Category Archives: Soccer

“Healing Heads”- Massachusetts HS Junior on Her Concussion Journey

{ Editor’s Note: At the ripe old age of 17, Madeline Uretsky has become a prominent voice in concussion education. She was the subject of a Boston Globe feature story on concussion in January of 2013. Her story has also been highlighted by the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts, The Salem (MA) News, and a number of concussion-centric websites and blogs. She has spoken publicly on concussion, most recently at the Boston Acquired Brain Injury Support (BABIS) Walk. Madeline is truly a concussion education warrior after our own hearts, and she is an important voice. – Jay}

“Healing Heads”

mad1My name is Madeline Uretsky, and I am a junior at Bishop Fenwick High School in Peabody, MA. What used to be known as “getting your bell rung”, and being told to just “shake it off”, are no longer accepted ways of dealing with concussions.  Thanks to modern research, we know now that concussions are in fact, brain injuries, and must be dealt with as such. They are to be taken seriously, regardless of the severity, because the short term and long term effects can be devastating. Ignoring the symptoms and the mistreatment of them can have lasting effects to the brain, as we have learned from the many NFL players now suffering from the many concussions they sustained, but ignored, while playing. Any subsequent hit to the head before the prior concussion has healed can have profound effects on the brain as I have learned. I am just one of the many thousands of people who have suffered a severe concussion, and whose life has been forever changed by it. You never think it’s going to happen to you.

On October 11, 2011, while playing in my soccer game, I was tripped from behind while sprinting for the ball, fell on my forehead, snapped my neck back, and fell and hit my forehead again in the same place in a matter of seconds. I knew something was wrong immediately, but I had no idea how serious it would be. My symptoms did not become apparent until about 48 hours later. I could not sit up, tolerate any light at all, I was tired, and had an excruciating headache. It has now been a year and seven months since the moment of impact.

I spent the first 3 months of my concussion lying in bed at home, in a dark room, and on complete brain rest. This brain rest meant that I could not watch TV, use a computer, phone, draw, text, read anything, or do any sort of homework or exercise. In other words, I could just sleep, lie in bed, and not go to school.

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At this time, my symptoms were numerous and very high on the symptoms scale at the doctor. I had severe headaches as well as up to 165 very sharp pains all over my head every day. I also had severe whiplash, disorientation, memory loss, extreme fatigue, dizziness, balance problems, trouble following a conversation, ringing in my ears, and I could not tolerate any bright colors, light, or noise of any kind. My sleep at night was erratic and filled with nightmares. You would never know this by just looking at someone with a concussion because they do not have a cast like a broken bone. The brain is still injured but on the outside you look fine.

I went to my pediatrician weekly, and my neurosurgeon monthly, for a symptom evaluation. On a scale of 0-6, I had all 5’s and 6’s during those three months of brain rest; I could not believe how awful I felt. I started going weekly to a massage therapist who practices a type of acupressure that helps brain injured patients. I liked going because it was a way to relax myself, even though it was painful. I continue to go on an as needed basis, and also do many other kinds of alternative therapies that have been helpful such as chiropractic, herbs, speech therapy, balance therapy, eye coordination exercises, and others.

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As these weeks turned into months, it became apparent that there was no end in sight for me. I was isolated from my friends and my school, yet I felt so awful that I accepted that there was just nothing I could do about it, except rest, and wait it out. I had visitors, on a limited basis, but I did not even feel well enough to enjoy myself. I was unable to engage in any kind of conversation, and I would randomly fall asleep. There were times that I could not even remember that I had visitors.

I missed all but five weeks of my sophomore year and I am still not cleared for physical activity other than walking. I did catch up with my schoolwork over the summer of 2012, and now I am on a full schedule at school but with accommodations such as extended time on tests. I took my SAT test without accommodations and that was a challenge. I did some extra preparations to help myself concentrate and have the energy to last the entire test. Overall, it went well and I always wonder how I would have felt during the test if I had not had a concussion. Recently, I also had a setback that kept me out of school for a week after a re-injury to my neck from a visit to the physical therapist. What makes my concussion so severe is that I still have all of my symptoms over a year and a half later, just to a lesser degree. In addition, I have learning disabilities now that I had never had before. Focusing, processing new information, multi-tasking, and comprehending orally are some of them. I am doing much better than I was, but I still have a ways to go. I am hoping to one-day wake up symptom-free.

