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Improving Concussion Outcomes in Adolescents

Raised toward our $15,000 Goal
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Project has ended
Project ended on January 16, at 11:00 AM CST
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Mimi's Story

December 17, 2019

There are two weeks left in our campaign. Your support and generosity mean the world to us, and we ask that you continue to spread the word as we make a final push towards our goal of $15,000. Through our research, we aim to help teenagers who are dealing with post-concussion symptoms, so they can get back to sport, school, and doing what they love. Mimi is one of those teenagers. Here is her story.  


My story is about the things that can happen when you least expect it.


I love horseback riding. It was the most important activity in my life. I used to ride and have lessons five times per week. This past summer, I was excited to return to horseback riding for the fifth consecutive year. You probably think I got my concussion falling off a horse. However, I actually got my concussion swimming in the pool with my friends.


It was a regular day at summer camp; we were swimming, like we did every day. I was underwater, and my friend’s knee smashed into my face, hitting my nose and then my forehead. I don’t know what happened next, but I was told a lifeguard removed me from the pool. They thought I had broken my nose. Right away, the “fun” part of camp was over. There was no more horseback riding, and there still isn’t. My favorite activity was taken from me because of an unfortunate accident.


The accident was six months ago. While others my age are participating in sports and enjoying time with their friends, I am recovering from a concussion. I experience constant headaches, dizziness, vision and balance issues, difficulty falling asleep, and problems focusing on and doing my school work. I have tried to alleviate my symptoms with physical therapy, various medicines, acupuncture, steroid injections, and new glasses. The worst part is that my injury has kept me from returning to horseback riding, which I love more than anything else.


I got a concussion doing normal “teenage things,” and this injury has kept me from my passion. However, each day that I improve, is one day closer to being back in the saddle.

Chrysi's Story

December 10, 2019

I am Chrysi, and my daughter Mary sustained a concussion. As the mother of four daughters, I am accustomed to the role of PTO volunteer, softball mom, dance mom, and cheer mom. I have always encouraged my girls to be involved in school activities and to compete at the highest level that their talents and schedules allow.


I knew cheerleading carries a risk for head injury. Mary was a senior in high school and thrilled to be a flyer for the varsity cheer squad. We watched her fly into the air at pep rallies and football games, that is, until I got a phone call one day in September 2018. Mary called from school and explained she had been dropped on her head during cheer while practicing a new stunt. She felt nauseous, and the sunlight was too bright for her eyes. We agreed she should go to the nurse, and I waited for a call from the school. I prepared myself mentally for what I thought would be a few weeks of rest. Instead, it was the beginning of a four-month recovery period that included rest, medication, physical therapy, and follow-up appointments with neuropsychologist Dr. Summer Ott.


Mary’s concussion symptoms highlighted the need for a post-injury academic protocol. The hardest part after Mary’s diagnosis of concussion was realizing that, now, I had to advocate for her in school, so she could pursue the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, finish college applications, reschedule her ACT exam, and stay on track for graduation. All the while, I had to monitor her emotions and behavior and provide her with the support she needed.  


I couldn’t believe that although there were established return-to-play protocols for athletes, there were no protocols to assist concussed students like Mary with academics. All of Mary’s classwork was on a laptop, but she was unable to look at a computer screen without becoming nauseated. Recalling information caused stress and confusion.  Mary had to write everything by hand; and one of her sisters typed and submitted her work for her. Mary needed more than just extra time, so we had to work with her teachers and administrators on how best to handle her academics. Dr. Ott recommended a “return-to-learn” protocol, which I shared with the school. It was like a prescription for schoolwork.


Today, I am advocating for all students and looking forward to what Mary’s future holds. The reality was the school district needed a “return-to-learn” protocol for ALL students with a head injury. Ironically, I was a member of the Houston Independent School District (HISD) School Health Advisory Committee (SHAC), which was the perfect place to begin. I shared Mary’s story with the HISD SHAC and Dr. Ott was invited to speak about concussion and the need for post-injury academic support.  Consequently, HISD has now taken steps towards adopting a “return-to-learn” protocol for students recovering from concussion.


