There has been a lot of focus on concussions in sports at all levels lately. We have heard about the long term consequences that NFL players are experiencing and the debilitating affect it has on their lives. Well, it can have quite an impact on kids also.
When my son was 12 years old he was an active athletic kid who enjoyed playing multiple sports. His passion although was the game of lacrosse. During the Fall of his 6th grade year he was playing football for our town travel program. During a practice he was upended and landed square on his head. To the coaches credit they immediately took him out of practice and brought him to the sidelines. That night I took him to the emergency room where it was determined he had suffered a low level concussion. A headache and some dizziness were his only symptoms. After seeing his pediatrician the next day it was determine that he should stay home for three days from school.
Three days later he was cleared to return to school but no football until a follow-up visit to the doctors office.
On the first day of his return to school, he dropped a pencil and banged the back of his head on his desk. The headaches and dizziness returned and he was again held out of school for three days.
After consulting his pediatrician he was released to go back to school but no football. On his second day back he bumped his head in the busy hallway during the mad rush to get to class. His symptoms came back but now they were even worse. They now include vomiting and disorientation.
We immediately took him to the emergency room where we were told we needed to make an appointment with the Atlantic Health Care Neuroscience Center at Overlook Hospital in Summit NJ.
At the center they attempted to administer a Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Test(ImPACT™) also known as a baseline test. My son could not get through five minutes of this twenty minute computerized test. It was determine that the repetitive blows to the head, with only the first being sports related had caused his concussion to go from low level to severe.
Treatment started with several specialist within the Neuroscience Center. We worked with nutritionists, neurologists, neurophyscologists and pain management physicians.
It was heartbreaking watching this vibrant 12 year old debilitated by these concussions. He became depressed, he couldn’t sleep, any light bothered him, he could not concentrate on conversations and he became withdrawn.
After several months of treatment his concentration started to improve and the center recommended that we start physical therapy to retrain his brain to relearn, compensate and start to heal itself. We were very fortunate to find a physical therapy center that had experience in dealing with neurological and vestibular rehabilitation for young athletes. With the help of the therapists over the course of several months my son was able to start to regain his balance and his dexterity. He always looked forward to therapy since it was a chance to again do physical activities even though they caused him discomfort.
During his months of down time and rehabilitation my son grew six inches, likely due to the vitamins and the nutritional plan we were following. Again we were fortunate since the physical therapy center was affiliated with a sports training facility. In addition to his twice weekly physical therapy sessions he started going to the training facility several nights a week to relearn how to use the other muscles in his body.
My son required in home tutoring for six months before it was determined he could resume school. His tutor was a teacher in our school system who did an excellent job mentored and monitored him until she thought he was ready to go back to classes. He started part-time with a disability plan and gradually work back to being a full time student.
Once he was back in school his guidance counselor did an outstanding job of taking care of him. She shared her office with him so he did not have to travel the busy hallways getting books in and out of his locker. With the help of the school staff my son made it through his sixth grade year.
During all this time my son continued to periodically take the baseline test to see if he was improving.
After ten months of visits to the neurologic center, the various specialists, the physical therapists and the training facility my son went back to take his last baseline and to see if he was going to be able to play sports again.
While he was taking his test the neurologist asked to have a private conversation with my wife and myself. We spoke at length about if there ever would be any contact related sports that our son would be able to participate in. We were concerned that by taking away lacrosse it would do damage to his psyche.
Once the testing was completed and reviewed the three of us had a consultation with the neurologist. Sitting next to my wife and myself was one scared child who was almost dreading the results. The neurologist started by talking about how my son needed to be careful going forward in all of his physical activities and I could see my son only thinking the worst. Finally the neurologists indicated that if my son was careful he could return to playing lacrosse. My son’s demeanor immediately changed from scared and dejected to elated.
Now four years later my son continues to enjoy lacrosse, High School and life in general. We think that the fact that he missed almost a year of his life due to his concussion he has become a more driven individual.
With knowledgable and caring physicians, therapists and educators and proper rehabilitation it is possible to continue an active life and enjoy sports. Do not discount the severity of any concussion and be sure to pursue complete and proper treatment. I have seen parents who have rushed their children back into situations that in the long run can do more damage than if they took the proper steps in ensuring the health of the child.
Tom, New Jersey