Category Archives: High School

Syracuse University Freshman Takes Us Inside Her Head

By Jenn Castro
castroThis is the first time I’ve really told my story to anyone. So, here’s what I’ve been through in the past four years in what will most likely be a very long letter. Good thing my writing skills weren’t affected by my concussions.

As I sit here, a college freshman, stressed and anxious for finals week, I cannot stop thinking about one thing in particular: my concussions. Earlier today, I received a notification on Facebook that my mom requested me to like a page known as “The Knockout Project”. Having no idea what this group was before looking at the page, I am now feeling more empowered than I have ever been in my entire life.

Having a mom who’s on Facebook may be embarrassing at times, with her witty comments on your pictures that you just have to keep up on the page because she’ll get mad if you delete them. However, today, by requesting me to like this page, my mom changed my life.

As I sit here in the study lounge at Syracuse University in a room full of people, I am not ashamed that I have had tears streaming down my face for the past hour. I decided to check out The Knockout Project’s website; little did I know, I would soon break down like a child and I still can’t seem to stop.

Growing up, everything I did revolved around sports. Today, I continue to live and breathe sports. (I also endured dozens of injuries while playing these sports that have set me back immeasurably. Most people I know say I’m the most injury prone person they’ve ever met. That’s not really something you want to be told.) Some people think I’m crazy for how much I love Boston sports teams and Cuse’s football and basketball teams. Throughout my life, I’ve tried almost every sport there is, but I’ve stuck to three: soccer, basketball, and softball. That was, however, until concussions stopped me right in my tracks.

After playing soccer since preschool, I certainly had plenty of skill to play on my high school team. Freshman year, I was fortunate enough to make varsity, and I was thrilled. I never knew that the happiness I felt after hearing I made the team would soon change to depression, anger, frustration, anxiety, and a hatred of life. A few days after tryouts ended, I felt a pop in my leg after going up for a header. Granted, this time, I didn’t hurt my head, but I learned later that day I had sprained my MCL in my knee. I was thankful it wasn’t torn, but little did I know, that injury kept me sidelined for the entire season. It killed me to sit on the sidelines and watch my teammates play a sport I lived for, and unfortunately, this was just the beginning of one of many seasons I’d sit out because of an injury. Freshman year of basketball, I sprained my ankle and was out for a good portion of the season. Sophomore soccer season, after “recovering” from my MCL injury, I strained my quad and was sidelined once again. During basketball and softball, I certainly had my fair share of bruised and broken fingers, too.

Yes, I do realize that these aren’t concussions. I haven’t gotten there yet.

Just like soccer, I absolutely loved playing (and watching) basketball. Although I was always the shortest girl on the team, I was tenacious on defense and had a pretty fantastic three-point shot. I soon learned that the sport I loved so much would destroy my life.

Sophomore year of high school, I was on the varsity team. I had a very, very tough coach who was new to the program. He was harsh on us, which was emotionally draining. It was certainly a very physically demanding season as well, which, as an athlete, I didn’t mind, but it took a lot out of me after I’d been at school all day and most likely stayed up until 2am the night before doing homework. Some of my older teammates had gotten injured during the season, so I was called on to step in. I was playing phenomenally well and couldn’t have been happier with my performance. Even with two ankle braces and a knee brace on during every practice and every game, I began to think that all these injuries would be behind me. I soon realized that I was very, very wrong.

Because two of our best players were sidelined, our record wasn’t the best. Nearing the end of the season, we needed one more win to make it to the state tournament, and that’d all be decided by a game against Whittier Tech the Saturday before February vacation. If we won, we’d head to states; if we lost, our season was over. This was the first real test for me as a high school athlete in a high-pressured, tense environment. On the bus ride there, I listened to my usual pump-up playlist. Surprisingly, I wasn’t really nervous about the game. Heading into warm-ups, my shots were pretty consistent and I was feeling great. Being introduced as a starter as I shook hands with the opposing team’s coach and ran through my teammates’ handshakes made me feel like a superstar. This would be my game, I thought to myself. As our boys’ basketball team was watching on in the stands (because they were playing directly after us), I secretly wanted to impress a few of them with how I played that day. Turns out, I did, but I also scared them and everyone else in that gymnasium.

The game was extremely physical and fast-paced throughout. Whittier Tech’s fans were rather loud and dicey with the referees all game, and my coach sure had some words with them, too. With 1:28 left in the fourth quarter, if I remember this correctly, the game was tied. I was coming off a season-high seventeen points and three three-pointers. Their coach was so frustrated with how well I was playing that he moved his team’s defense to a box-and-one, meaning four of the girls would play a zone defense, and their fifth player would play man-to-man defense on me, as to prevent me from getting the ball and make my life a living hell. Even as the smallest girl on the court, I was definitely feeling confident. I had made some great defensive plays along with strong passes to my teammates on offense. Well, after that 1:28 mark, my life was never the same. Crazy how it just takes an instant.

Whittier was inbounding the ball and I was guarding their point guard. The in-bounder then passed it in, and their coach had devised a screen play for my girl to receive the ball shortly after. The story I’m about to tell is not from memory. If it were not for a father in the stands videotaping and for my mom who was also at the game taking pictures, I would have absolutely no recollection of what happened for the rest of that day.

