Part One of Brittni's Concussion Story

Concussion Story

September 15, 2015

We connected with Brittni after reading her story in the Frederick News-Post. She was kind enough to speak with us and to share her concussion story with our #HeadOn readers.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you start playing soccer?

I was always an active kid.  I played baseball (not softball), basketball, and even gymnastics (until I complained I didn’t want to wait in line) before I settled on soccer.  I tried soccer for the first time when I was 6 and I loved scoring goals.  I was small but fast for my age and very competitive  - I fell in love with the game.

What do you remember from the concussion you suffered during your third collegiate season? What were your symptoms? Could you immediately tell something was wrong? Was that your first concussion?

It was first concussion in college, but not my first concussion.  I don’t remember much.  I know that I went up for a header against another girl and then a few minutes later I couldn’t really see and I was getting very dizzy.  I was still on the field but my vision was blurry and the bottom half was just black.  I raised my hand to be called off and a trainer came over to me.  I don’t really remember much else. Witnesses said they thought when the girl and I collided at the top of the header I headed the ball but the other girl and I also hit heads. I later found out that I didn’t remember the entire second half of the game.  I thought the score was 3-0 but it was 6-0.

Can you describe what the recovery process from that concussion was like for you? What was the hardest part?

Over the next few days my symptoms worsened slightly– headaches, light sensitivity, noise sensitivity, trouble sleeping, concentration and memory issues.  The hardest part, at that time, was the concentration issues I was having in my classes and the headaches that would result from trying to concentrate in class.  However, it was what we would call a “minor” concussion. After about a week I was feeling well again and was ready to be cleared to get back on the field.

Did you return to the soccer field again? What was that decision-making process like? 

After that concussion I returned to the field without a second thought.  However, later in that same season I received 2 more concussions (1 concussion on approx. 8/27, one on 10/6 and one on 10/27).  Returning after those was a bit different.  After that season I struggled a lot with pain and headaches, dizziness, light sensitivity, concentration problems, etc.  I saw a neurologist at Sinai who said my symptoms were coming from damage done to my neck during the concussions.  I eventually had peripheral nerve surgery at Georgetown to relieve my symptoms.  After the surgery I felt better and decided to return to play.

How did your collegiate soccer career end? Do you have any regrets about going back on the field?

My career ended on October 25, 2014.  It was senior day and homecoming weekend and we had a home game.  We were winning 1-0 against a team we have historically lost or tied to – (typically in OT).  With 10 seconds left on the clock the opponent gains possession of the ball and starts dribbling towards our goal.  She got closer and closer before I decided to step to her. I committed and ran to meet her with 5 seconds left. A team mate of mine met her at the same time from behind and they both slammed into me, my opponent raised her forearms into the left side of my head, I fell backwards and the back of my head struck the turf.  I don’t remember the final buzzer.

Of course I have regrets.  As much as I love soccer, I would love to have my life back more.  Looking back now, I got lucky when I played the 2013 season without any concussions.  I got the 3 concussions in the fall of 2012 which resulted in surgery and then I played a full season without another huge blow to my head but not without suffering from severe symptoms. Even after the season was over the symptoms were relentless. I had to take off the Spring 2013 school semester to have another surgery to relieve my symptoms.  Looking back – That is when I think enough was enough.  If I hadn’t gone back to soccer again in the Fall 2014 and taken that one, last blow to the head, maybe I wouldn’t be where I am today.  If I could have walked away then, I might actually be a healthy 24 year old.

How did you effectively “game” the imPACT test after you had taken it so many times? What do you think makes up a sound concussion management protocol?

The imPACT test is a real gray area I think.  To an extent, it does well showing the decreased brain function in the average person who took the baseline test and then is tested again after a hit to the head.  For myself, however, it was a different story.  I have taken the imPACT test probably upwards of 20 times.  There are only 3 different variations of the test.  It got to the point where I had seen it enough that my post-injury scores would sometimes be better than my baseline.

I think the idea and concept of the imPACT test is a good one, but I think it needs to be used along with many other measures.  An athlete’s balance and eye movement especially should be evaluated before and after a hit to the head.  There should also be neck strengthening programs implemented – especially for female athletes.  Athletic trainers should be present at all contact sporting events from high school and above and ready to pull an athlete out at the first sign of a concussion.  When in doubt – pull them out.  It’s just a game, even if the athlete and coach can’t see that in the moment.  Many times worse concussion symptoms won’t appear until hours or days later so it is important to sit the athlete if there is any hint of a head injury.  Athletes should also be put through extensive return to play protocol after all of their symptoms are cleared easing them back into full contact.  If any symptoms reappear at any time during return to play they must rest longer.  Evaluating the athlete’s symptoms, balance, and eye function is very important in the return to play process.

Where did you find support during the recovery process? 

Honestly, up until recently I was very private about my condition.  Very few people really knew what I was going through, but my closest family and friends have really kept me going through all of it.  I was also given a puppy by a very close family friend when I started having some issues with my concussions and she has truly grown into an amazing therapy dog and has helped me through a lot – especially in college.  Being a college upperclassman, all my friends were turning 21 and going out and no one really ever understood why I always stayed in.  I became very secluded and typically retreated to my dark room in all my time not spent in class or on the field.  My senior year was when I really started to struggle the most. I slipped into a major depression and was really struggling with the continued fight of the day-to-day pain.  I never really talked to my friends, I would read a text and just be too exhausted to answer it.  I would always intend to answer when I felt better but naturally by that point, I would forget.  Now that I am out of college, I am living in an apartment with someone who really understands what I am going through I have started to gain some control over my depression and now I am trying to reach out and draw attention to this issue.

What do you know now that you wish you had known before? Is there anything you would have done differently?

Knowing what I know now, I would have taken more recovery time from the concussions I sustained in the 2012 season. I would like to think that that would have prevented a lot of the issues that I have now while still allowing me to compete in my final season. However, ultimately, if I were able to do it again, I would make the decision not to play in my last year.

Check back later this week for Part 2 of Brittni's Concussion Story