leader of concussion research for children. He was great outlining Jack’s recovery goals and helping determine when it was safe for him to get back on the racetrack again.”

The 11th annual Kart 4 Kids Pro-Am Kart Race was held at Andersen Race Park in February. Teams of professional and amateur drivers came together for the race. In total, more than $1 million has been raised since the event commenced. These funds have been used for everything from lifesaving equipment purchases to the Kart 4 Kids Concussion Initiative.

This year, through a donation from Janelle’s real estate firm to help raise funds for Kart 4 Kids, Jack formed his own Kart 4 Kids Charity Pro-Am Team and asked Mularoni to join the team. “Jack really feels he is making a difference by participating in the Kart 4 Kids Pro Am event,” Janelle says.

Jack is grateful to Mularoni, the hospital and Kart 4 Kids to be back on the track with a new understanding and appreciation for how important it is to give back. “I thought it was pretty cool that last year, I was racing in the Kart 4 Kids Pro Am Race, helping raise money for the hospital’s concussion program and I end up benefiting from some of that research,” Jack says.

As for his future in racing, Jack plans to keep racing into adulthood. “Hopefully, by that point, I will be winning the St. Pete Grand Prix,” he says.