As soon as the ball was inbounded, I obviously stayed tightly marked on my girl. Seconds later, I was “hit by a train”, as my coach later told me. An opposing player ran full force at me to “set a screen” so that my girl could get free and in turn run the ball up the court. As soon as I turned my back from the ball to run with my girl, I was blindsided by her teammate with a shoulder and body check to the upper body and head. All momentum in my body was soon shot backwards. I immediately fell to the ground in a curled up, fetal position. What was strange about this fall was that I could still feel heavy sounds of feet running up the court. I thought, did I miss the whistle? Maybe I was so disoriented that the whistle came immediately after I was hit and I just missed it. I was later told that the referee, who was standing within feet of me when I was hit, did not call a foul or eject the girl from the game. This play was clearly a deliberate plea by the other team’s coach to get me out of the game. Not only do I believe that, but in the video, my coach, and also my teammate’s father, can be heard screaming, “That’s a foul!”

jenncastro

 

So, anyway, as I was seeing stars and couldn’t feel my entire body laying on the cold, hard ground, I had no idea what was going on. I couldn’t remember my name, where I was, and all I heard was silence in the gymnasium. There were gasps among people in the stands and I didn’t hear voices until my coach and the trainer approached my seemingly lifeless body. They started asking me all sorts of questions and after what seemed like a half hour, I was helped off the court with an immensely large headache, dizziness, and an extreme fear that my life would never be the same.

I still can’t believe that girl wasn’t ejected from the game or even called for a foul. She never apologized to me and their coach never came over to see if I was okay. Their actions purely disgust me, but I’m not worried about their poor values because this is my life, so I’m only worried about myself. It still hurts me, though. They have no idea the impact that deliberate, malicious play has had on my entire life. I wish they did.

My team ended up winning the game in overtime. However, I was unable to really experience what that win felt like because I was sitting on the bench with ice bags on my head. My mom, who is the most incredible person in the world, has always taken pictures of my brother and I in every event we participate in. I do remember looking over at her across the gym, blurry vision and all, and her hands were in her face and she looked like she was crying. She immediately knew this wasn’t just another sprained ankle or broken finger that would take only a few weeks to heal.

My teammates were obviously ecstatic that we were heading to the state tournament. They were also concerned about my well-being. I ended up staying with my teammates to watch the boys’ game right after ours, which probably wasn’t the best idea. I assured myself I was fine; I only had a headache, I said. Bad idea, Jenn.

My mom immediately took me to the emergency room, as my headaches persisted. I was dizzy, nauseous (even though I didn’t tell her that), sensitive to light and noise, and had many other symptoms, too. From what I remember, which isn’t much, the doctors diagnosed me with a mild concussion. I was ordered to not use any sort of technology for a week, and was told to remain on complete bed-rest for a while until my symptoms went away.

**After showing this letter to my mom, she reminded me that I waited two weeks to go to the emergency room. I actually thought I was fine until I had practice and couldn’t run up the court without feeling like I was going to faint. Told you my memory was bad.

As a three-sport varsity athlete and High Honor student, rest was not something I was used to. I was incredibly busy and always on the go, so bed-rest made me feel like a couch potato. My friends and teammates reached out to my mom to see how I was doing, as I had no means of communicating with them. It was nice to receive phone calls, but after a while, I got really tired and upset of saying, “Yea, my head really hurts, and no, I haven’t left my bed.” I had never experienced a concussion before, so this whole process was very new to me. Certainly I’d had dozens of injuries before, but nothing, absolutely nothing, like this.

I have no idea who the man was who videotaped that basketball game, but I thank him from the bottom of my heart for doing it. If he hadn’t, I would have absolutely no idea about how well I played, and I’d have no recollection of the train-wreck that occurred with 1:28 left in the game. When I received a copy of the video, weeks after the game and weeks after my concussion diagnosis, I asked my mom if I could watch it by myself first. I had no idea what to expect, as I couldn’t remember a single thing from that game. So, I watched it from beginning to end. Right before the 1:28 mark, which I thought was ironic, the man videotaping held the video camera up to the scoreboard so as to see the score and time remaining. Soon after, the play began, and bam, as soon as I knew it, I was laying lifeless on the ground. When I saw the hit, I felt like I was going to throw up. It was one of those hits you’d only see in a football game where the defender would be flagged for a hit to the head. It was one of those hits you’d cringe watching every time for the rest of your life. I rewound the video to 1:28 about ten times just to watch the hit because I didn’t believe it was real. There was no way that was me. I had been having a phenomenal game, and just like that, it had all shattered. My heart broke after I saw that on tape. Obviously my heart broke when I was told that I had a concussion and couldn’t compete with my team in the state tournament, but this was really brutal for me to watch. After I gained my composure, I called my mom into the room so that she could watch it. Because her eyes are always behind a camera lens, it’s difficult for her to see what’s going on in much of the game if she’s capturing a certain play/person. I had no idea if she’d seen me get hit, even though she told me it happened right in front of her. As I sat on the couch and as she stood somewhat in front of me, I pressed “play” only for my heart to drop again. As I write this, tears stream down my face replaying her reaction in my mind. From what I remember, she made one of the loudest gasps and then bent over in what seemed to be frustration, fear, and anger. I really don’t remember much after that, but I’d assume it was followed by a long crying session and a very long hug. I think that’s what happened, actually. Then, the situation occurred again after I showed my dad.

