Tag Archives: High School

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!

 

CT Lacrosse Player’s Four Year Journey Through Concussion

{ Editor’s note: I’m excited to include a “success story” here on The Knockout Project, as most of the time I’m hearing from people during what are some of the worst moments of their lives. The attached story features Marianna Consiglio’s battle with post-concussion symptoms. It was written just before Marianna and her parents agreed to a revolutionary surgery performed by Dr Ivica Ducic  to ease her suffering- a surgery that, by all accounts, has been very successful. The link included below is to a recent ABC News story that featured Marianna and detailed her surgery experience.
You can take these two pieces as a “before and after”, if you will.

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/doctors-surgery-relieve-lingering-concussion-pain/story?id=19095339

Once things settle down for her, I think we can look for Marianna to write her story here from start to finish. – Jay }

Marianna’s Story

By Erin Leo

mariannaFour years ago, if you had asked Marianna Consiglio what she wanted to be when she grew up, she would have said she wanted to be a teacher.

“I thought it would be fun to be in charge. I was a little bossy when I was younger,” she says, laughing as she recalls her earlier desired profession.

However, if you were to ask her now, the sixteen-year-old would firmly tell you she wants to be a doctor with a concentration in sports medicine, something she never would have considered before her injury.

Nearly four years ago in April of 2009, Marianna stepped out onto the field to play goalie in a youth lacrosse game. Halfway through the game, after already making half a dozen saves, Marianna stepped up to block yet another shot from a girl less than five feet away from her.

She blocked the shot; but it came with a price.

The loud crack as the shot rebounded off Marianna’s helmet made the whole crowd cringe. The force of the ball caused her head to snap back against her helmet, doubling the impact of the hit. Within seconds she was dizzy and had a throbbing headache, but she continued with the game. Afterwards, however, she knew something was very wrong.

“By the time I had gotten home, I was throwing up and could barely see,” she said.

Her mother rushed her to the emergency room where she was diagnosed with a concussion, not an uncommon injury in sports.

“At first I didn’t think it was that big a deal—a lot of kids get concussions and recover without significant issues,” said Laura Consiglio, Marianna’s mother.

However, three months and three different neurologists later, the symptoms from the concussion, specifically the debilitating headaches, had not subsided, and she was referred to Boston Children’s Hospital Sports Injury and Concussion Clinic. An ImPACT test revealed significant cognitive impairment in her visual and verbal memory scores.

“The doctor at Boston told us that the younger the athlete, the longer it generally takes for them to recover from concussions,” recalled Mrs. Consiglio. “He prepared us that it might take up to 12 weeks for her to fully recover, which I remember thinking no way!”

As it turned out, Marianna and her mother are now wishing it had really only taken 12 weeks.

For a year, doctors monitored her cognitive function and prescribed several different medications intended to ease the headaches. By March 2010, she was deemed recovered cognitively, but the headaches had yet to go away. Marianna was then diagnosed with Chronic Daily Migraine. Two years later in 2012, she has since seen seven different neurologists, tried five different naturopathic remedies, and been on countless medications. Still, she experiences near constant headaches and has not gone more than six days without a headache since her initial injury four years ago.

Now, the daily migraines she experiences turn everyday into a battle.

“The hardest part about having the headaches for so long is always missing stuff with my friends and family, and always feeling like I have to explain it to them,” she says.

As a junior in the middle of her high school experience, not being able to hang out with her friends or attend their birthday parties can be hard. It’s a luxury most other students take for granted.

“Although she has occasionally been out to the mall with friends and a couple of Sweet Sixteen’s, she has also missed a lot of social things that go on,” says Mrs. Consiglio. “She has turned some invitations down or left parties early; she doesn’t get to see her friends as much as most others her age.”

Her condition has impacted her family as well. Having gone through all of her ups and downs with her, they hate seeing her in so much pain and are frustrated at the lack of a cure or aid so far.

“It is so frustrating to see her in pain and not be able to do anything to help her,” says her mom. “Or more like, everything I do to try and help her is futile.”

Her older brother, TJ Consiglio, feels the same way.