When you sustain a serious brain injury, your life, and the lives of those around you, are greatly impacted. What you once knew as “normal” no longer exists, things that you could count on for yourself no longer exist, and what you have to do to achieve, and accept, a “new normal”, is a difficult process, both emotionally and physically. I could no longer do any form of physical activity at all, yet I was accustomed to playing sports every day of my life. Before my concussion, I was a very involved and active student – my freshman year, I played soccer, hockey, and winter and spring track.

I decided early on in my recovery that I was going to do whatever the doctors told me, and I was definitely NOT going to let this concussion get the best of me. It’s not who I was before my injury, so I wasn’t going to allow myself to become that person. I was open to any kind of treatment that could help me. As I started to feel a bit better, I began taking baby steps to regain my life. I started to use my computer to reach out to others, as well as to learn more about my brain injury.

Along the way, I decided that there must be other teenagers out there suffering as I was, and who perhaps don’t have the kind of support that I have, so that became my mission – to help them. Life as a teenager is difficult enough, so just imagine being a teenager with up to 165 headaches per day, living in a constant state of fogginess, having memory loss, unable to carry on a conversation without physical pain, sensitivity to light and noise, and generally not being able to live the life I once had.

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Speaking at the Boston Acquired Brain Injury Support Group Walk in Jamaica Plain, October 2012

Returning to school as a student with a brain injury is a very scary proposition. Will people look at me funny? Will they ask me a lot of questions? Will they think I’m faking? – after all, I look fine. These were the many questions that I had before I returned.

My school was so supportive with my accommodations that I decided to write a chapter for a book about concussions in sports, and I have been a regular blogger about various brain injury topics, for several websites. I was the speaker at the 10th annual Brain Injury Walk in Boston in October, and the Pediatric Brain Injury Conference in November. I was featured in Bay State Parenting magazine, the Salem Evening News, and the Boston Globe as well. I will continue my crusade for concussion awareness, because I feel that this has happened to me for a reason, and that is my mission to help others.

As long and difficult as my road to recovery has been, it has also been extremely rewarding. I have been able to mentor, counsel and befriend many other kids with concussions, and this has made me feel so much better. The most important advice I can give is to stay positive because things improve over time. Brain injuries are a work in progress, there may not be a change on a daily basis, but improvement will be seen. Just because life is different than it used to be, it doesn’t mean it isn’t as great – you just have to find a way to make it as great, even if you have to do it differently.

 

New Jersey HS Soccer Player On Life With Multiple Concussions

By Alicia Jensen

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I was hit. Hit hard. I got up, and stumbled around. I was losing my balance, seeing stars and everything was spinning. I had no idea where I was, or what I was doing. I didn’t even recall the date. The referee blew the whistle to stop the game, and as everyone took a knee, I lay there in a complete daze. He said to me, “21 are you okay?” I, of course, said, “Yes, I’m fine. Just keep playing.”

I turned to a few of my team mates and asked questions like, “Where are we? How have I been playing? What’s the score? Who’s their best player?” I knew something wasn’t right, but I didn’t want to admit it. I let my teenage attitude take over and kept playing. Reality hit me again late in the second half with another blow to the head and the realization that I should have stopped after the first hit.

April 22, 2012 was the first day of my new “life”, of my new “normal”, and of my new “journey”.

I would be lying if I said that this concussion hasn’t changed my life. It has completely changed it in every aspect possible. It has changed me physically, emotionally, mentally, academically, and socially. It has put me in a position of trying to find myself, which, for a 16 year old, is still in the process of happening to begin with.

In July 2012, for my 16th birthday, my parents took my siblings and I to Disney World. My doctors had restricted me from any rides or attractions that would aggravate my symptoms. Once again, I didn’t listen. I went on the legendary and iconic “Rockin’ RollerCoaster”. For those of you who have never been on it, it is a concussed person’s nightmare. I didn’t know when the ride was going to start and didn’t pay attention to the “Keep your head back” signs. The ride started and I hit my head on the seat and immediately blacked out. *Bam!* another concussion. My doctors ruled this one as “AMA”, or, against medical advice.