Although I should probably be studying for finals right now, after reading stories on The Knockout Project’s website, I felt compelled to tell my own story. I’ve never gone into this much detail to anyone about this, and I feel my greatest strength is in writing, so that’s what I’ll do.

Thankfully, I had a week to rest and not have to worry about school immediately after my injury due to the fact that it was February vacation. After break, however, I went back to school almost full force, and I regret that deeply. I am so committed to my schoolwork that I couldn’t even begin to think about missing any days because of a head injury. I didn’t realize how big of a mistake this was until I was still struggling with headaches months after the injury. My teachers were understanding of what I was going through. My doctor had written very strict notes on what I could and could not do, although I didn’t listen to the “moderately go back to school” part. To anyone reading this, take their advice on that. Don’t push yourself. I did and it has negatively affected my life to this day, three years later.

I couldn’t stand being in brightly lit rooms at school, and the noise in my classes was unbearable. Unfortunately, being the tough girl that I am, I took medication and “shook it off”. As the weeks passed and I wasn’t getting better, my mom became concerned.  We went to multiple doctors who didn’t seem to have any reason as to why my symptoms weren’t going away.

Watching my teammates play in the state tournament while I sat on the sidelines broke my heart. We lost that game, and the locker room/bus ride home atmosphere was brutal. I cried as soon as that buzzer sounded. I couldn’t believe I held it in that long, but I knew I couldn’t cry in front of my teammates, my coach, and in front of people in the stands. There was nothing worse than watching them compete while I struggled with a pounding headache because of bright lights, bouncing balls, shouts from the stands/coaches, and whistles blowing.

Months passed and I still wasn’t progressing. It was soon April and softball season was approaching. Freshman year, I had made the varsity team for a coach I loved and a team I really enjoyed being around, so I was excited to head into the season. Little did I know, I would miss over half of the year because of the concussion I’d sustained in February. I was finally cleared to play over four months after the incident occurred. Even at that point, I still wasn’t feeling right. I had failed not one, not two, but four (maybe even more, I can’t remember) Impact Concussion tests in that four month period. I was anxious to get back to sports, so I kept taking them when I didn’t have a headache for a day or two, thinking I was getting better. They probably hurt my injury even more, because they were so incredibly time consuming, computer generated, and highly thought provoking.

The headaches and other symptoms persisted throughout the rest of my sophomore year and into the summer. I don’t really remember much about that time, but I do know it was incredibly difficult for me. Things were so bad that I had to eat lunch in the nurse’s office every day at school. Every day. I couldn’t handle the bright lights and loud noises a lunch room took on daily, not even for the twenty minutes we were allowed to eat. I spent every day from February 23rd-June 23rd in my nurse’s office. Granted, the nurse is a very nice lady, and I became close with her, but what high-schooler wants to be away from her friends during lunch, one of the only times during a school day where we actually get to sit down and relax?

As the days passed, I became more and more frustrated with my body. I didn’t know why these symptoms weren’t going away, and quite frankly, neither did my doctors. I saw numerous professionals and neurologists for months. They prescribed me multiple medications that only made my symptoms worse, and actually made my depression and anxiety worse, too. I woke up every morning with a headache and went to bed every night with one. There wasn’t one day for a span of months that I didn’t contemplate disappearing and ending my life. It was an incredibly dark time for me, not just because I couldn’t play sports I loved. I couldn’t understand why this was happening to me; just months before, I was a starter on the varsity basketball team and having an incredible academic year. Now all that was in the past and would stay there.

I don’t remember much about the summer after sophomore year other than continued doctors appointments, frustration, tears, and pain. Once school started up in September, I had to make the very tough decision to not play varsity soccer, as it would affect my health and future, especially if I got another concussion. After playing soccer for over eleven years prior to that, it was hard watching my teammates play a game I loved knowing I couldn’t, especially after not being to play in the state tournament basketball game and also missing half of softball season months before.

Once winter came around, it was time for basketball season again. I still had headaches everyday and my other symptoms were present, too. However, I still gave tryouts a go and played that year…that is until I got another concussion. This concussion occurred much earlier in the season than the first one. It was right before Christmas break (ironic how both were right before breaks). I found it also ironic that this game was videotaped, too. That’s the only way I physically saw what happened to me. I took a charge against a girl who was significantly taller, broader, and stronger than I was, and immediately fell to the ground. Although this is a normal procedure in taking a charge, when I hit the ground, I also hit my head and suffered severe whiplash. This hit wasn’t as severe as my first concussion, but as soon as I got up, I knew something wasn’t right. I was discombobulated and immediately had the same symptoms I had shown during my first concussion. Because I stayed down on the court, I had to come out of the game for a bit. However, once I satisfied the rule of coming off the court, I went right back in, and that was a mistake. After one or two plays, I knew my mind wasn’t in the right place. I motioned for my coach to take me out, to which he did, and that was the last time I stepped foot on a basketball court and the last game I’ve ever played, and ever will play, in my life.

Whoa. Did that last sentence give you the chills? It did for me. Yup, last basketball game ever. This was my second concussion and I was absolutely devastated. Basketball is no longer in my vocabulary because it makes me too upset to talk about. It breaks my heart every time I watch my brother play in a game, or every time I watch the Celtics/college teams play in the winter. To this day, three years later, the thought of never playing again still bothers me. I feel like it always will. I would do anything to lace up those shoes, put on those Nike mid-calves, and even my two ankle braces and my knee brace to play again. You know the saying, “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone”? Yea, well, it’s true.