“Seeing her in pain every day and having trouble helping her get through it is the hardest part,” he says. “You just feel helpless, and that’s the hardest thing to cope with and overcome for all of us.”

However, the biggest obstacle for Marianna and her family so far is school. Though she has a 504, a medical form that allows her to miss school and assignments without consequences, she struggles daily with make-up work and dealing with teachers who don’t understand her condition. She has not been able to attend a full month of school since her injury four years ago.

“I’ve had to come up with totally different school strategies,” she says. “I used to procrastinate to the last minute to start and finish my assignments, but now I know I have to do them right away when I feel good because I don’t know when the next headache is going to come on and prevent me from doing it.”

She goes to a local tutor regularly and has had to finish classes over the summer to receive credit for them. The school has also rearranged her schedule so that she has a free study the first and last period of the day in case she has to come in late or leave early.

“She gets very stressed out about missing and late assignments,” says Mrs. Consiglio. “She is determined to do well and wants her grades to reflect her true ability.”

Despite the many challenges, Marianna has been able to keep up in school and has been able to complete all of her requirements, even if they are just handed in a little later than usual.

“She always has a ton of make-up work, even over the holidays and the summer,” says her brother, TJ. “But she works so hard and always manages to get it done.”

Even more impressive, is the fact that this year she was inducted into the National Honor Society in her high school. NHS requires all of their inductees to have a cumulative GPA of 3.5 and maintain it throughout the rest of their high school career, a feat many normal students cannot achieve, proving just how hard Marianna has worked to continue doing well in school.

After all, she needs to keep up her grades if she wants to pursue her career path of becoming a doctor, and following her dream to help others with similar conditions.

“I’ve missed a lot of school, but I also know that many people wouldn’t be able to keep up their grades like I have, so I am even more determined to become a doctor in sports medicine,” she says. “I know how bad athletes want to get back on the field.”

Perhaps most impressive of all, however, is that despite the amount of pain she is in daily, she doesn’t let it dampen her spirit, and does everything she can not to let it stop her from being a normal kid. She also credits her family, for always being there for her.

“Each one of my family members are my biggest support system,” she explains. “I love them all and couldn’t do it without them.”

Her family continues to hope for a better tomorrow right by her side.

“I am so proud of her determination,” says her mom. “But she is sick of being sick, and I keep hoping that tomorrow will be better for her. I promised her we would not stop until we found a doctor to cure these headaches.”

Even with the many set-backs she has encountered, Marianna has always maintained a positive outlook and believes that she would not be the person who she is today had she not been injured so long ago.

“It has certainly taught me some of my most important lessons in life,” Marianna reflects. “I’ve missed out on a lot, but I’ve also come to realize who my true friends are and what really matters to me.”

The quote she now sets her life by and draws strength from is the one she thinks best describes her whole situation.

“It’s not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning how to dance in the rain.”

Southcoast MA HS Senior Soccer Player Describes Her Experiences With Concussion

By Lindsey Santos

santosOn October 26th, 2010, I received my first concussion. During a competitive soccer game against one of our conference teams, I was jumping up for a header, pulled down, and then deliberately kicked in back of the head twice, blocking the third kick with my hand. I stood back up on my feet and knew something was wrong. I tried to “shake it off” as any other athlete is taught to do, but when I started throwing up, I jogged myself off the field. When I told my parents I had a headache later on when we arrived back home, they took me into the emergency room to get checked out. During that visit I was diagnosed with a concussion. Already knowing somewhat about concussions, I figured it would be a “normal” two weeks of headaches. Little did I know that two weeks would turn into three months.

I had headaches every day, and I constantly felt tired and confused. My goals had to be set aside to take care of my health. Not being able to go to school caused me to fall behind my peers in the classroom and on the field. After having my concussion for about four weeks, my doctor recommended I go to see a Sports Medicine Specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital. There, I took my first Impact Test. Even though I did well on it, my symptoms clearly showed that I still had a concussion. I followed up every month with him basically just asking questions about how I felt and keeping track of the symptoms. Finally being cleared back to sports in January of 2011, I returned to play basketball for my high school.

