Tag Archives: Knockout Project

PCS: A Parents’ Perspective

{Editor’s note: In 2012, I was contacted by a then-sophomore in high school who was having trouble dealing with the rigors of PCS on top of trying to be a student. She asked me to help her work through things. What came out of that has been a wonderful friendship with a very resilient girl who is now a freshman in college and who still soldiers through some absolutely incredible symptoms. She always tells me how tough I am, but I think she’s tougher. It has also earned me a director on our board in the form of that very resilient girl. Who better to help me guide the trajectory of The Knockout Project? I am thankful that Alicia has such great parents who will go to such lengths in her search for good health.  –Jay}

jensensFrom left: Mike and Joy Jensen with their children Mike, Alicia, Sean, Ashley, and Matthew

By Mike Jensen

As any parent would agree, the most difficult and stressful job you could ever have is raising a child.  You take all of your experiences that you learned in life, and use them to guide and teach your children to meet the challenges that life will throw at them, and hopefully they can build a better life for themselves and future generations.  But, there is one thing you can never prepare for.  That is if your child is sick or injured.  When Alicia got her concussion in April 2012, I was concerned, but, with the little experience I had with concussions, I didn’t know what to expect.  When I was in youth sports, if someone got hit in the head, or, as we used to call it “got his bell rung”, it was no big deal.  Even if the word concussion was mentioned, the consensus for getting better was a few days rest.

I learned a lot since April 2012.  Alicia was 15 at the time, been playing soccer since she was 6, never got too badly hurt.  Not even a minor injury would set her back too far.  On this day, she was defending a play when the opposing player attempted to kick the ball down into the offensive when it struck the side of Alicia’s head.  She went down, got right up, slowly, and said she was fine.  That was right at the end of the half, so there was no real question of removing her form the game, the half was over.  After half time, she felt OK, went back out, and right at the end of the game, she got hit again.  Hit twice the same way in the same game.  After 10 years of soccer, she played her last game, and has had a debilitating headache ever since. Continue reading

Simmons College Freshman Reflects on the Past Three Years with PCS

By Madeline Uretsky

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Recently in my college writing class, I was assigned to write a paper on a learning experience. Naturally, I chose to write about living with a brain injury. I hope that this can be of help to anyone suffering, or any caregivers who may need hope.

Sunglasses on, and slumped in my seat, I awaited the verdict at the first of many appointments with my neurosurgeon. After producing an unsatisfactory symptom chart, and failing almost every test, I knew that I would be diagnosed with a severe concussion and neck injury. Everyone I had come in contact with could tell that something was just not right with me. Was it the fact that I had no short-term memory? That I wore sunglasses inside my dark house? That I could not walk on my own? Or, that I was unable to hold a conversation? My fifteen-year-old self never could have predicted the physical and emotional effects that followed this first appointment. While painfully recovering from this injury for over three years, persevering and giving hope to others has helped me to find my place in this world. Continue reading

A Letter to Myself, Two Years Ago

{Editor’s note: Alicia Jensen is a freshman at Towson University. She was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome her sophomore year of high school. After writing this, she read it and sat on it. She realized that it reminded her of Luka Carfagna’s wonderful piece. I told Alicia to hand it over and that it was important to publish it anyway. –Jay}

By Alicia Jensen

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Alicia, second from right 

Dear Alicia,

You’re in pain. I can feel it now, and I know exactly where you are: Probably laying in bed, in the dark, alone, praying and wishing for the pain of PCS to go away. You had a tough day at school today, huh? head on the desk, waiting for the bell to ring just so that you can go to another one for 52 minutes. I wish I could tell you that tomorrow will be easier and that you’ll be in less pain, but I can’t. Continue reading

The 504 Plan: School Accommodations and Protections for Your Concussed Student Athlete

By Alicia Jensen

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

A Rising Tide Floats All Boats; A Falling Tide Drops Them All On The Rocks

richard-sherman-screams-at-erin-andrews-during-awkward-post-game-interview

We’ve all taken our eyes off the ball

By: Jay Fraga

While the sports world stands trivially transfixed with Richard Sherman’s NFC Championship post-game interview, lawyers on both sides of the recently-denied-for-preliminary-approval NFL Concussion Settlement scurry around in relative obscurity. With the sheer outrage mustered toward Sherman’s antics, one would think that America’s Game is being threatened. Once again, we’re proving as a nation that we are easily distracted.