**Also after showing my mom this letter, she reminded me that the game before the one mentioned above, I had hit heads with an opponent but kind of shook it off. So, two hits to the head within a two-day span.

Normally, athletes who remain playing throughout their four years get to have a senior game, where their high school career is celebrated, and they know this will be a special day. I always dreamed of that for all three sports. I only got it for one: softball. For basketball, I unexpectedly had my last game ever and never in fact knew that would be my last game beforehand. For soccer, I never even made it to junior year.

For the rest of that basketball season, I went to every single one of my team’s practices and games even though I couldn’t play. Aside from the heartache of being sidelined, the loud noises left me with extreme headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. I went home trying to focus on homework and studying, but just couldn’t. It was an extremely long three months. I had to delay taking midterms because I still hadn’t recovered.  I had to again spend lunches in the nurse’s office, and had to go home early from school many times because it was just too much for me.

It’s hard to go into detail about the rest of that year because I don’t really remember it. All I know is that I’ve never been more emotional and frustrated in my entire life. From February 18th of sophomore year until now, I’ve experienced the hardest times of my entire life. I haven’t even talked about the struggling social aspect of having concussions and I’m already seven pages in.

Continuous doctors appointments left me feeling empty. Medication after medication proved to be ineffective. I tried physical therapy for the whiplash. It was alright I guess, but it left me in a lot of pain, and it was time-consuming. I was still trying to stomach a full school day, watch my team practice/play, complete homework/studying, and then PT, and it was certainly hectic and stressful. I received multiple special massages that were supposed to “heal” my muscles, and they actually made my symptoms worse. My mom was doing everything in her power to get me better. I felt so bad because none of this was her fault, yet she had to take on the burden of research, calling dozens of doctors, and being concerned about her daughter all because I played a sport and was seriously injured. My dad was also affected by this too, but he hid it better. I only realized how hurt he was after I received a blessing from the priest at my local church and he broke down the entire time.

My depression and anxiety had gotten so bad during this time that I had to go to counseling, which I absolutely hated. I cried my eyes out every appointment (which I guess is what they want you to do??) but I disliked it because I actually had to tell someone how I was feeling. I’ve always been a person who keeps everything in emotionally, hence the point I made earlier that this is the first time I’ve really opened up about this and it’s over three years since the initial injury.

Come senior year, I once again had to make the very tough decision not to play soccer. Once basketball season came along, I gave tryouts a go and just couldn’t do it. Minutes in, I realized I would never make it through the season. I was dizzy instantly, my headaches were brutal, and I couldn’t even make it up the court without feeling like I had to faint. I was so embarrassed to be trying out for a physical basketball team in a condition like this, especially as a senior. I had broken down on the sidelines to the assistant coach and I told her there was no way I could do this. She encouraged me to stay a little bit longer to see if things progressed, so I did, but they just didn’t. This was one of the most heartbreaking experiences for me. I saw my basketball career dwindle and basically disappear before my eyes. I had originally been so excited about playing in my senior season, as every athlete should be, seeing as senior year is one of the greatest and most emotional times of our lives. As I came back for the second day of tryouts to see if I could muster it, I soon came to the conclusion that this was the end for me. As I unlaced my shoes and ankle braces for the last time ever, tears ran down my face. My teammates looked at me in confusion and I couldn’t even look them in the eyes. It was too much for me. It took me over a half hour to gain composure and bring myself to tell my coach that I wouldn’t be coming back. Walking to my car and out of that gymnasium was arguably one of the worst moments of my entire life. I felt like an absolute failure to myself, my team, my friends, my family, and most importantly, my parents. I was disgusted in myself. Damnit, just writing this brings me to tears. I fucking hate this. I fucking hate it.

(regain composure, Jenn, regain it)

I would like to point out that my boyfriend at the time did something that really helped me. Upon calling him in tears to tell him that I walked away from basketball, he knew right away that this wasn’t going to be an easy road for me. That night, after work, he walked out to my car with a bouquet of flowers with a beautiful ribbon wrapped around them, to which I’ll be forever grateful to him for. You may think they’re just flowers, but that gesture saved my life and he (nor anyone else) would have never known that until they read this very sentence. Thank you for saving my life, Riley McQuillin.

Someone along the road mentioned acupuncture. I never really knew much about it and wasn’t open to it at first because I’d become so incredibly frustrated with trying so many things and nothing ever working. I began going two to three times a week, and it made my body feel funny. During some appointments, as I had over twenty needles in my body, I bawled my eyes out, and other appointments, I just couldn’t stop laughing. The specialist said that was perfectly normal. The emotions released while someone is undergoing acupuncture are pretty cool, actually. Some of the places I had needles in were incredibly painful, and I couldn’t move for a whole hour in fear of feeling that pain. It felt like a pinched nerve if I moved a certain way, and I absolutely hated that. However, I do recognize that acupuncture helped me, and I am going to go back to it after finals week as I head into winter break. I hope it will help me now as much as it helped me back then.

I’m sure I’m missing a ton of things about what occurred doing those two concussions, but I just can’t remember everything. My memory has been affected severely since my brain injuries. I find myself often forgetting the simplest of things. It’s actually frightening. I feel like I have a 90-year old brain and it kills me inside. It really does. I fear everyday that I won’t be able to remember something on a test or remember something important that I need to do, and everyday, it always happens. I have to study twice as long as the average person and I still don’t remember many things.