We were excited when college acceptance letters began arriving. However, Mary’s original plan to attend an in-state university outside of Houston, didn’t seem like the best idea anymore. Mary was still recovering from her concussion. She was very fatigued, forgetful, and worried and I became very concerned at the thought of her moving away for college. After struggling to get healthy and to maintain her schoolwork over the past several months, Mary decided that it was best for her to stay in Houston where she has a support system in place. I was relieved when she came to that decision on her own. It took a few months for Mary to recover from her head injury but now she is attending the University of St. Thomas on a merit scholarship and is considering trying out for the school cheer team.  

Mary's Story

December 10, 2019

Concussions affect patients and their families. Today, we are pleased to share stories from Mary and her mother, Chrysi. In their stories, Mary offers helpful advice to concussion patients and their parents, and Chrysi shares how Mary's injury prompted her to become an advocate for concussed students. 


I am Mary, and I have always loved cheer—the excitement of cheering on the sidelines at football games, being thrown in the air, and performing daring stunts. I like to think of myself as super fun, nice, and outgoing. Throughout high school, I was involved in many organizations, including drill team and cheerleading. The first three football games of my senior year were amazing, but I didn’t realize what was in store for me after that.


Cheerleading can be a dangerous sport, but I never thought I would be injured in cheer. We were practicing a new stunt during cheer class. For this stunt, a group would throw me backwards while holding on to my ankles and another group was expected to catch me. In the past, I had performed many stunts that require a lot of skill, so I thought I would be okay. My team practiced the stunt twice without incident. On the third attempt, the stunt didn’t go as planned, and I ended up hitting the back of my head on a gym mat. When I sat up, my first thought was, “What the heck?” I had never fallen on my head. My coach took me aside, assessed my injury, and told me to let someone know if I started feeling tired or sick or became sensitive to light.


After 10 minutes, I started to feel tired, but I didn’t think anything of it since cheer class was the first period of the day. However, when I stepped outside to go to my next class, the bright sunlight hurt my eyes. I knew this reaction to light was not normal, but I felt normal otherwise. During my next class, I began to feel nauseated, so I decided to go to the nurse. She recommended that I go straight to my doctor. My doctor diagnosed me with a concussion—also known as a mild traumatic brain injury.


My concussion took its toll on me physically and emotionally. I experienced severe nausea, fatigue, and sensitivity to light. I had trouble falling asleep and would wake 2-3 times each night. I also had mood swings.  I was unable to use my computer and had to wear sunglasses at school because I was so sensitive to light. Ultimately, my doctor prescribed medication to help lessen my symptoms, but I still required academic support.  I struggled to complete assignments and take exams. Sitting for long periods of time and concentrating on schoolwork made me feel ill. Fortunately, I was often granted deadline extensions for my assignments. My mother even had to help me complete online college applications.


I felt so behind in school because I couldn’t do the work at a normal pace. I constantly felt sick, so I would either lay my head down in class or go to the nurse’s office to rest. My injury occurred during my senior year of high school, and I was upset and sad that I was not able to participate in cheer, drive my car, or be socially active. I was not myself and I hated feeling terrible 24/7 for four months.     


Today, I am back to normal and feeling much better. From my experience, I learned that post-concussion recovery times vary; not all concussions heal in a month. Concussions are brain injuries, and it may take a while before you can resume your normal, day-to-day activities. There is a risk of concussion with any sport. You may not think that you or your child will ever suffer a concussion, but it can happen. To concussion patients, know that you are not alone and that your parents and doctors are there to help you get better. Parents, you need to be there for your child because your support is really important. Today, I am back to normal, attending classes at the University of St. Thomas and cheering.

Reese's Story

December 05, 2019

In her story, Reese shares how concussions have affected her life and why there is an overwhelming need for an effective treatment for post-concussion headaches. 


