Exactly one year after Richmond County School Superintendent Frank Roberson underwent emergency surgery for a brain condition, school officials say it is unclear when he will be ready to return to work full time.
After months of therapy and recovery, Roberson came back to work on a limited basis Dec. 7, working no more than six hours per week.
School board attorney Pete Fletcher said his schedule won’t change until Roberson is evaluated by doctors and his insurance company, but that consultation has not yet been set.
“We did not set a timetable,” Fletcher said. “That’s up to the health care provider, and that’s still where we are now.”
Roberson had surgery on Feb. 24, 2011, to correct an abnormal clustering of blood vessels on the brain called arteriovenous malformation. Doctors say the first year is critical to overall recovery.
“Usually you see the greatest percent of recovery in the first year,” said Dr. Cargill Alleyne, the chairman of the department of neurosurgery at Georgia Health Sciences University. “But that doesn’t mean they recover in a year and then stop recovering.”
Alleyne said the extent of progress varies from patient to patient. Some regain full functionality after treatment for an AVM, while others have permanent disabilities.
Alleyne and other physicians interviewed spoke about AVMs in general terms and not about Roberson’s specific case.
The amount of recovery also depends where an AVM was located on the brain, said Dr. Jennifer Yang, the director of the spinal cord injury program at Walton Rehabilitation Center, who also works with AVM patients.
For example, patients with the abnormal clustering over the Broca’s area, which controls speech production, often have to relearn how to talk and communicate. It’s possible that some never regain full speech, while others make extreme progress, Yang said.
Depending on which area of the brain was affected, she said, some people can regain full cognitive functions but have trouble with things such as swallowing.
“It really depends on the patient,” Yang said.
Mildred Nelson, a physical therapist at Walton Rehabilitation, said she has seen success stories from people recovering from an AVM.
The patients in rehabilitation normally undergo speech, occupational and physical therapy to regain basic functions.
The time a patient spends in therapy depends on the person, but Nelson also said most progress is made in the first 12 months.
“You can kind of compare it to someone who needs to lose 50 pounds,” Mildred said. “The first 30 is easy and the last 20 is not so easy. … The brain is constantly changing. The first year is where you’re going to see the most progress, but by no means does it mean progress stops then.”