After only being cleared fully for a week and half, I received my second concussion. Someone set a pick on me and just completely elbowed me in the process. I immediately knew that I had a concussion because when I got up, I was dizzy and my vision was blurred. But, I stayed in the game because I didn’t want to accept the fact that it had happened. My coach took me out of the game because I was clearly “not right”. The trainer checked me out and held me from going back into the game. Waking up the next morning with a severe headache forced another trip back up to Boston Children’s Hospital.

It was just the same routine as last time- as if I was never cleared. This time the specialist advised that I come up with some sort of agreement with my teachers for help in the subjects that I wasn’t doing well in. My school principal developed a 504 plan that provided me with accommodations to get extra time to take tests and hand in projects. Some of my teachers weren’t aware of my condition though and some major assignments were counted against me. I felt like I didn’t have any control over my life as if a carpet was ripped out from under me. I started to write and draw to help me through my PCS (Post Concussive Syndrome) recovery. During all of this I was also losing my friends. When they would be out having fun, I was stuck at home with a headache crying myself to sleep. They would get mad when I told them I was going to stay home because I didn’t feel well. They started to believe I was faking this concussion to get away with things, like quarterlies, homework, and get-togethers.

After another three months had passed, I was cleared for contact sports again. I was feeling good and healthy, even with two concussions under my belt. Though things felt altered, I was learning to cope and accept it. I could not let my two concussions defeat me any longer. I had to face these obstacles head on and regain control of the things that mattered most in my life. Even though I am still dealing with headaches three years later and break down every once in awhile, I strive to make a difference. I introduced the Impact Test to my school and even though the athletes hate taking them, I know it can make a difference for the better. I also help other students in school who have a concussion. I guide them, and I’m most importantly a friend to them. I don’t want anyone to go through what I did. Going through these challenges has certainly had a large impact on my life. They have prepared me for other bumps in the road that I will face as I live the rest of my life.

“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.

mad5

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.

 

WA HS Sophomore Lacrosse Player Reflects on the Physical and Emotional Damage of Post Concussion Syndrome

By Kait Dawson

kaitIf you were to look at me, you wouldn’t think anything was wrong. On the outside, I look like a normal, happy, healthy, teenage girl. But there is so much more going on inside my head than it seems. I am a completely different person than I was before. I have pounding headaches everyday, and I’m not able to remember something I was told five minutes ago, or a movie I’ve seen a dozen times. I have emotional outbursts. I’m constantly both mentally and physically exhausted. I’m losing friends who don’t understand why I am the way I am, and I sometimes feel hopeless and depressed. I struggle with insomnia and being so behind in school that I have to repeat classes. It is a seemingly never-ending bad dream that I can’t wake up from. I never thought much of the word “concussed” before it was relevant to me. But, that word is now my life.

I am now a completely different person than I was before my accident. I was a 4.0 student. I challenged myself daily and took school very seriously. I was a year ahead most students in math, science, and Spanish. I also played lacrosse five nights a week. Lacrosse was a huge part of my life. Pretty much all my friends were on the team. I also play basketball and tennis, but lacrosse was the love of my life. This contrasts greatly to how I am now, taking minimal classes and not even being allowed near a lacrosse ball.

The one thing I do remember very clearly is that day. It was a warm, sunny day in April, the 11th to be exact, and I was wearing my favorite shirt. In PE that day we were playing basketball and I was on a team with three of my closest friends. We won all of our games, so we made it to the championship, which happened to be against an all boys team. It was a rough, violent game that included a lot of fouling. There were two minutes left and we were tied. The only thing on my mind was winning. If I had known that this one game would impact the rest of my life, I might have been less competitive. A boy on the other team dropped the ball at the top of the key and I saw my opportunity to score. I quickly lunged forward. Little did I know, a boy on the other team also decided to lunge for the ball too. Our heads hit with an audible thud and I wobbled backwards in a daze. The gym spun around me, and my ears rang loudly. My head felt like it was going to explode from throbbing pain. I quickly snapped out of it and picked up the ball and scored a basket. We won that game, but my life had taken a dramatic turn for the worse.