America’s Game IS being threatened- but it’s not being threatened by Richard Sherman’s interview decorum. America’s Game is being threatened by a sub-par settlement, chiseled out by the bean counters and face savers at the NFL as well as a handful of plaintiff attorneys, who will take a sizeable sum of the bounty for their own coffers rather than forward it to deserving players. Worse yet, the settlement is based on troublesome language that calls to question just which players might qualify for medical benefits under it (for more detail on that, Patrick Hruby’s January 14th article is good reading). Continue reading

Press Release: 2008 US Olympic Bronze Medalist and Three Time World Champion BMX Racer Donny “dR” Robinson Joins The Knockout Project’s Board of Directors

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

2008 US OLYMPIC BRONZE MEDALIST AND THREE TIME WORLD CHAMPION BMX RACER DONNY “dR” ROBINSON JOINS THE KNOCKOUT PROJECT’S BOARD OF DIRECTORS.

Belchertown, Massachusetts – January 17, 2013- The concussion education initiative, “The Knockout Project”, announced today the appointment of Donny Robinson to its board, the “KO Roundtable”.

Robinson, the 2008 Beijing Olympic Bronze Medalist in BMX Racing, brings valuable experience, knowledge, and reflection to the table in terms of concussive history. Robinson has suffered over twenty concussions in his two decades worth of racing. Recently, Donny has been speaking out to racers and parents about a subject that he never really thought twice about; while trying to convey the serious nature of identifying concussions, sitting out until healed, and seeking a doctor’s advice before returning to action. Continue reading

Press Release: Impakt Protective, Phoenix Factory Racing, and The Knockout Project Announce Shockbox Pilot Program For BMX Racing

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

1/9/14

IMPAKT PROTECTIVE, PHOENIX FACTORY RACING, AND THE KNOCKOUT PROJECT ANNOUNCE SHOCKBOX PILOT PROGRAM FOR BMX RACING.

A chance meeting between two men at a Sports Legacy Institute event in Boston in October of 2013 has paid dividends.

Danny Crossman, CEO of Impakt Protective, maker of the Shockbox helmet sensor, and Jay Fraga, Founder of The Knockout Project- two men who know all too well the sting of head injuries- met at the 2013 Sports Legacy Institute Impact Awards and began to compare notes almost immediately. Continue reading

Fixing Concussions with Band-Aid’s: How Effective is the NFL’s Defenseless Receiver Rule?

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By Kevin Saum

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

Peter Robinson, Father of Northern Ireland Teen Lost To Second Impact Syndrome in a Rugby Match, Speaks Out

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Benjamin Peter Robinson

Born 29th May 1996 – Died 31st January 2011

By Peter Robinson

Ben, as he was to me, or Benjamin, as he liked to be called, was an A student who had a big broad smile and a wicked sense of humour. A very caring sensitive boy who hated confrontation, he was a mediator. Growing up, Ben loved ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’, playing football and getting up to mischief. He was fanatical about Man Utd and visited Old Trafford and Wembley to see them play with his step father Steven. He would talk endlessly about who was the best player – Scholes, Ronaldo, Messi, Best, Pele. I brought him to see Messi play for Barcelona, it was a great day.

Ben has a sister Holly who lived at home with him. She was studying for her GCSE at the time. Holly continued to attend Carrickfergus Grammar and has shown great strength and courage, gaining all her GCSE and latterly all her A levels. She is now at College, she is sports mad including football and hockey although this gives me many sleepless nights, but at least she knows the dangers of concussion.

Ben has a younger brother Gregor and sister Isla who lives in Scotland with myself and my wife Carol. There is not a day that passes when Ben is not spoken about or watched on home DVD. When we told them what had happened to Ben, my son Gregor said, ‘can we not take the grass out of the ground and put it into Ben to make him grow better?’ If only it was that simple.

Ben also has 2 step sisters- Sian and Dana and they miss him terribly.

Ben was the most loyal child, he adored his mother Karen, they had a great relationship, since Ben’s death she has not been able to work again, any chance at getting her life back on track or a return to a form of normality seems a long way off.