Between those concussions, I took the Impact Concussion Test twelve times. Twelve. There are no words to describe how heart-wrenching it is to hear from the school’s trainer that my test scores were some of the lowest she’d ever seen, and even after months passed, my scores were even worse than they were immediately after the initial injury.

I’ve been writing this for over three hours. My hands are getting pretty sore and obviously my head hurts (what else is new). Time to wrap up.

Brain injuries are incredibly horrifying. I have been diagnosed with two concussions in the past four years, but surely, to my and my mother’s dismay, I have had numerous other hits and blows to the head that weren’t diagnosed. This experience has taught me to take nothing in life for granted. One day, I was having the time of my life as a sophomore on the basketball team, and now I’m a freshman in college still struggling with headaches, insomnia, depression, ADD, OCD, and anxiety.

I could go into the social struggles of having a concussion for another ten pages, but I just can’t muster up the courage. It’s too hard and too emotional for me. I just cannot do it. But, to the people who think concussions aren’t serious and that you can treat people with them like crap, then you have some serious thinking to do. You need to look back and re-evaluate your life. There is nothing more painful than having an injury that other people can’t physically see. There’s no cast, there’s no brace, and there are no crutches. Nobody can see that you’re physically, mentally, and emotionally dying inside. It is one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with. After my second concussion, some people would walk around and say, “Wow, Jenn has ANOTHER concussion”, and not in a “I feel so bad” way. It was in a rude, inconsiderate, and incredibly hurtful way, like it was just something to brush off. Some people would even say that I was sitting out of games to gain attention. Absolute bullshit.

People don’t understand how painful concussions are until they actually have one. They affect absolutely EVERY aspect of your life. There are no words to describe how horrible I felt about myself after I heard some of the things people were saying about me. These past three years have been without a doubt the hardest of my entire life and I’m honestly not sure they’ve gotten better. Sure, I’ve accomplished many things since February 18th of my sophomore year, but headaches and other symptoms are still an everyday occurrence. I can hardly remember anything anymore. I can’t fall asleep at night. If I do fall asleep, it’s at 2am, 3am, or even 4am, and I then start my day at 7am. Doctors diagnosed me with anxiety and clinical depression. Other things happened, too. I’m just tired of crying tonight so I’ll end my story here. Thanks for reading. It means a lot to me to open up for the first time. I’d include more but this is over 5,300 words and I need to get back to studying.

I hope God has a plan for me. I know He’s putting me on this path for a reason, but I still haven’t figured out what this reason is. I just want to be happy and I just want to feel better. This has been so hard for me, my family, and my friends. My mom, dad, cousin, Aunt Debbie, and best friend Jordan, specifically, hate to see me suffer and would do anything in their power to help me. I appreciate them very much and am grateful to have them in my life. I don’t know what I’d do without them.

Whoever reads this, please pray for me. I have certainly achieved a lot since that February afternoon, but it’s still a very hard road for me and I need every prayer I can get. Thank you very much.

xoxo Jenn

Virginia HS Junior Reflects On “The Journey”

{Editor’s note:  When we tell our stories, it’s as much to get them off our chest as it is to release the regret that we feel for having done something to ourselves that likely could have turned out differently if we knew ahead of time that suffering like this was even remotely possible. Marissa is very eloquent in this piece, but what should not be lost while reading it is the very real physical and emotional pain that she still feels to this day. Saving others the expense of dealing with this pain is a common thread in all of our experiences. These stories are all here for a reason. Heed them. –Jay}

flora

Marissa, left, and friend

By Marissa Flora

“Invincible,” the word that would rush through my head each time I stepped out on the field.  It was a reminder that I would never be the one to get hurt, and if I did, I somehow convinced myself that I could play through anything and I would be just fine.  These days, that idea has changed; “invisible,” is now the word that rushes through my head each time someone does not ask, “What’s wrong?”  No one can see my injury, no one understands what I struggle with to get through the day, and no one knows how much harder I have to work to be successful. Continue reading

South Coast MA Soccer Player Lindsey Santos: 4 Years and Counting

By: Lindsey Santos
Edited By: Carolyn Kenney

santos3I think it’s about time I use the real date of when I actually got my first concussion. I’ve been using different dates in my writings in the hope that it will scramble my memory and I’ll forget eventually the date that is imprinted in my mind. Well, it didn’t work like I hoped it would.

So, I will use the real date: October 28th, 2010.

It was a cold, dark night. Our blood was pumping, fueling our energy as we arrived at the high school. Lights were shining down on the field that we were about to play on. Tension was growing as both teams warmed up for a rival conference game. I had played over 2,000 games of soccer, and I had no idea this one would end up changing my life. I was having one of the best games of the season. Distributing the ball and getting around people came simple to me. With one minute left, the score was zero-zero. We had a corner kick, so I went into a position where I could run in and head the ball. As I was jumping up, I was grabbed by the waist and pulled down to the ground. Before I had time to react, I was kicked in the head two times before blocking the third strike with my hand. I got up and took a few steps before I felt overwhelmed and threw up. I jogged myself off the field. Little did I know I would be on the sidelines for three months. Continue reading

Amidst the Pain of Post-Concussion Syndrome, PA Girl Finds Herself

{Editor’s note: I am constantly amazed when I hear the stories of people who deal with PCS in school. As someone who inherently knows the misery involved with PCS because I deal with it myself, Alyssa’s story is heartbreaking for me. I am heartened though, by her maturity beyond her age and her resilience. I know that she will be successful as she moves forward in her life –Jay}

doudsMy name is Alyssa Douds. I am 18 and live in the Pittsburgh area.