When I got home, I told my mom about what happened and that my head was hurting. She checked to make sure my pupils were dilated evenly and made sure I wasn’t feeling nauseous. That was all she knew about concussions. We both thought nothing of what was happening. I bombed a biology test the next day. Biology was my best and favorite subject and I couldn’t understand why I did so poorly. I still didn’t realize what was going on. That night, I played a lacrosse game. I was disoriented the whole game and kept losing track of who had the ball. At this point, my head was still pounding. I was also super sensitive to light and noise. I will regret going to school the next day for the rest of my life.

I was planning on staying home because of my headache, but it was the Friday before spring break and I had two tests that day, one in English and one in Geometry. That day in PE, we were playing ultimate Frisbee. Being my usual competitive self, I was playing too roughly. I don’t remember anything about playing except for the moment I got hit. It was like one of those slow motion moments in a movie. I saw an opportunity and jumped in front of a girl on the other team that was about to catch a pass from a teammate. I swatted the Frisbee away from her and heard it hit the ground. This girl was obviously surprised about what happened and wasn’t expecting it at all. She flailed her arms and her left elbow made contact with my right temple. It was the same spot that the boy’s head hit in basketball a few days prior. I immediately collapsed on the field. I wasn’t unconscious, but I was really out of it. I got up slowly and tried to process what had happened. The PE teacher asked about what happened and I explained. After hearing that I was hit a few days ago, she tugged me off the field. I was sent straight to the nurse’s office and then straight to the doctor’s office from there. I was told that I had suffered a concussion.

My first thought was, “when can I play lacrosse again?” My pediatrician told me I would be completely better by next week. I canceled my travel plans for spring break and spent the whole week in bed in a dark room. I don’t remember that week at all except that I slept a lot. When it was the next week and I didn’t feel better, I was discouraged. But, my doctor assured me that it would only be two more weeks. She said that sometimes it takes a little longer. After each benchmark passed and I had no improvement, I began to lose hope. It was now the summer break and I wasn’t better at all. I spent the whole summer in bed. I left my house maybe five times at most and saw my friends only once. It was a really dark time for me. I was so confused. Why wasn’t my head getting any better?

Not much changed for the next few months. I had full testing done by a neuropsychologist and they couldn’t find anything wrong with me. It became very clear that full time school wasn’t an option so I dropped several classes and got a 504 plan. I hated the idea of this. I felt weak, like I couldn’t handle it. I wanted nothing more than to go back in time and stop myself from getting hurt. I had missed out on playing in the state championships with my lacrosse team, going to the Young Life camp that my friends and I had been talking about since 6th grade and everything else that mattered to me. I was still in a very dark place.

From then on, things didn’t get much better. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished I could go back to that day and change things. But, I can’t. I’m stuck with debilitating headaches, anxiety attacks, and just coping in general. I’m stuck with being this whole new person that I don’t recognize. I’m stuck with Post Concussive Syndrome for the time being and there’s nothing I can do about it. The only thing left to do is to be positive and pray that my brain will heal soon. I’ve had to miss out on so many opportunities over the last year because of it and I’ve struggled with periods of depression. But recently, I have come to accept it. I’ve learned that there’s no point in getting upset about something I can’t change. I could have PCS for another month, or another year. There’s no way to know. But the thing I have learned is to just “let it be”. I’ve finally come to terms with it. I no longer get stressed about small things like I used to. It’s not the road I chose, but it’s the one I’ve been dealt.

I don’t know when I’ll be able to play lacrosse again. I pray every night that my concussion will go away so that things can get back to normal and I can play the game I love so much. The one thing I do know for sure is that, when I do return to the lacrosse field, I will be wearing a helmet. I will be the only one on the field sporting such lovely headgear, but I don’t care. I will wear it proudly because I know that I am protecting my head.

What’s A Life Worth To You? The Absolute Importance Of Athletic Trainers In High School Sports

{Editor’s Note: I can think of no one better to speak to the need and value of Athletic Trainers in high school sports than someone whose life was literally saved on the playing field by an AT. Kevin Saum can claim that honor. Kevin is a Knockout Project Round Table member and his bio is available on this page .- Jay}

By Kevin Saum

saummudMore than 50% of high school students in the United States do not have the luxury of having an athletic trainer on the sidelines of their games and practices.  Yet athletic trainers are standard in collegiate and professional sports.  This reality is highly questionable considering that the underdeveloped, youth brain is at the greatest risk of injury.  In addition, studies have shown that young athletes take longer to heal from brain injuries, compared to the brains of more physically mature athletes. Why is it that school districts and policy makers are willing to implement safety changes AFTER a fatal, or near death incident occurs?  I often wonder what would have happened to me if Miss Barba were not on the sideline the night I was injured.  I venture to guess that you would not be reading this blog post.