On Saturday 29th January 2011, I knew that Ben was playing a Medallion match at School, I had spoken to him the previous day he was excited and nervous about the game. Late morning Holly telephoned Carol to say that Ben had been injured in the game and an ambulance was taking him to the Royal Victoria Hospital. At that time I thought, “okay its rugby”. I expected him to get injured at some time, a cut, a broken arm, ankle and my worst thought was a broken neck. I immediately booked flights across for myself and Carol, whilst waiting to travel I received telephone calls from Steven saying that Ben had a head injury and things were not looking good. Waiting on that flight was the longest wait of my life. I just wanted to be with my son.

On arrival at the RVH, I knew Ben had been taken to HDU. We spoke with the consultants and I could tell by their manner that things were not good. They told us that Ben had suffered severe head trauma and was highly unlikely to recover. They expected this sort of injury from a car accident and they said recovery would take a miracle. The staff at the HDU were fantastic. They attempted to reduce the swelling in Ben’s brain by using a new cooling method, but unfortunately this did not help. Seeing Ben lying there in the hospital bed and being unable to help him is a parent’s worst nightmare, I could only hold his hand and talk to him.

On the Monday, the consultants spoke to the family and explained that they believed Ben was ‘Brain Stem Dead’ and they carried out tests which confirmed this. We were approached by the Organ Donor team who made a request to the family that as Ben was so fit and healthy he could help others by donating his organs. As a family we agreed that Ben would want to help others. We wanted a miracle, but knew that Ben could be someone else’s miracle by donating. We know that Ben’s organs helped to save 5 others: a little girl Erin who was 6 months received part of his liver and her parents wrote some time later to tell the family that she was doing well. Knowing that Ben has helped others is somewhat comforting.

On the Monday night, Karen (Ben’s mum) and myself sat all night beside him, holding his hand. We did not want to leave him for a moment. Knowing that that night was the last night we could hold our son was devastating.

On Tuesday he was taken away for the organ donation operation. That was the last time I saw my son alive.

On Wednesday I identified my son at the mortuary.

Ben’s funeral was very difficult. The amount of people who came to pay respect to him was beyond comprehension. The school choir sang at the funeral and they were amazing, singing whilst tears ran freely down their little faces. The headmaster told tales from Ben’s friends, we had music, photos, and I laughed and cried. The school rugby team carried his coffin out of the church and through the streets of Carrickfergus.
Some months later we were contacted by the State Pathologist Jack Crane and he told the family that the findings in relation to Ben’s cause of death were ‘Second Impact Syndrome’. Having never heard this before, he explained that Ben had suffered several concussions during the one match.

As there was a video of the match, we watched this and saw many incidents where Ben had been injured and was seen on many occasions holding his head.

As a family, we wanted to find out what had happened, what had went wrong, and why did no one know about this syndrome? We wanted to make sure that this could not happen again.

We could not get Ben’s death certificate until the Coroner had carried out an inquest into his death. Unfortunately, as time passed, Ben’s team mates were still traumatised by his death and when they found out that it was mismanaged concussion they were devastated knowing that if they had been aware of the signs and symptoms of concussion they would have highlighted it.

The police investigation was long and painstaking and many mistakes were made. The family had to instruct a lawyer to assist with the investigation.

A chance meeting at Ben’s grave between Karen and a school friend led to valuable information coming to light: Ben had been injured several times during the match, all head injuries. He was treated for each one and allowed to play on. It was felt he was fit to play on as he had passed some checks. The video shows that this was not the case. He is seen prone on the ground, not moving on occasions and slow to get up. He is disorientated and is seen constantly holding his right side of his head. Some team mates came forward and made statements that Ben could not remember the score, even although it was a low scoring game. Other statements emerged saying that Ben was knocked out on an occasion.

The family had to have another funeral service when Ben’s Brain was returned to the family. Over the two and half years since his death we have had 2 funerals, 2 inquests and hours of heartache. Finally, on 4th September 2013, we got Ben’s death certificate stating that he had died of ‘Second Impact Syndrome’.

As a family we have a very simple message: we want concussion awareness introduced into the School curriculum. ‘It’s a life skill’

We want mandatory training for all coaches and referees. Players need to be aware, they need to look after each other – a buddy buddy system.

Sports organisations and Unions need to accept that concussion can be fatal. Don’t down play concussion.

Professionals Rugby players are sending out the wrong message in regard to return to play after a head injury.