I’m Reese, and throughout my childhood, riding was my entire life. I dreamed of competing in show jumping at the Olympics someday, following in the footsteps of my idols. I spent my days studying and riding, maintaining straight A’s while traveling to competitions across the country. I never foresaw concussions permanently altering the course of my life.


My first riding accident occurred at the end of sixth grade. I went to the emergency room as a precaution even though I felt okay. They insisted I didn’t have a concussion because I had not lost consciousness. That misconception sparked the worst year of my life to date. I returned to school the next day and was bombarded with symptoms immediately. I was extremely sensitive to bright light and noise, suffered excruciating headaches, and felt as though I was in a haze. I struggled with focusing on simple tasks and learning new concepts. My symptoms forced me to withdraw from my middle school and transition to homeschooling. Later, I attended a non-traditional school with a personalized curriculum and low student-to-faculty ratio. I lost contact with close friends who didn’t understand my situation and the severity of my injury. Eventually, my parents took me to a neurologist who diagnosed me with post-concussion syndrome. I took numerous medications and went through occupational therapy, but time was the ultimate healer. It took around nine months for me to completely heal and return to the sport I loved.


My story does not end there. I suffered two more concussions within the next two years—one from a fall from a horse and the other from being hit in the head with a hockey stick during gym at school. I found Dr. Ott and the Memorial Hermann IRONMAN® Sports Medicine Institute after my second concussion. I had a great support system there, and vestibular therapy helped me heal faster in comparison to my first concussion. Even though recovery was still difficult, I was able to return to a traditional classroom setting and equestrian activities in three to four months.


Finally, I sustained my fourth concussion during my sophomore year of high school. The first thing I noticed was an intense throbbing sensation in my head when I stood up after the accident. Over a year and a half later, this feeling has yet to subside. I have tried vestibular therapy, manifold medications, steroid injections, Botox®, nerve blocks, and other therapeutic treatments. I have experienced side effects from these treatments, ranging from drowsiness and lethargy to inability to walk. These side effects, coupled with my chronic pain, have made maintaining good grades and managing my AP course load extremely difficult. Any form of thinking, whether it be taking exams or even choosing what to eat for lunch, makes my pain skyrocket.


I hope my story can bring awareness to the overwhelming need for an effective treatment for headaches resulting from post-traumatic brain injury. Nevertheless, the most devastating outcome of this has been having to give up my passion—riding. I hope to find a cure not only for my pain, but for the pain millions of others endure on a daily basis. I sincerely hope that no one has to give up what they love due to concussion.


My experience with concussion has inspired me to pursue a career in neuroscience. I have spent this summer volunteering at TIRR Memorial Hermann, exposing myself to cutting-edge research and rehabilitation techniques and getting a better understanding of neurology overall. I am extremely grateful to have received the opportunity to experience this branch of medicine up close. In the future, I look forward to directly contributing to neurological research and finding better treatment options for brain injury.

John's Story

December 03, 2019

Happy Giving Tuesday! Helping adolescents with post-concussion symptoms is a team effort. This week, John shares how teamwork and communication helped him recover from multiple concussions.


I’m John, and I've recovered from multiple sport-related concussions. I sustained my first concussion during my freshman year of high school. I took a hard hit to the head during a football tackling drill. Immediately, I felt something was wrong, so I alerted my athletic trainer, Chris Valdez. After suspecting I may have suffered a concussion, he conducted a physical assessment, placed me in the concussion protocol, and referred me to sports neuropsychologist and concussion specialist, Dr. Summer Ott, for further evaluation.


Fortunately, my football team participated in ImPACT baseline testing prior to the start of the season. This test provided Dr. Ott with a snapshot of my pre-injury cognitive abilities. After assessing my symptoms and comparing my baseline scores with my post-injury test results, she diagnosed me with a concussion. She communicated with my football athletic trainer and school and put me on a customized concussion protocol.


