Angelina’s Angry Outbursts Were Baffling. A School Clinic Helped Make Sense of Them.

By Rhiannon Collette

It all started with a simple ear infection.

After spending a vacation swimming with her family, Angelina, 13, developed a nagging ear pain that wouldn’t go away. Her parents, self-employed small business owners, couldn’t afford insurance for their children, so Angelina’s mom, Brooke Loveless, searched fruitlessly to find a clinic that would be willing to see her daughter at a cost they could afford.

She found a solution—quite literally—in the backyard of her daughter’s school.

The Hogg Clinic, which is part of Memorial Hermann’s Health Centers for Schools, offers free health services to students who attend Hogg Middle School and its feeder schools.

“When we were looking for a clinic and we found one right behind her school, that was amazing,” Loveless said. “It’s so close! Having this clinic right here is great because she can go directly from the clinic straight to school and I don’t have to take two hours out of work, which is how we support our family.”

Not only did the Hogg Clinic providers treat Angelina’s earache, but to Loveless’ surprise, they also offered a range of other services to help Angelina, including behavioral healthcare.

“They asked if there were any other concerns that I had and I told them, ‘Well, you know, now that you mention it, Angelina has a lot of anger, more than what a 12-year-old should have,’” she said.

Angelina’s angry outbursts had become frequent and intense. She flew into a rage when asked to do simple chores. She yelled and screamed when asked to play with her little brother. She never apologized for her behavior.

“It was simple stuff that you would never assume anyone would yell or scream about,” Loveless said.

Her motherly intuition told her that something was wrong with Angelina, but she couldn’t put her finger on the problem.

That’s when Ecenthia Burnett, a licensed clinical social worker at Hogg Clinic, stepped in to help, connecting Angelina with a mental health professional who could diagnose her condition. It was determined that Angelina was struggling with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a brain disorder that can severely impact a child’s ability to learn. Once she was on a medication regimen, Angelina went from earning Cs and Ds to earning As and Bs.

“It was pretty quickly that we saw a turnaround in her grades,” Loveless said.

But her anger remained a problem, especially at home. Loveless returned to the Hogg Clinic and shared her concerns about Angelina’s explosive temper with Burnett who immediately thought of a condition she had recently learned about called Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD), a relatively new diagnosis assigned to children who suffer severe temper outbursts and regular irritability.

Burnett set up a teleconference between Angelina and a mental health professional and they carefully walked through Angelina’s symptoms.

“He asked us a lot of questions and everything checked off – it was all of the things that Angelina does and feels,” Loveless said. “Right away, the doctor diagnosed her with DMDD and started her on medication. We could immediately notice the difference.”

Seemingly overnight, Angelina became kind and helpful. She did chores without being asked. She was patient and accommodating of her little brother. She apologized when she became upset.

“And Angelina never apologized for anything before,” her mother said.

Overcoming Angelina’s anger not only helped the eighth-grader feel better about herself, it also allowed her family to grow closer.

“For the first time in at least four years, we were able to go out together, as a family, and enjoy each other,” Loveless said. “And I could hear her. I could hear the things she was going through, the things that she likes, things I didn’t even know she liked, and it was the first time I was able to really actually have a conversation with my daughter.”

The diagnosis and the treatment have been a huge relief to Brooke who had been blaming herself for Angelina’s anger management problems.

“You feel like it’s your fault,” she said. “But you don’t know what it is, and you wonder if it’s all in your head. To have somebody say, ‘It’s ok. We are going to work through this with you.’ And to have Angelina live her best life, it’s like a fog has been lifted off our family. This clinic has been a true blessing to us.”

Memorial Hermann operates 10 school-based clinics throughout the Greater Houston region, serving 72 schools across five school districts. Each Memorial Hermann Health Centers for Schools’ clinic is staffed by a nurse practitioner/physician assistant, licensed clinical social worker and a licensed vocational nurse with oversight provided by an affiliated physician. Along with essential medical services, the clinics also offer mental health services. Addressing the mental health needs of children fosters a healthy sense of emotional wellbeing and allows them to better focus on their education and academics.

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