I didn’t realize how stupid my decision was until I had to start all over again at Vestibular Therapy.

I just wanted to be a kid; I wanted to live my life. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to be on those rides but for some reason I didn’t care. Afterwards, I just wanted to be reassured that this concussion hadn’t totally taken my life away. Let’s just say I didn’t get that reassurance.

Fast forward to August 2012- I was tested by a Neuropsychologist and was put on half days for school. To be honest, I didn’t follow that accommodation as much as I should have. I didn’t want to be at home. I wanted to be at school with my friends and actually be around people. My doctors didn’t understand that the time I was out was instructional time that I was losing, and I was falling behind. In October 2012, I was put on a medical 504 Plan, which is basically just an official medical accommodations plan for school. For some reason, this basic plan hit me hard mentally. How did I go from an honor roll student and A’s and B’s, to needing help everyday? It was frustrating because I wasn’t used to needing help, as I am so used to doing everything myself. Asking for help when I need it is a huge struggle internally that I still deal with, even though I know it is necessary and that it is okay to ask for help.

I can’t remember what being a normal teenager feels like. Forget parties, because crowds make me feel overwhelmed and anxious. Forget football games, because the lights and the noise are a killer. Forget movie theaters and big restaurants, because the dim lighting and people give an instant headache. I shouldn’t have to live my life like this, wondering every day not IF I’ll get a headache, but WHEN I do get a headache, how bad it will be. Should I go home early from school? Should I not even go to school? Questions I ask myself every day aren’t questions a normal teenager should have to ask themselves on a regular basis.

I can’t focus in school with a headache. Sometimes it’s a waste of time even being in class because I’m not actually doing anything but sitting there with my head down and praying for the class to end and for the teacher to turn the lights out and stop talking. But, I know that this feeling won’t last forever. I know that I’m headed the right way to a full recovery. I know that I’ll get into college and although it may be a struggle, I know that I can do it. I won’t let my dreams of becoming a Doctor specializing in Sports Medicine be changed because I can’t handle college.

Sports have been my life since I was 4 years old. I have been out on that soccer field every week and weekend for 12 years and never missed a chance to kick the ball around. Soccer has always been a way to release my stress and forget about all my problems. That’s why hearing the words “Alicia, I don’t medically advise you to play soccer again” were some of the hardest words I have ever had to hear in my life. Being told you can’t do something that you have always done is hard to accept. I didn’t know anything but soccer and I didn’t want to know anything else. I liked the way things were.

I guess you could say I don’t like change, but this wasn’t just a simple change. It’s a change that there is nothing I can do about; nothing I can say to my doctors will make them clear me to play soccer again. I want to say that I have accepted that I will never play soccer again, but it still hurts every time I hear people talking about it. Every time somebody brings up a game, a tournament, or even practice, it hurts to think that I’m missing out on something- not by choice but instead by force.

It is hard to explain to people what Post-Concussion Syndrome is. Some people like to claim it as “faking”, “wanting attention”, or even “excuses for being lazy”. Nobody understands the pain that PCS sufferers go through everyday. It isn’t “just a concussion”; it is something that changes lives. I can’t begin to tell you how frustrating it is when people ask me, “You’re still concussed?!”

So much for not wanting to talk about it; I always just nod my head “yes” and walk away. I hate talking about my PCS to people who don’t get it. Why would anybody do something like this for attention? PCS doesn’t just affect me; it affects my family, friends, teachers, coaches, and administrators.

Some say we are put in situations like this to make us stronger, I truly believe that. This concussion has taught me that I need to make the most of every second that I feel well. It has taught me that I need to persevere and overcome any obstacle I face. It has taught me that everything could always be worse and that I have to be thankful that I’m still alive. I can’t take each and every day for granted. I’ve got to focus on the positives of every situation. I learn new things every day from my PCS that some people don’t learn until much later in life.

I see that as a positive in this whole ugly situation. This concussion has changed my life- and it is hard. But, because of those things, I wouldn’t take back a second of it.