After reading The Concussion Blog’s March 4th post, which recognized March as National Athletic Trainers month and encouraged readers to give a shout out to their favorite athletic trainers, one AT immediately came to mind.  Despite my lack of punctuality, I would like to recognize an Athletic Trainer at a high school, “set in the valley” in Chester, New Jersey.  Suzanne Barba, “Miss Barba” to all the students, is West Morris Central’s Athletic Trainer of thirty years, and not only mends bumps and bruises, but also touches the lives of every athlete she tapes, rehabs and teaches. Suzanne is also responsible for saving my life in a high school football game on October 5, 2007.  I do not remember very much from this night, but it is a night that undoubtedly changed my life forever.

As an athlete, one place you never want to be is in the athletic training room.  Being in this room either means you are out of the game, multiple games, the season, and possibly forever.  Just ask Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers, what happens when you go into this room.  Players would rather risk their long-term health and careers to stay out of this room, and look  where that got Robert Griffin III. I was a senior captain and a product of playing in a sports culture, which frequently glorified playing through injuries.   I naturally felt obligated to play injured in what was our team’s last chance to make a run for the playoffs.  In week two of the season, I sustained a separated shoulder, and Miss Barba tended to this injury for the few weeks leading up to my last game.  In the meantime, I strained the rotator cuff in the opposite shoulder, which instinctively left my head as the only blocking/tackling tool to use.  Naturally, like any competitor, I refused to let these ailments keep me off of the field.  However, after playing with these injuries and leading every hit I made with my head, I sustained a concussion. It should be noted that I was never officially diagnosed with a concussion, because I did not inform anyone about the excruciating headaches I was experiencing.  I never told a doctor, my parents, my coaches and certainly not Miss Barba.  She would never have let me play if she knew about my headache.

As I have alluded to previously on this blog, I unsuccessfully attempted to suppress the pain with four Advil and ran out under the glow of the Friday night lights for what turned out to be the very last time.  Just before halftime in this game I received a significant blow to the head, which left me unable to feel my legs.  With my history of chronic leg cramps in hot-weather games, everyone assumed it was just another cramp, as my teammates helped me to the sideline.  Because of Miss Barba’s experience as an EMT and Paramedic, she knew my condition was something much worse than leg cramps.  Upon recognizing my right-sided gaze, a common sign of a subdural hematoma (brain bleed), Miss Barba called for Advanced Life Support, and luckily a helicopter was in the area, on its way back from another call.  The doctor on the sideline was initially surprised by this request, until moments later, when I began to seize.  Miss Barba’s role did not stop at calling for appropriate medical attention.  She was also the one assisting my breathing with a bag valve mask when I went into respiratory failure, because of the brain swelling that ensued from second impact syndrome. The breathing assistance prevented brain damage and ultimately saved my life.

At that time, In 2007, Miss Barba was only a part-time athletic trainer because she was also responsible for teaching health classes during the day.  Due to a lack of time and resources, this work schedule prevented her from implementing baseline concussion testing and working with athletes to rehab their injuries.  Fortunately, in the year following my injury, Miss Barba was made our high school’s full-time athletic trainer.  Now, thanks to Miss Barba’s exceptional work and overwhelming support from parents, our school has a very thorough graduated return to play (RTP) protocol for its athletes.  This RTP process includes input from the strength and conditioning coach, to aid in implementing the graded physical activity protocol. Athletic trainers and strength coaches spend a lot of time with athletes, both during the season and in the offseason.  During this time they get to know the athletes personalities and ability levels.  They can identify when athletes are not acting like themselves, similar to how parents can, but in an athletic environment.   ATs specialize in diagnosing and treating injuries, while strength coaches have a great understanding of each individual athletes physical capabilities.  This collaboration between AT and Strength Coach, during the evaluation of an athlete’s RTP, allows for an appropriately stringent evaluation. The intricacies of Miss Barba’s RTP procedure meet, and I feel exceed, the standards set in place by the AmericanAcademy of neurology.  As a result, Suzanne believes that athletes feel safer and more confident returning to their sports, after passing this test.