My school was very accommodating in letting me have academic adjustments and time to catch up on any missed school work while I was recovering from my injury. Once my symptoms resolved, I started the return-to-play protocol which was managed by Mr. Valdez. He was diligent in communicating with Dr. Ott and my coaches about my progress. After a week or so, I returned to practice and play. That school year, I played football and basketball, and the following year, I took part in football and track and field without any problems at all.


During my junior year of high school, I took another hard hit to the head during a rugby match. After recovering from that injury, a hard hit rendered me unconscious during a rugby match a few months later. This time, my immediate symptoms were much worse, but seemed to subside faster.


Helping adolescents with post-concussion symptoms is a team effort. Communication between Dr. Ott and my athletic trainer, coaches, and teachers was extremely important. They worked as a team to help me recover properly and keep up with my schoolwork. My school respected Dr. Ott’s recommendations and instructions and did not penalize me for any missed school work. My teachers gave me ample time to make up work and exams while I was experiencing post-concussion symptoms, so that I did not fall behind in classes or have my grades affected.


Because of my love of sports, I plan to play rugby during my senior year of high school despite my concussion history. However, I do not believe this would be possible had I not followed my doctor’s recommendations for dealing with post-concussion symptoms and taken my recovery process seriously. My experience with concussion has not scared or kept me from playing sports. Rather, it has made me more aware of my safety while doing things such as tackling and of the importance of using proper technique and form to reduce my chances of re-injury. I encourage athletes to take their recovery seriously should they sustain a concussion and to listen to their doctors, athletic trainers, and coaches to ensure a safe and speedy recovery.

Anna's Story

November 26, 2019

We're almost halfway there! In the spirit of the upcoming holiday, we are grateful for your support and generosity. Thanks for helping us raise awareness about concussions and the need for more research. Concussions are challenging to treat, especially when there are other factors involved. This week, Anna shares her story about her experience with sports-related concussions.  


I’m Anna, an active and overachieving 17-year-old, and I had three sport-related concussions three years in a row. Just like clockwork…every January, another one. Each concussion affected me a bit differently. With my first concussion, I needed vestibular therapy. For my second, I needed physical therapy, and my third had the most effect on my ability to think.


I never expected that it would be painful, literally, to have thoughts. I felt like I was in a zombie-like state—a shell of a person who struggled with the simplest of tasks, like walking, talking, and sitting up. Because of my symptoms, all I could do was sit alone in my dark, quiet room. My post-concussion symptoms included chronic headaches, nausea, sensitivity to light and noise, confusion, pressure in my head, a dazed feeling, and slowed thinking. As a young child, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor and underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments. No one can say for sure, but I have always wondered how or if my post-concussion symptoms and recovery were affected by this history.


My concussion symptoms lasted several months and were so similar to those I experienced with my brain tumor that I was stressed about whether it was cancer creeping up again. Recovery from each concussion was approximately six months, and with each injury, I battled stress and depression, felt socially isolated, and struggled to get out of bed. I was enrolled in advanced classes and typically earned straight A’s, but I was unable to attend classes for more than an hour per day during the first two months. My symptoms resulted in excessive absences from school, and I was sad about missing my basketball season, school activities, and time with my friends.


I feel like myself! I couldn’t have made it through my junior year without support from Dr. Ott, everyone at my incredible school, and my family. I am forever grateful for their time and patience. Recently, I was discharged from physical therapy and deemed fit for return to sport. However, I cannot afford another concussion, so I have decided not to return to basketball. I joke, “Three strikes. I’m out.”


I look forward to enjoying my senior year and eventually, attending medical school. My interest in the brain, how it works, and its plasticity may even prompt me to study neurology. Concussions are challenging to treat because each injury is unique and the recovery process can differ for each individual. Given how concussion has impacted my life, I am an advocate for concussion awareness, and I support efforts to help others recover from their injuries.  

