Madeline's Concussion Story Part 2

Concussion Story

January 27, 2015

A freshman in college, Madeline has become a prominent voice in the concussion education community. After suffering her second concussion in five months playing soccer, she still suffers from Post-Concussion Syndrome, but still finds time to speak publicly about the effects of head injuries in sports. (In addition to being a college student!) Read Part 1 of Madeline’s inspiring concussion story here and check out Part 2 below!

What do you make of the issue of concussions in women’s soccer right now? Was it something you knew or thought about before you suffered your first concussion?

Football concussions are always in the media, but women’s soccer is one of the main sports for them too. Heading the ball in practice and in games, colliding heads, being tripped, and running into the goalpost, are just a few of the ways to acquire a concussion in soccer. Recently, I have seen women wearing padded headbands that supposedly lessen the impact. I do not know much about them, but I know that the amount of force to cause a serious concussion will depend on the situation and the person, and that often times wearing protective gear will make someone play more aggressively because they think that they are safer. Before my first concussion, I only thought that concussions caused headaches for about two weeks. During the preseason before October 2011, my entire soccer team had to take an online course about concussions so that we were aware of the signs and symptoms. While I was taking this, I thought that it was a waste of time, that this would never happen to me, and that I would never need to know this information. 

What has been your favorite experience to date speaking publicly about concussions and why?

I have made many speeches over the past few years, but my favorite was at the Boston Acquired Brain Injury Support Group Walk in Jamaica Plain, MA in October of 2012. It was on the one-year anniversary of my injury, and in front of a crowd of around five hundred people that included doctors, military veterans, the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts, strangers, friends, and family. I loved having my friends and family there, and knowing that my message reached five hundred people was thrilling. This was my biggest crowd, and it was such an exciting day. I remember getting emotional at the end because I could not believe that I was even standing at the podium giving a speech there when months before, I could hardly stand up. That day was when I really decided that neurology was the field that I was meant to be in, and that I would be dedicated to this cause.

What is HealingHeads?

HealingHeads is the name of my blog, and it is a place for me to post about my recovery for others to learn from, connect to, and reach out to me for support. I love helping others, and with all of the social media these days, I felt that a blog would be helpful. Stopconcussions is a non-profit organization that my mother started a few months ago that aims to raise money for brain injury research. 

On The Knockout Project site you speak about learning to establish—and accept—a new “normal” in the wake of your concussions. What does that new normal look like for you today?

I never thought that I would graduate high school on time, let alone go to college. Even though I am a full-time college student, my life is not back to the way it was prior to my injury. I still go to doctor’s appointments a few times a month, and do brain exercises at home. I still cannot workout or go for runs, and I have a constant headache, ADHD, POTS, and sensitivity to light. I have learned to just bring sunglasses, earplugs, and Advil with me wherever I go. I sleep on a special pillow that helps to keep my neck aligned, and it takes me longer to read and do homework than it used to. I have to be careful when I stand up from my bed or the couch because I get nauseous, lightheaded, and dizzy. I have to take frequent breaks, nap often, sit in the front of the classroom to minimize distractions, and I am always moving. My friends joke about my “pacing problem.” Each day is a mystery. I never know how I am going to feel, or how much I will be able to handle with my symptoms. It can be difficult to plan ahead because of this. Some days my body will tell me that I can go to the mall, a hockey game, and to a friend’s house, and other days I’ll only be able to sit on my couch with my sunglasses on listening to the TV.

Recent studies have debated the amount of rest most beneficial for concussion recovery, and some have pointed to the negative effects (feeling isolated from friends and/or anxious, left out) when teenagers are told to rest for prolonged periods of time. What is your take on that from personal experience?

Personally, the brain rest that I did for the first few months was the foundation for my recovery. It was the best thing that I could have done at the time. Sure I was isolated, but I knew that in the long run, my brain would be better off. I wanted to do everything that I could to get better, and I felt too terrible anyway that most of the time, I did not care or even understand what was going on. I just wanted to lay in my bed and sleep even though I knew I was missing out on dances, parties, games, and other social events. It is boring, but my mother and I found ways to have a small routine every day. She would read to me, update me on the news, or have me listen to talk shows. Every doctor is a little different, and I just did what my doctor told me to do. 

What role do you think technology will play in the diagnosis and treatment of head injuries in sports? What do you think of technology like head impact sensors for monitoring?

I think that concussions can be a very subjective injury, and with technology and impact sensors, people can have a way to understand the severity of the injury and put a number on it. I think that technology will help to improve the diagnosis of head injuries, and I know that it is helping in the area of treatments with different computerized exercises and diagnostic tests that I have done. Oftentimes it is difficult to tell if a person is concussed or not unless they tell you. So, if there was some sort of device on a sideline of a game to be able to diagnose one, or even just provide more information about the impact or condition of a person, that would be fascinating.

Any other thoughts or feelings you have on brain & concussion safety you want to share?

Every concussion is different, and there is no uniform treatment for them. Patients need to be wiling to try new treatments if they want to recover. If a doctor says to do an exercise or take a vitamin, then do it! I certainly do not want to be in pain for the rest of my life, and I know that patients and parents often feel hopeless, or do not know where to start. There is so much support and information online that is available. I have found that reading about the brain and about the injury has been helpful because I can understand what is going on in my head and in my body. Education is key not only for people that have not been concussed, but also for those that are. Finally, I have been told countless times that I am faking my injury, or that my successes have been handed to me, and I know that others suffering like me have been told the same. The PCS world is a community, and we know how we feel, and we know that others do not understand unless they are feeling it too. So, I will keep recovering, working hard, and doing what I do because even if I help or educate just one person, that will make all of this pain worthwhile.