Growing up, I was a tomboy. I played basketball, volleyball, softball, and I bowled. I had many friends and always kept busy! I always pictured myself growing up going to school for volleyball and majoring in sports management. Two days before my eighth grade year in August 2009, my mom, my friends, and I went to an arcade. Who would have ever thought that going to an arcade could change your life?

The arcade game “The Vortex” fell on my head. I tried to duck, but it smashed the back of my head. Right away, I knew something was wrong. Everything was blurry and I just wanted to throw up. I didn’t even know what my name was! My mom took me straight to the Emergency room. The doctor told me that I was fine and that every hit in the head wasn’t a concussion. Two days later was my first day of eighth grade. I went to school and kept coming home every day with a headache! I felt really confused and lost walking the halls. I still wasn’t myself. My mom called my primary doctor and they referred us to the UPMC Concussion Clinic. Continue reading

Graduating NJ HS Senior’s Concussion Complicates The End of Her School Year

{Editor’s note: I can’t think of any time that’s a good one to suffer a concussion and ensuing symptoms, but the crunch time leading up to high school graduation seems exceptionally brutal. Becca echoes the uncertainty that all of us who suffer from PCS feel. Her positivity, however, is what will lead her through it. –Jay}

beccaBy Becca Earnest

Wednesday April 30th, 2014.

My accident isn’t due to an athletic injury, although I did play my share of softball, field hockey, and a teeny bit of soccer when I was young. I didn’t hit my head in a brave, heroic type of way how most athletes suffer their concussions. Although I do remember very well the defeated feeling you receive when you’re told you’re not allowed to go back to playing the sport you’re most passionate about. I was on the verge of tearing my rotator cuff my freshman year of high school playing for the lady lions softball and I was told that if I was to continue playing and continuing to wear out my arm, I would probably need surgery and have to deal with that injury for the rest of my life. But that’s beside the point, I just wanted to say that I identify with that loss and kudos to those of you that turned that loss into a gain and are helping other players out. You’re the realest of the MVPs out there.

My accident that resulted in my head injury was from a simple little fender bender on my way to school one morning. It was 7:30 and like always, I was running late. Continue reading

Joanne Stankos, Mother of Twelve Year Old Taekwondo Black Belt Jaden, Tells “Jaden’s Story”

{Editor’s note: This piece speaks for itself, but I just wanted to mention how proud I am of Jaden and his family for the work they are doing during their journey. Jaden, you’re an impressive young man and a true warrior. I hope that I get a chance to meet you and your Mom at some point! –Jay}

By Joanne Stankos

newjaden

This is Jaden’s story.  His story of living with Post Concussion Syndrome.  He would write this on his own if he could, but he can’t.  His story is like so many other suffering with PCS.  But his takes a slightly different turn.  But I am getting ahead of myself here.  I am his mom.  I hope I do him justice by telling his story.  He will definitely let me know.

July 2, 2013.  That is when Jaden’s life changed.  I can still hear the deafening sound of the arena going silent when it happened.  It was the only time I have cried immediately upon seeing Jaden get kicked.  I knew that this time was different.  Little did I know how different.   We had just entered into the world of PCS. Continue reading

Multiple Concussions and Multiple Missed Chances Highlight NJ Soccer Player’s Story

{Editor’s note: Wow, where do I start with this story? It’s wince-worthy from almost the word “go”. I guess there are some things that stand out to me: There just isn’t enough oversight when it comes to recreational (ie: non- HS sanctioned) sports. Far too few of our kids are overseen by qualified Athletic Trainers. Somehow, we must increase awareness of injuries that athletes are suffering in these settings. That comes down to parents and coaches being more aware, since the odds are against our kids speaking up when they need to. Frankly, Haley never should have been allowed to play anything in short order the way that she was able to. Not speaking up and playing hurt took contact sports away from her- there is no doubt about it. Had Haley spoken up, been adequately treated, had time to heal, and observed a legitimate return to play protocol, the chances are much better that she would still be playing sports right now. That’s a tough lesson to learn. Hopefully, someone in a similar position will read her story and think twice about being vocal that they’ve been injured. Playing hurt for just one game can absolutely take the rest of them away from you forever, as Haley’s story clearly shows. –Jay}

By Haley Mahony

haley

As I jumped up to head the ball, I knew exactly what the consequences would be. But, I did it anyway, as I had done many times. Before my first concussion, I knew nothing about concussions. Concussion was just a word in the dictionary to me. I didn’t think that something could be so serious and change my life forever in many ways.

I got my first concussion my freshman year of high school in September of 2011. On that Monday morning, I was brushing my teeth and getting ready for school. As I went to spit my toothpaste out, I sneezed and hit my head on the faucet. Everyone laughs at the story. I guess it’s a funny story, but it changed my life forever. When I tell people, they tell me that I should make up a different story and pretend that it never happened. At the time, I was playing on the freshman high school soccer team and the concussion forced me to sit. Continue reading

Long Island HS Junior Speaks About Loss, and Perseverance in the Wake of PCS

By Kate Gaglias

kategThe saying “You will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory” is absolutely true. Many of us athletes take our sports for granted- The grueling practices, running laps for no reason, constant games and tournaments. But the truth is no matter how much we say we hate it we will always have the love for the sport. Until, unfortunately for some of us all of that can be taken away in an instant.