My son left me a wonderful gift, that I was unaware of until his mum found it in his school jotter. He had written the following :

My Dad
I probably don’t think of him as much as I should,
but when I do I think of all the things
he has done for me.
I think of the endless drives up
to football and rugby matches, I think of all the camping trips,
events and treats organised for me and my
sister. I remember all the plane trips
and drives he’s had to take,
as he lives in Scotland,
just for me.
I know he will ring everyday
to check up on me and know how
I’m doing.
I know I can talk to him
about anything and everything and
that he will give me the right advice
even when I think I don’t need it.
And although he has gained some
weight over the years and he is a Man City fan
I still love him and he loves me.

Ben Robinson

An Athlete’s Story of Re-ordered Expectations in The Wake of Multiple Concussions

By Kate Parhiala

kateshotIn 2010, the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup announced that it would have an event in the United States, at Windham Mountain in New York. This same year was my first as a professional mountain bike racer and I had the opportunity to participate in the four-cross event at this race. Four-cross is a downhill event where four racers at a time go head-to-head down a track with flat and banked turns, jumps, rocks, drops, and whatever obstacle the course builder decides to throw in. In each round the top two racers move on and the third and fourth are eliminated. To determine groups everyone takes a timed seeding run.

containerdropSuccessfully navigating the jump where I ended up having problems later on.

I never got that far. Before the race there is an allotted time during which riders can take practice runs on the course. Everything about this course was huge, especially the jumps. I had been carefully inspecting and attempting the course bit by bit. By my third practice run I attempted to string the whole thing together. As I approached the big step-down jump I was much farther left than where I had been hitting it previously. There were two landings to this jump: I had been aiming for the closer one, same as in the other runs, but was carrying a bit more speed this time around. I ended up landing on the flat area between the close landing and the far one. All that I remember as I began to fall off the back of the bike was thinking “Wow, this is embarrassing.” About an hour later I woke up in an ambulance.

windham_crash

The big crash at Windham. The medics are trying to free my leg. I don’t remember any of this.

There is a considerable chunk of time that I don’t remember. I have been told that I was physically unconscious for about 30 seconds but mentally I was completely blacked out for at least an hour. The medics were asking me questions to check on my cognition. I knew my name and what my bib number was but couldn’t remember signing up for the race or how I had gotten there. Apparently my left foot had not come unclipped from the pedals and my left leg had become pinned between the rear wheel and the seat. The medics had to let the air out of the tire to extract my leg, which they thought was definitely broken. I was carted down the mountain and into ski patrol where they put an IV in and eventually an ambulance came to bring me to the trauma center in Albany, about an hour away. We were almost there when I finally came to, strapped to a backboard and very nauseous.

brokenhelmet

 My helmet after concussion #2. I should have bought a new one instead of just replacing the visor.

I remember very little of my stay in the emergency department at Albany Medical Center. I think they got me in right away for a brain scan and x-rays. Luckily no bleeding in the brain and only two badly sprained ankles. I don’t believe I was given any instructions on how to care for a concussion after I was discharged because I spent the next few days doing things I shouldn’t have been doing. With two more days booked at the World Cup, my boyfriend (now fiance) and I wanted to stick around and watch the races. I was hobbling around the mountain on my crutches in the bright sunlight with the loud crowds drinking the occasional beer.

jumpThe day after the crash – concussed and sore in front of the jump that took me out.

It took until going to work the Monday after for me to realize what a mess I was. I just remember sitting at my desk staring blankly at my computer not being able to think. It hurt to think. I couldn’t remember a lot of things that I had previously been working on. My speech was a little slurred and it was difficult to come up with words. By mid-day I finally told my boss that I had to go to the doctor. After taking the subway and the bus home I got in my car to drive to the doctor’s office. Very quickly I discovered that I could barely control the car. My reaction time was so delayed that I kept almost crashing every time a car was stopped in front of me. The doctor told me that I needed to take it easy for a while after a bad concussion and should take at least a week off from work. I left my car at my parents’ house so I wouldn’t try to drive it.

It took at least a month or two for me to start recovering from the most acute symptoms. It was such a relief when I could finally concentrate for most of a workday. I still have trouble remembering anything from that general timeframe. In addition, something strange happened with my memory: things got rearranged. Memories from 10 or 15 years ago were suddenly vivid like they had occurred yesterday while more recent events felt like the distant past. I began having extremely vivid dreams as well (more so than usual) and started remembering little things that were long forgotten. These strange memory issues are still affecting me today.