On average, 12 football players die every year due to heart conditions, brain injuries and heat-related causes. Most of these deaths could be prevented with an AT overseeing athletic operations.  Athletic Trainers carry AEDs on the sidelines and could save the life of an athlete who has a heart condition.  Without ATs, concussions cannot be adequately managed due to conflicts of interest that exist in sport. Although athletic trainers have limited control in preventing brain injuries, other than educating athletes, nearly all brain injury related deaths could be avoided if concussions are managed properly.  On hot summer days, AT’s monitor the heat index and have the authority to cancel practice if conditions are too dangerous.  In addition, ATs ensure athletes are properly hydrated, which also prevents heat-related deaths.

Recently, the AmericanAcademy of Neurology published their updated return to play guidelines for concussions.  Most notably, they make the following recommendations:

  • The use of baseline testing.
  • Immediately removing a player from play when a concussion is suspected.
  • Individuals supervising the athletes should prohibit an athlete with concussion from returning to play until a Licensed Health Care Provider (LHCP) has judged that the concussion has been resolved.
  • Licensed Health Care Providers should develop individualized graded plans for return to physical and cognitive activity.

These recommendations are based on research and when implemented, they undoubtedly will make sports safer to play.  However, without the presence of an athletic trainer, their feasibility and intended efficiency are significantly hindered.  Not all parents can afford to take their children to LHCPs.  Who will recognize and remove an athlete from play when a potential concussion occurs?  The coaches? Who are trying to win a game and have a million other things and kids to worry about?  Wouldn’t that be a conflict of interest?  Where is the accountability in returning an athlete to play without an AT? Are coaches now going to be responsible for recording injuries and validating their athlete’s medical notes?  Are physicians going to be responsible for administering graded physical activity tests, with no prior knowledge of the individual’s abilities? All of these questions are answered when Athletic Trainers are looking after players.

Clearly, every athletic program would choose to have an Athletic Trainer if they were not faced by budget constraints.  I owe my life to an Athletic Trainer, which is why I am very passionate about the issue.  Considering all the statistics in regards to the dangers on the sports fields and the obvious safety and life saving benefits an athletic trainer brings, I ask the school districts, policy makers and parents, how much is a life worth to you?

Alex Smith Link:

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1426269-alex-smiths-benching-could-set-nfl-concussion-safety-back-for-decades?utm_term=NFL+Football&utm_content=NFL&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

RG III Link:

http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/sports/Shanahan-Wanted-to-Believe-RGIII-Could-Play-Injured-185822561.html

AmericanAcademy of Neurology Guidelines:

http://neurology.org/content/early/2013/03/15/WNL.0b013e31828d57dd.full.pdf+html

Twelve football players die every year:

http://vitals.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/05/17621060-12-school-football-players-die-each-year-study-finds?lite

 

barba1

 Suzanne Barba takes care of Michael Burton, who currently plays fullback at Rutgers University

 barba2

I think she did a good job. Ed Mulholland/US Presswire Photo

 

 

 

 

 

16 Year Old NY HS Junior Has Her World Turned Upside Down By Concussion

By Kimberly McNicholl

kimberlymcI had everything going for me. I had my own tutoring business, I was extracting DNA at a lab for a college university, and taking Physics and Chemistry courses in school. I was enrolled in drivers ed and practicing driving. I was a group leader in my school’s Robotics team and had straight “A’s”. My schedule was always packed. I loved it that way. Never would anyone imagine that a small bump on the head would cause me to lose all of this.