My name is Kate Gaglias, and I am a junior in High school in Long Island, New York. I’ve played soccer since I was four years old, beginning in an in-house league like every other toddler. I joined a travel team when I was eight called the Longwood Twisters (which I am still a part of today) and played on the junior high team, JV team, and in my sophomore year I became a member of our varsity team. But since a young age my life has been changed by concussions. I received my first concussion in 2007 by getting a ball slammed to the side of my head by one of my teammates at an indoor practice. I didn’t feel anything until I got home, and after telling my dad (an athletic trainer) and my mom (a physical therapist assistant), they checked out my symptoms (the normal dizziness, sensitivity to light, headaches) and they all added up to having a mild concussion. I was out of school for a week, and when my symptoms were gone I returned to school like a normal 5th grader. Continue reading

Illinois HS Senior Hoops Player Speaks About Life After Concussion

By Mikaela Broling

securedownload-225x3001Everyone has a story: Enlightening stories, depressing stories and even stories of faith. Each and every one of them have deep feelings and memories attached to it. In reality, they are all different, whether it be how theirs started or ended. I have not always been so keen on sharing mine, but I have come to learn that it is a very important one, one that will make people think, wonder how I keep going, but most of all it is a story of my strong faith and lets people know there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. It may not seem relatable, but look in between the lines, everyone has been lost at some point in their life, broken, fearing what is to come next. I have learned to surpass that, and share with people how it is even possible to overcome those obstacles.

My story began the evening of January 24th, 2012. I was a 15 year old girl, who loved  sports! I was a 3 sport athlete, with a total love for  playing soccer! However, on the night of the 24th I was playing a basketball game. That very unpredictable night. I was one of the most aggressive defensive players my team had, and I gave nothing short of my best every time I went out on the court! The team we were playing that night, was a very rough team. Physically and mentally. As the game goes on into the evening, the score board goes back and forth between both teams. After scoring a shot, the score board was now in our favor, and we had to get back on defense. I was in charge of marking their point guard, who had very quick feet and intentionally set me up for the biggest fall of my life. Running to keep up with this crazy fast girl, not aware of where I was headed, I ran straight into a massive post player. I ran right into her shoulder, she was much taller than me and my right temple slammed into her shoulder. After that hit, I freefell to the hard gym floor, it was the back of my head that hit hard against the gym floor.  I’m told it  was the kind of hit that silenced the gym.

Dazed and confused, I tried getting myself up off the gym floor. Miraculously, I did not go unconscious. Eventually my coach ran out to help me off the floor and to the bench. I went into a little panic attack on the bench, because I was so confused. Knowing something was wrong with me, I tried to stay calm. Surprisingly, the trainer at the gym dismissed me as nothing was wrong, just a bump on the head and to go home and sleep it off. No concussion, nothing. My mom on the other hand, was not going to settle that easy, so off to the emergency room we went. I remember feeling so tired and more worn out than usual, and just uneasy with my surroundings in the ER waiting room. Once admitted, the ER doctor came in for the evaluation, and sure enough I was diagnosed with a concussion and told I will deal with post concussive syndrome over the next few weeks or months.  I was told school would most likely become a bit difficult. That night we did not realize the severity of this hit, only the next few mornings would start to bring answers.

My dad was gone on a business trip that week, so my mom and siblings were home with me. In the morning when I woke up, I was in my moms bed with her, rather confused and very quiet. I remember seeing my mom first thing when I woke up, and asking her why I was in bed with her. She said I had a rough night, and thought it was best that I slept in her bed with her.  That day I slept pretty much the whole day and night. My mom said I wouldn’t eat and really didn’t want much to drink.  The next morning I awoke in my mom and dads bed again. My mom just sat next to me talking just a bit to me.  There was a phone laying next to me by the bed in the morning, so I was looking through it, and scrolling through pictures. I was looking at all these faces, they had no names to me. They were all strangers to me. My cousins, friends, boyfriend and even family.. I did not know them or understand why.  I think my mom was just as confused as me. We went through all the pictures together, and none of them rang a bell. This realization was the first of many to come.

Throughout the week, more and more things came about that I did not remember. My recollection of colors, food, geography, family members, friends, animals, places, my past, holidays, seasons, even my own boyfriend. All of those were lost in my head somewhere. My short term memory was horrible, and my long term memory seemed to have went completely missing. Another unusual thing that happened was that I became completely literal. I did not understand the concept of joking, innuendos or sarcasm. Also, cartoon characters and animated shows or movies tended to scare me. I really thought that all of those things were real. Still today, when I become tired, I am more apt to be quite literal and skittish around animation. The most difficult thing though was not knowing who my Dad was.  He  had been gone on a business trip and when he came back I just had no idea who he was. When he started crying, I could not help but to cry either. I mean, after all, I was not sure what I was crying about anyway . He kept reassuring me, and said that all will be ok and I would heal.  As scared as I was, I just kept trucking along.