This was not my first concussion, it was my third. My first happened during a BMX race in 2003. I crashed going over the first jump and hit the left side of my head really hard. There was a bright flash of light and an immediate headache. This was described to me as a mild concussion and I did not notice any residual symptoms. My second concussion actually went undiagnosed. I didn’t realize that I had one. In July of 2010 I was at a downhill mountain bike race and crashed during practice. It was one of those crashes where I went over the bars and the first thing to hit the ground was my face because it happened way too fast to get my hands off the bars. My full-face motocross helmet actually dug some rocks out of the dirt as my head plowed through. I hit so hard that I felt like I should have blacked out. I was definitely out of it and a little confused but I chalked it up to being shaken by the crash. I didn’t think this was a concussion because there was no loss of consciousness and no flash of light. In retrospect it definitely was. I just did not feel right for weeks afterwards but I replaced the shattered visor on my helmet and was back in action the next weekend. This was only a little over a month before the big crash at Windham.

Fast-forward to the 2011 season: I ended up suffering a fourth minor concussion over the summer and a fifth in October, both practicing for downhill bike races (even with a new helmet). The cumulative effect of this, in addition to the memory changes that I still deal with, includes mood changes and migraine headaches. I became significantly depressed and anxious after having 4 concussions in 15 months. In addition I started getting migraine headaches so bad that I would throw up (luckily only a few times a month). Still, it was difficult for me to realize how all of this fit together but I finally decided that I needed help when none of it was improving during the 2012 season.

I began seeing a new doctor who referred me for neuro-psych evaluation. Most of the testing done was negative but a brain MRI actually revealed mild atrophy in the temporal and parietal lobes of my brain. It was strongly suggested that I quit anything that put me in significant risk of further head trauma because further injury could be devastating. This especially meant no more downhill and no more BMX. This was very difficult news for me. I had focused my life around these things for quite some time and it was hard to go from thinking about what World Cup races I wanted to enter the next season to selling my downhill bike and letting my sponsorships expire. I really miss that life but I had no other choice.

It’s a very strange feeling to have an injury that I can never recover from. Even though the symptoms are somewhat managed with medications the physical damage is irreparable. Even before the doctors advised that I stop racing downhill I knew that things weren’t quite right. It is always difficult to get back in the saddle after a bad injury because you’re shaken and anxious. But with time one can usually overcome this. Because I’ve injured the very part of me that controls those thoughts and emotions I was never able to recover my confidence in the two years before I finally quit. I was getting faster and developing better technique but becoming more and more scared and anxious. I know that before continuously landing on my head this wasn’t the case but it’s hard to remember what that felt like.

Since the brain scan results I’ve had to dial the excitement back a quite a bit. Being an adrenaline junkie causes my happiness and sanity to be dependent on doing active and exciting things. At this point I’ve tried to create a balance between acceptable risk and not being bored and miserable. I continue to alpine ski and still race (while wearing a great helmet, of course). While there is still risk, I have not suffered a head injury in the 26 years that I have been skiing (and I hope to continue this trend). On the biking side I have been doing more cross country mountain biking and have started racing cyclo-cross. In addition I am becoming more involved in mountain bike coaching. I still do easy jumps and drops but try to stick to a controlled environment and will not ride beyond my ability.

When it comes to mountain biking I firmly believe that fewer injuries of all types would be sustained if people sought professional instruction, specifically on bike handling, rather than the trial and error method. This is part of the reason I have become more involved with coaching. If a rider learns solid fundamental skills before attempting larger obstacles he or she will be able to more safely progress. Many riders, including myself, did not have this opportunity. To paraphrase my friend and fellow coach, former pro Karen Eagan, if you feel lucky that you just landed that drop DO NOT go bigger; Practice it again and again until you are completely comfortable and then you can progress to the next one. Mountain bike instruction has only recently become more widely available and is something that this sport has been severely lacking. Downhill racing can never be made completely safe, and it shouldn’t be (that’s part of the allure), but riders can at least be equipped with the skills to sufficiently tackle any course they are confronted with.

Having this experience has caused a significant change in mindset. I’ve become comfortable with backing down from certain challenges like drops or jumps if I don’t feel completely comfortable. I can always try another day when the conditions are right. Why go for it now? Is it really worth it? Some things I will probably never attempt and now I’m ok with that. I would rather be riding my bike and skiing for many more years than possibly risk it all because I couldn’t tell myself no. As written of world-renowned steep skier Andreas Fransson in a recent issue of Powder Magazine, “He is most proud of the runs he didn’t take, because backing off is harder than dropping in.”