Bryce's Story, Part 2

November 19, 2019

We were at our first appointment with Dr. Summer Ott, Bryce’s neuropsychologist, when we first became acquainted with the term TBI—traumatic brain injury. Bryce’s blow to the head caused a traumatic brain injury. His “severe concussion” was a traumatic brain injury. Because of the site of Bryce’s injury, we had to watch for changes that can occur with frontal lobe damage. In addition to memory loss, we had to be vigilant of behavioral changes in impulse control, problem solving, and judgment. One example we were given was to keep a close eye on Bryce’s social media as he may not have the ability to know the difference between what is and isn’t appropriate when posting online. Thankfully, Bryce did not have any issues with judgment or impulsivity. His biggest hurdle was working through the extreme anger he felt along with the mood swings that can occur after a TBI. Our easygoing teenager was no longer easygoing. In his place was a young man who was grieving the loss of the sport he loved, hurting physically with daily headaches, and waking up angry every day because that headache was present as soon as he opened his eyes. He was angry with his dad and me because we were the ones who had to say “no” to activities he wasn’t allowed to do, such as swimming (due to the hole in his eardrum), video games, extensive screen time, and of course, sports. He was angry with himself for being angry with us. He was angry with God. He was angry with life. The only time Bryce seemed to be “Bryce” is when he was at the baseball field watching his team.  We made sure we didn’t miss a single game for the remainder of the season. I firmly believe that a crucial part of his emotional healing was to be in those stands cheering his team on. His teammates and coaches were incredible throughout the journey, always making him feel that he was a part of the team and letting him know how loved and missed he was. 


Bryce’s recovery truly was a group effort. His visits with Dr. Ott were like glue that held us together for a couple of months. She gave Bryce, his dad, and me techniques to work through the anger and the emotional upheaval. She worked with Bryce and his baseball trainer on a return-to-play protocol. The staff at Baytown Robert E. Lee High School were incredible. The Academic Dean and Bryce’s teachers were so supportive and quickly drafted a plan to accommodate Bryce’s academic needs. And the love and prayers from family and friends? We couldn’t have gotten through those days without them.


On May 6, Bryce reached the part in his return-to-play protocol that allowed him to throw the baseball again. It, truly, was like someone flipped a switch from within. The sparkle was back in his eyes. A bounce was back in his step. His anger began dissipating. “Our Bryce” was reemerging. Bryce completed his return-to-play protocol in time to play summer ball in the month of June. It was a relaxed schedule which is what he needed to ease back into things. I cried all the way over to his first game, yet he stepped on that field grinning from ear to ear and played like he hadn’t missed a single inning. On the academic front, Bryce scored in the Masters level on his STAAR test (yay!); however, memorization of numbers is still a little tricky since the accident. We, along with his Academic Dean, decided to continue his 504 plan to provide support for the first six weeks of his senior year. Then, we will reevaluate, and our hope is that we can discontinue those services at that time.   


He hasn’t had a headache since early May. On July 8, we learned that the hole in his eardrum closed on its own, and his hearing has returned to normal. His complete recovery in that amount of time is nothing short of miraculous. Everyone says Bryce is lucky; I say he is blessed. He still doesn’t remember anything about that game prior to being on the ground after getting hit. I think that’s a blessing in itself. If he felt fear in those few seconds, he doesn’t remember it, and I am thankful for that.


Bryce’s injury resulted from an unfortunate accident, the kind that I pray never happens to him or anyone else again. As a parent, I can’t stress the importance of being the parent on a journey such as this. Make the hard decisions. You know your child better than anyone. Be his or her advocate and source of support, but also be the limit setter by making sure your child doesn’t do too much too quickly. No one likes being the bad guy, but to avoid a setback in my child’s recovery, I’ll wear the villain hat anytime. Wouldn’t you?

Bryce's Story, Part 1

November 12, 2019

My son, Bryce, played his first tee ball game at age three. For the next fourteen years, his fondness for the sport and love of the game flourished. Even now, at seventeen, baseball is still his favorite sport and quite possibly his greatest love. On March 29, 2019, the thing Bryce loves the most became the thing that could have ended his life.