Everybody bumps heads once in awhile. It’s so common that you forget it happened because it’s such a minuscule part of your life. Your head may hurt for a little bit, but a week later you would forget it even happened. That’s why when I got my concussion, no one thought anything of it. The night of the concussion was the most painful night of my life. I spent the entire night in tears not being able to sleep because of the throbbing pains. The next morning, I was diagnosed with a “significant concussion” and was advised to take the rest of the week off and return to school on Monday. As the week went by, the headaches did not subside in the slightest bit. I was living on pain pills and even the tiniest noise or light could induce tears from the excruciating pain.

Trying to go back to school that Monday after seeing a Concussion Specialist was absolutely impossible. I ended up leaving early and seeing a different doctor. I was told by her that my health was more important than my education, and that I would not be able to go back to school until I was somewhat recovered. Not only that, but I was no longer able to look at any screens, or listen to any loud music. That meant no cell phone, no computer, no iPod and no way to contact my friends other than the house phone. I had to give up my whole life to go into complete isolation for a month.

During this isolation, most of my time was spent in a dark room listening to audiobooks and doing anything to ease the constant headaches. As time went by, most of my friends started to forget about me. I was out of sight and out of mind to them. Only a few close friends would call and visit me. The isolation was depressing. I would be lying if I said I stayed strong during this time period. I cried often and felt extremely lonely. I had many emotional breakdowns and anxiety attacks which made the headaches worse. I missed my life and my friends who had forgotten about me. I tried a couple of times to leave my house, but car rides as well as fluorescent lights made me sick. Even seeing too many colors in one place would make my head spin. 

Also during this time, the school district attempted to start me on home schooling. While I could usually handle seven hours worth of school without a break, I couldn’t handle twenty minutes of tutoring without completely breaking down. I was forced to drop one of my science courses because of my lack of lab hours. The labs would have been basically impossible for me to make up. Because I was not attending school, Smithtown’s policy stated I would be unable to attend all the clubs I was in. I was forced to miss the entire build season in Robotics. My entire life was falling apart and there was nothing anyone could do to help me. The depression got so bad where I was advised to start seeing my old social worker again. Although it helped a little, it is basically impossible to keep your head up when you lose your entire life and all you get in return is non-stop pain. 

Although the pain was the worst symptom, there were plenty more accompanying it and making my life miserable.I was constantly dizzy to the point where sometimes I couldn’t walk across the room without falling. I was also having memory problems and my vision was very blurred. Occasionally I would start to see stars and I always felt like I was in a fog. I didn’t feel like myself and didn’t remember what I was like pre-concussion. During this entire time I was not myself, and I hated the person who I had become. I felt lazy and disgusting from laying in bed for weeks. I hated myself for not being strong through this. I didn’t believe that I would ever get better. After six weeks of these symptoms, the Doctor decided that I would need medication to give me the push I needed to get better. I was put on Amantadine, which is also used for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s patients. This was a miracle drug, it minimized most of the symptoms just enough so that I could start being a human being again. 

After ten weeks of isolation, I was finally cleared to go back to school for four periods a day. On top of that, I would be doing home tutoring after school to try to catch up on all the work I missed. After several fights with the school, I finally got all the tutors I needed for my five core classes. Although I was back in school, the amount of limitations I had were insane. No gym, a zero percent exertion rate, no homework, no tests or quizes, and no independent reading were just some of the requests on the several doctors notes the school received. As much as I wanted to go back to school, it was torture. My head was constantly still hurting. The doctor tried helping the constant headaches by increasing the Amantadine. Unfortunately, this did not help at all and I experienced extreme shortness of breath. I couldn’t even walk up a flight of stairs without feeling as though I just ran a mile. 

As of now I am in five periods of school a day. I still have tutors after school and I am just starting to get my life back, although I don’t think it will ever go back to the way it was at the beginning of this year. I still am not allowed to do any physical activity and I have to restrict my mental activity. I have a list of accommodations regarding school work. The school is currently in the process of completing the 504 paperwork, so the teachers are forced to listen to these limits, which has been a problem for the last two months.

Every two weeks I go back to the doctor who is tracking my progress and we are always trying new things to try to push start recovery. Recently my body became immune to the Amantadine and my doctor advised me to stop taking it and try acupuncture. The week I got off the Amantadine was a very hard week to get through. I’m not sure if we were wrong and the pill was actually helping, if it was withdrawal symptoms or if it was just because of the relapse I had the week before. Regardless, it caused a decent amount of pain. In the past month I have relapsed twice. Once from doing too much homework and another time from lawn work. Although I recover from the relapses, it sets me back a couple of weeks and scares me. I’m always terrified that I will have to go back into isolation if I over work myself. 

