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

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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. Two weeks later when I was able to retake the concussion impact test to go back to soccer, I cheated on it. I did that just so I could pass and get back to play my last high school soccer game. I was cleared to go back, but had bad karma that day as the game was eventually cancelled. Afterwards, I was on the soccer bus and a teammate hit me directly on the forehead and gave me my second concussion. My first two concussions were so close together in time that they seemed to make me prone to many more.

After healing from my second concussion, I went back to my “normal” life, and was allowed back to gym class. My gym class was playing volleyball. I jumped up to hit the ball, and, as I was landing, a boy in my class elbowed me in the head. This was my third concussion, which made three concussions in less than three months. I was out of all physical activity for about 2 months after the third concussion happened. When I was finally cleared again, I went back to playing soccer even though my doctors warned me that I should think about not playing. I thought to myself, “This isn’t fair. I can’t give up my sport. I’ll be fine”, and I went back to playing in January of 2012. During this time, I was on two different soccer teams in the winter. I was on an academy team called NJ Force Soccer Academy and also my town’s travel team. My travel team was playing in an indoor league. The night of the game, I had a weird feeling about it. I knew something was going to happen to me. The goalie punted the ball in my direction and there was no time for me to get out of the way. With a minute left in the game, the ball hit me directly off the head. I continued to play the last minute even though I knew I had suffered another concussion. It was by far the worst one I had suffered to that point. I was out for four months.

It wasn’t until April of 2012 when I was cleared from my fourth concussion. When I got back to playing sports, I was doing outstanding. No one had seen me play like my “old” self for a while and it was an amazing feeling. It was very hard coming back at first. I was scared of the ball and of getting hurt, but I started to gain all my confidence back and played like I had never been injured.

In November of 2012, my academy soccer team was playing in a tournament for the championships. We were playing the 8th ranked team in NJ and we were ranked 21st in the state. The only thought running through my head was that I couldn’t let my team down. I ended up playing my best game since I was back and headed every ball that was too high for me to chest. I had so much confidence going into that game and all of the parents were surprised because they have never seen me play that way before. I ended up taking a free kick and assisting the winning goal in overtime with 10 seconds left, but the bad news was that I got my fifth concussion in that game. I never took a break after that concussion. I just kept playing the rest of the winter season.

On the night of March 14, 2013, my life changed forever. I had a feeling I was going to get hurt, as I walked into indoor practice. I was joking around the whole time at practice and I decided to play goal, when I usually play field, but I just wanted to have fun. My teammate shot the ball so hard that it hit the post and hit me directly in the face. I blacked out for a second and sat for the rest of practice with thoughts constantly running through my mind of what was going to happen. The next day at high school lacrosse practice, I got hit in the head with the stick. These together added up to my sixth concussion. It was a terrible experience.

I went to a neuropsychologist because that was all I could do at the time. I just needed help to get better as soon as possible. She told me news that was about to change my life forever: I could never play contact sports again. I was done with my life of soccer as well as my new life of lacrosse. It was the worst news I have ever gotten. The thought of never being able to play soccer again after playing for 11 to 12 years broke my heart. I was never going to have to think about not jumping up and heading the ball again. I was in tears for days. It has been nine months since it happened and it’s still very hard to deal with. My neuropsychologist made me sit in a dark room on total rest for 2 weeks doing absolutely nothing but sleeping. It helped to get rid of my symptoms a lot, but I had a setback on Easter; which was the “last day” of my two week healing period. We had family over to celebrate the holiday, and as I was saying good bye to my baby cousin, she head-butted me in my forehead. That ended up being my seventh concussion. I was set back very far and knew I wouldn’t be healing anytime soon. I went back to the doctor the next day and my impact test scores were beyond terrible. I failed every section of the test. My scores didn’t even remotely resemble my past scores. I was told two more weeks of rest doing nothing but staying in my dark room.

I was then sent to a neurologist to see if he could help control my headaches. I got put on topiramate for about six months until I was weaned off of it. I missed almost 2 months of school and during the last two weeks I was homeschooled because I wasn’t able to handle light work. Getting back to school wasn’t easy. I was out for a while, but I caught up with my work with my homeschool teachers. I was put on a 504 plan by my doctors to help me get through the school day and to help me to handle my work. The only problem I had and still have is that my teachers don’t follow it, and they don’t allow me to do some of the accommodations, which they are permitted to do. They were very good with letting me go to the nurse when needed, because they saw the pain in my eyes. As of August of 2013, I have started visiting the chiropractor twice a week. I still have symptoms, but they gradually have gotten better since I started. I still get bad headaches on and off, I have concentration issues, and I am very sensitive to light and noises. I feel like I will have Post-Concussion Syndrome for a long time, but I am staying positive believing my PCS journey will end eventually.

Concussions will always be something I will have to worry about and be safe about. I will always be prone to them. My life has changed. I am not the same person as I used to be. It is like starting a new life. Every day is a challenge, but I am willing to take the challenge. The most important thing you have to do while having a concussion is to let others know how you are feeling. For months I kept how I felt to myself and only told my boyfriend. My parents thought I was better, and that’s why I got taken off of my medication. Once I told my mom I wasn’t getting better, that was when I got more help and started visiting the chiropractor. Since then, I have gotten so much better. Never be scared to share how you actually feel; it’s important to let other know exactly how you feel. They cannot read your mind and they don’t know what help you need unless you talk.

All I want is to be 100% better. I want to play soccer, lacrosse and run track again. I want to be able to do physical activity, like go for a run, or do little workouts. But I can’t.

I believe in the words “everything happens for a reason” and I know that something good will come of this. It may take time, but it will happen. During this crazy journey that has changed my life, I have learned so much. I have learned to be patient and enjoy life as much as I can. One thing I learned the most is, when something is thrown into your life, learn as much as you can from it and help as many people as you can that are going through the same things that you are.

As hard as it is to say this, I am glad I have been able to experience all of this. I am so lucky to be surrounded by such great people every day. The people I have met from this experience who are going through the same things I am have gotten me through every day. They are always there for me, as I am always there for them. I am also so lucky for the people in my life that I am with everyday who are getting me through this tough part of my life. My boyfriend has helped me so much; he has been here by my side every day. My family who have supported me so much and have given me all the help I need. I also wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for the concussion community supporting me each and every day, making sure my attitude is also positive and making sure I never feel alone.

I live by these words to keep me positive and to keep pushing through this life changing journey:

“An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backwards. So, when life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means that it’s going to launch you into something great. So just focus, and keep aiming.” -Unknown

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