The incident happened early in the game. Bryce’s team was batting; I was conversing with my son’s best friend, so I wasn’t paying much attention to the game when I heard that sharp, collective gasp that a crowd makes only when something bad happens. Suddenly, parents on our side were running down the bleachers toward the dugout. My stomach sank as I joined the other parents to see who had been injured. A player from our team was lying on the ground, but I couldn’t see who it was. Bryce’s best friend made it to the dugout ahead of me, and I will never forget the look on his face. He told me, “It’s Bryce.” At first, I didn’t process his words, but then, I realized that my son had been injured. Bryce had been struck in the head. Thoughts raced through my mind. “How did this happen? Our team wasn’t even on the field! Please God, let him be okay.”


One of Bryce’s teammates had fouled a line drive (estimated at 120+ mph) into the dugout, striking the side of Bryce’s head. His ear looked swollen and purple, and there were marks from the baseball laces imprinted between the top of his ear and his temple. It terrified me to know that he had been hit in such a sensitive area at that rate of speed. I was encouraged by the fact that Bryce was awake, alert, and appeared to be aware of his surroundings, but his ear was ringing badly. On the advice of Bryce’s athletic trainer, we proceeded to a local emergency room (ER).


On the 10 minute drive to the ER, my daughter tried to keep Bryce talking, but he began vomiting and became very sleepy. Bryce was evaluated immediately upon arrival. A CT scan revealed a small brain bleed. With that, an ambulance was en route to transfer Bryce to Texas Children’s Hospital. Initially, I thought we would be headed home in an hour or so, but this was a game changer. I had to stay calm for Bryce’s sake, and I did, but I was scared.


Bryce spent three nights in neuro-ICU. During his hospital stay, Bryce struggled with balance issues, horrific headaches, dizziness, and some memory loss. He wasn’t certain of where he was the day after his injury or what year it was. He didn’t remember anything about the game or the injury except being on the ground after it happened. He couldn’t remember everyone who had come to visit him in the hospital. He was evaluated by multiple teams of doctors, including his pediatrician; neurosurgeons; ear, nose and throat specialists; and physical and occupational therapists. Bryce’s injuries included a hole in 10% of his left eardrum, partial hearing loss in his left ear, and a severe concussion. We were told by about 18 different medical professionals how lucky he was to be alive, that if the ball had hit him just a fraction of an inch higher, it most likely would have killed him. Fortunately for Bryce, all of his injuries were expected to heal on their own without permanent damage.


When Bryce was discharged from the hospital, his doctor instructed us that Bryce should return to school gradually. It would be a couple of hours a day “as tolerated” before gradually moving up to half-days and eventually, full days. This was just the beginning of how drastically daily life was going to change. 


We had been home from the hospital a week—a week filled with horrible headaches, lots of sleeping, and upon Bryce’s insistence, an hour or two of school, even though it absolutely wiped him out—when Bryce came into the room clutching his head, complaining of the worst headache he had had since his injury. Then, the vomiting started. This shook me to my very core. I imagined the worst—that the bleed had begun again. We rushed him to the ER, and a CT scan showed all was good. That night, we learned that things could get much worse before Bryce got “better.” We learned this could happen again and that he may be plagued with headaches for a very, very long time. I think that was the moment I realized that we really had no idea what we were dealing with in terms of recovery. That was the moment that almost broke me. My heart just hurt for my child, and I was afraid that the worst might still be yet to come, despite the reassurance that Bryce would eventually be just fine. 


Please visit our Updates tab next week to read more about Bryce's injury and recovery.

Thanks for helping us make a difference!

November 12, 2019

We're one week into our campaign, and we've raised over $1000. We're off to a great start! Thank you for your donations and support. Together, we are making a difference. Over the next few weeks, we will feature stories from some of our former patients and their parents. Our patients and their families are the driving force behind our efforts to improve concussion outcomes. We hope you find similar inspiration in their stories. This week, Bryce's mother shares her story of Bryce's traumatic brain injury and recovery. Thanks again!

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