Especially in the eleventh grade, the pressure to get all your work done on time is immense. Colleges look at this year more than any other year, and that causes extreme amounts of stress to every kid going through it. As of now, I still can not read without getting massive headaches. This makes me unable to sit through four hour reading comprehension tests like the SATs and ACTs. After working a whole lifetime to try to get into college, the fact that I may only get one shot on these standardized tests is frustrating to deal with. I also know that if I don’t recover over the summer, these scores will be a lot lower and not be an accurate representation of all the hard work I put into educating myself. The college board is very stingy when it comes to giving extra time on their tests. Because the impact test I took in November and in February tested for mostly cognitive and memory symptoms, which I didn’t have as much of, my scores did not represent how bad my pain was. The only way the college board will even consider giving me extra time on the standardized tests is if I take a neuropsychological test. I will most likely be taking this over the summer considering it is seven hours of intense testing that can very easily cause concussion patients to relapse. Even now, taking tests causes me a lot of anxiety. Although I learn the material and understand it, It takes me a little longer than most and I forget it very easily. Also forty minutes of pure concentration and writing is enough to induce headaches. Thankfully, most of my teachers are working with me and making learning this years curriculum a little easier. 

When going through freak accidents like this, the most important thing is support from friends and family. Without this support, it is absolutely impossible to recover. During this time you need your friends and family to step up and help you in whatever ways possible. Even if its just believing you when you say your head hurts or you can’t do something. It sometimes gets to the point where if enough people tell me that I am “milking it” or “overreacting” to get out of work, I start to believe it myself. I start pushing myself harder to show them that I am truly trying my best and I end up relapsing by the end of the week or sooner.

Because of lack of support and ignorant comments from most of my extended family, I know how important it is to educate people on Post-Concussion Syndrome, which is why I am writing this paper. People think since you look fine on the outside, that you are fine, which is not the case. Because concussions are “invisible injuries” that you can’t even see on a MRI or CAT scan, people have a hard time believing that it could be as painful and hard to get through as it is. I have met other people with concussions, some even worse than mine, who also agree that support is so important during this recovery period. Unfortunately, some people think they know everything about concussions and won’t take the time to research them, you don’t always get the support you need. A person with a cast on their leg would never be expected to run a mile, so why are concussion patients expected to do all the mental work of a “normal person”?

I know I would not have been able to survive this injury without the amazing support of my mom, my boyfriend, and specifically two of my close friends. These close friends would call often and sit with me for hours, even though I wasn’t able to do much. One of my close friends would occasionally sit with me and read me things off of our favorite websites since he knew I couldn’t go on the computer. My other friend would call me several times a week and make time every week to visit me and sit with me. He would also attempt to help me with physics and drivers ed homework, even though I later ended up dropping both. I can not thank these two people enough, they are truly my best friends and they proved it during this time. My boyfriend was over any time he had the chance to be and is always the first one to offer if I need help with anything. He is always keeping a close eye out for me and making sure I won’t do anything that will hurt me in the long run. Whenever I have headaches, he makes me rest, he literally deserves an award for dealing with my stubbornness.

My mom was the biggest help, and still is. She is constantly fighting with the school to get me everything I need to succeed. She is on basically every concussion website known to man talking to other concussion patients and looking up remedies and medications that could help shorten the recovery process. She was there for me for every emotional breakdown and for every tear I shed. She took off of work to be with me and took me to every doctor’s appointment, while also making sure I was only seeing the best doctors. She put everything into making my isolation easier on me. 

The reason I’m posting this is because people with Post Concussion Syndrome need to know they are not alone and that they are going to get better. There is a reason we got hurt and we are all going to somehow make it into a positive experience. As soon as I started talking to people off of these websites, I started to feel a lot better. There is a whole community of amazing people from all over willing to help you and talk to you because they went through exactly what you’re going through. I want to be there for someone like all these people have been there for me.

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.