After student athletes suffer a concussion, the first thing that pops into their heads is, “When can I play again?” What many might not realize at first is that the effects of concussions are way more than just physical in nature. Concussions mentally and cognitively impair that athlete either along with the physical symptoms or even after they have been cleared to go back on the field.
Many student athletes like me who are diagnosed with Post-Concussion Syndrome may notice some cognitive symptoms as they return back to school. Symptoms such as memory loss, confusion, a short attention span, and the terrible list goes on and on. Continue reading →
Improving health and safety in football became a passion of mine after I suffered from second impact syndrome while playing in a high school football game and fell victim to the culture of toughness that exists in all sports. Despite the fact that football nearly took my life, to this day I still love the game and I do not regret one play from my 10 years of participation. Many of my fondest memories are from playing high school football and I credit the game and my coaches for making me the man I am today. Because of the intense passion I have for football, I become infuriated when I see professional players undermining the NFL’s attempts to make the game safer by taking cheap shots on defenseless receivers. Continue reading →
If 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.
In Steve Job’s commencement address to the class of 2005 at Stanford University, he made a profound statement which impacted me greatly. While speaking about his road to success, he stated, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path.” This quote describes the events in my life, which have led me to become an advocate for concussion awareness.
In practice, the morning after our game versus Livingston High School, I began to experience excruciating headaches. These headaches were unlike any I ever had before. While running at practice, it felt as though my brain was bouncing inside my skull. As a two-way starter at fullback and linebacker, I liked to think I was a physical player, but I was avoiding contact in practice and voluntarily took zero’s to sit out in gym class in the days leading up to our next game, because my head was hurting so badly. At that time, concussion awareness was just beginning to pick up momentum and I was extremely uneducated about the injury. I was under the impression, that if I was not knocked unconscious, vomiting, nauseous, and had no memory problems, my headaches could not be the result of a concussion. Also, as a senior captain, I was afraid to tell my coaches and our athletic trainer about my headaches. At seventeen years old, my main mission in life was try to win a state championship with my team and for my coach to think I was tough. Sitting out of practice and missing our next game because of a headache was certainly not going to help my cause. Therefore, that option was out of the question.
On the day of our next game, I did participate in gym class. However, while running around the track for our warm up, I ‘jokingly’ mentioned to some friends that I was probably going to die that night in the game. I said this because of the excruciating headache I was still experiencing. Nevertheless, I swallowed four Advil, and ran out onto the football field for what turned out to be the very last time.
It was an eerily foggy Friday night in October 2007 that ultimately led me to where I am today. It was a night when my hopes and dreams as a seventeen-year-old high school senior instantly became physically unattainable. At the end of the first quarter, while reaching for the goal line, I received a blow to the side of my head, which left me with blurred vision. I talked myself into thinking that it was just sweat that had gotten into my eyes. Despite not being able to see, on the next play, I jumped over the goal line for a touchdown (both pictured below). The adrenalin rush after the touchdown provided temporary relief to my throbbing head.
In this game I was also playing safety on defense. This was because I had been playing with a strained rotator cuff and separated right shoulder for weeks. There was literally no way I could make a painless tackle with out drop kicking the ball carrier. Not surprisingly, I missed an open field tackle in the next defensive series, which led to a touchdown. Time to make up for my mistake and score another touchdown, right? Fate had a different idea. Just before the end of the first half, I ran the ball off right tackle, and immediately an unblocked defender wrapped his arms around my legs. Just as I was about to hit the ground, I looked up to see a white shoulder pad coming straight at my head. Upon impact my head slammed into the turf, and I jumped up to see why the referee had not thrown a flag for a late hit. However, my concern for the penalty quickly subsided when I realized that I could no longer feel my legs, and the pain in my head had become so excruciating I could not even think. I was helped to the sidelines by my teammates, and then collapsed and went into a grand mal seizure. I was then airlifted to a local trauma center, where I was diagnosed with second impact syndrome (severe brain swelling after an impact to an already concussed brain) and a Subdural Hematoma (brain bleed). I was given only a 50% chance of survival and endured two head surgeries to relieve the pressure on my brain. Moments before my first surgery the doctor came into my room and told me that I would never set foot on a football field again and play the game I had dedicated so much effort to for 10 years of my life.
Kevin’s Story On CBS News During Superbowl 2010 Coverage
At that time, I could not understand why something like this would happen to me. Almost six years after that night, it is now clear to me how the dots connect. If I had never suffered that life-threatening injury, my life would be immensely different. In the months following my injury, I felt lost and uncertain of my future. Eventually, I chose to attend Rutgers University because it was a highly respected academic institution. My first year of college was a struggle. Football was the single aspect of my life that I was most passionate about, and it was now missing. I struggled in my classes not due to a lack of effort, but due to a lack of interest, clear goals, and passion.
At the beginning of my sophomore year, I knew I needed to get football back in my life in some manner. That year I was hired as a student manager for the Rutgers football team, and this is when my life began to turn around. I enjoyed going to practice every day and feeling that I was a part of the team. It was as close as I could get to playing, and I knew I had to pursue a career in sports because it is what I am most passionate about. Also during this time, I began telling my story and educating other athletes on the importance of concussion awareness. I did this through guest lectures in courses at Rutgers, speaking at local high schools, and even being interviewed on national television by CBS during the week of the Super Bowl in 2010. At this point, I knew my injury had happened for a reason. I was given a platform to tell my story and keep other athletes from making the same dangerous mistake of playing with a concussion. My interest was sparked, my passion was revived, and my career goals were now clear.
During this time, Tom Farrey, an investigative journalist for ESPN covered an E:60 story on Preston Plevretes. Preston also suffered from second impact syndrome, but unfortunately, he experienced many more complications from the injury than I did. Preston struggles to eat, walk, and talk after his injury. I was deeply impacted and inspired by Preston, especially by his determination to have his story heard so other athletes would not make the same mistake that we made. At the end of the segment, they showed Preston attending speech therapy sessions. He was doing this to accomplish one of his goals, which was to speak publicly about the dangers of playing with a concussion. Tom Farrey asked Preston, “What is the hardest part of all this for you”? Preston replied, “Waking up everyday, and knowing I can’t do all the things that I want to do”. Teary eyed after watching the episode, everything began to make sense. Other than not being able to play football anymore, I am still able to do everything I did before my injury. I knew I had to be Preston’s voice. I saw how much he struggled and how great of an impact he was making on the lives of athletes. The same drive, passion, and work ethic I had on the football field was then translated to my new goal of making football, and all sports for that matter, safer for athletes of all ages.