A week after my accident, I went in to get an MRI. I had a CAT scan in the ER, which both turned out to be normal. My head injury has stumped my doctors and neurologists, as well as, my Neuropsychologists. They say they have never seen a case like this before with so much memory loss . I went on with my regular life as much as I could. I stayed home for a few days from school until I thought I was ready to go back. We did not realize the fatigue I had until I tried going back to school. My school was very understanding with me when it came time to go back. I was on half days of school for the rest of my sophomore year and  3/4 of my junior year of high school. Now a senior, I am able to go full days. I am on a 504 plan, which enables me to get accommodations with school work and tests and gives me extra time on any assignments I need. For about 4 weeks, I knew nobody’s names at school. No teachers, friends, classmates, nobody! My boyfriend, Adam, was the one who helped me with everyone’s names and helped me find my classes. I had to re-meet him several times in order to remember who he was. To this day, he still shares many memories with me that I do not have.

For 6 months to a year after my concussion, I battled  headaches and sometimes dizziness.  When I am tired, I  still struggle with lights and noise. I also have a difficult time now with crowds. The fatigue I have is  like no other fatigue I have experienced before and still struggle with it daily. Naps were a normal thing to me, and they still are. After school, I would snuggle up in bed and sleep for 4 hours when I did half days. Now that I am consistently going full days, every so often I take a day off of school to catch up on my sleep.

As of right now, I am going through neuro feedback, and seeing if it will in fact help my fatigue. I have been resting and going along with my normal life as much as possible.  I  am still getting some memory back here and there. I am hoping to get back my energy like I had before, but I also know that coming out of a traumatic brain injury like this, I will certainly not be the same girl as before. No one could possibly be the same as before. I would say all of the colors, food, animals, geography, people, etc. that I have come to know in these past 21 months, has all been taught to me, or I have learned on my own. As of right now I am still learning these things, I  definitely forget a lot of these common topics, but  I am trying to learn them still. I am not about to give up on my struggle though. I really do love life! There have definitely been times where I could have easily given up, but my faith in the Lord and in myself, along with the love from my family and  boyfriend Adam has kept me on my feet. I have learned not to be embarrassed when I make remarks, or do not understand something, because God has a plan for me. God has a special plan for each and every injured mind.  I Know His plan is an amazing one.  In the book of Jeremiah it says, “Heal me, O LORD, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise”(17:14). This is why I keep going, this is why my experience will be shaped into a story of faith and encouragement for others and also myself. There is always light when things seem dark.

Multiple Concussion Sufferer From PA Details Her Experiences

{ Editor’s note: Isabella’s experience highlights the most common (and nerve-wracking) bullet point that many of us have learned as multiple concussion sufferers: That it takes virtually no effort at all to re-injure yourself once you get the ball rolling with concussions. We know that the effects of concussions are cumulative and that each one increases the likelihood of the next one- even from a slight bump. Living under that sort of cloud day to day is stressful and very difficult; especially, as you are working hard to recover from current symptoms.   – Jay }

By Isabella Cantafio

isabellaI never knew what a concussion was until I got my first one in a soccer game in 6th grade. I headed the ball in the air with another player and fell back whipping my head off the ground. I remember feeling in a blur and sat out for about 5 minutes before returning into play. By the end of the game my head felt like someone was hitting it with a hammer and I was on a merry go round ride. My next concussion came in 8th grade from hitting my head off the gymnasium floor leaving me unconscious for 2 minutes and sending me to the hospital.

Nearing the end of my freshman year, I was in a water park accident that caused a concussion and forced me to end my 9th grade year early.

A few weeks after the accident (never being officially cleared by IMPACT test) I was playing soccer with some friends and got kicked in the head causing another concussion.

Over the summer until the start of my sophomore year I had intermittent headaches, got easily dizzy and overall didn’t feel right. I didn’t think it was from the concussion but when school started I found it hard to concentrate, my grades started slipping and the headaches just got worse.

Two months into the school year, I passed out, hitting my head and was unconscious for almost a half an hour spending 3 days in the hospital under observation for seizure activity. After the accident, I had double/ blurry vision for several months, fainting spells, problems in school, and severe migraines that seemed to never leave.

Doing vision and vestibular therapy for 5 months things started to improve until fooling around with some friends I got pushed back jarring my head causing many of my symptoms to come roaring back.

I was forced to end my sophomore year early bed bound for 5 months unable to watch tv, text or do anything that would stimulate my brain. It was horrible to say the least.

Playing basketball my junior year I got hit in the head causing another concussion.

A few months after that, I got a knee to the head and blacked out for several seconds. Not much force was needed to knock me out at this point. The summer leading to my senior year I had moderate improvements in my post-concussion symptoms and was really looking forward to senior year and looking into college.

Just when everything started improving, things spiraled downward quickly, and I got back to back concussions, 2 weeks apart. The latter of the two was a car accident that caused a neck injury and more concussion problems. I’ve been in and out of the hospital trying to get the migraines under control, doing more vision and vestibular therapy and cognitive exercises to help with short term memory problems and concentration issues, sleeping problems and mood swings.

The one thing out of my experience I have learned is to never take anything for granted. You may think you are “invincible” and you can play through any pain. But with concussions it is your brain, something you can’t replace, you need to take care of it.

No game is worth years or possibly a lifetime of problems. I can never play sports again, I still have many problems from my injuries and my college plans are on hold for now. But sometimes in life the road that everyone else is taking, isn’t the road you are supposed to be on.

Take every day one day at a time and never give up!