By Samantha Herbert, CSL Health Promotion student
Concussions are a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or the body that causes the head and, therefore, the brain to move rapidly back and forth in the skull (CDC, 2015). Like other bumps and bruises, concussions are relatively common in children—especially in those who participate in sports and outdoor activities.
For most children, concussion symptoms resolve within a couple of weeks with proper management. However, some childhood concussions can have lasting effects that continue into adulthood.
Child Safety Link recently spoke to 20-year old Harley, an Ontario native whose story is similar to others who have had multiple concussions in early childhood. To this day, Harley continues to suffer from many effects of the brain injuries he sustained at an early age. His story emphasizes the importance of concussion prevention for youth. Here is our conversation with Harley:
Q: Can you tell us about your first concussion?
Harley: I was around 11 when I got my first concussion. It was winter and I slipped on a patch of ice at recess with some of my friends and my head made direct contact with the ice. I was unconscious for a couple of minutes before standing up and immediately had some visible coordination and balance problems.
Q: Did you feel that people around you were educated and aware of concussions?
Harley: Yes, I was lucky, most of my teachers and my parents were pretty aware of common signs and symptoms of concussions. They could see I was dizzy right away and I was immediately taken out of school and sports until my symptoms subsided.
Q: How did you sustain your second concussion?
Harley: About two years later (age 13), I was playing hockey. An opponent and I were both going for a puck in the corner. I turned and his elbow went directly into the side of my head, I then hit my head off the boards, then the glass, and then the ice. I woke up in the changing room with my mom there and our trainer. Once again, I was taken out of school and sports until my symptoms subsided.
Q: How did your second concussion compare to your first concussion?
Harley: My second concussion hurt less on direct impact, probably due to my adrenaline levels but the recovery process was so much worse. I had so many more headaches and my symptoms seemed to last longer. I think it really took a toll on me mentally as well, my parents would often tell me I was forgetting things and I just felt off. It was hard to not go out and be able to do anything, it was really isolating, and it felt like no one understood.
Q: How did you sustain your third concussion?
Harley: My third concussion was when I was 14 or 15, I was playing rugby and I tackled an opponent that had the ball, and when we went to the ground my head hit the ground and his body landed on my head as well. For that one I did not think I was concussed at first, because I felt fine right away, probably again from the adrenaline, but my head was bleeding. And once I sat down for a couple minutes, I started feeling all the familiar symptoms and I knew right away.
Q: How did sustaining multiple concussions affect you?
Harley: Having so many concussions in a fairly short period of time has affected my life a lot; I still have some of those symptoms today. I can no longer play any contact sports at all and I would say I am pretty afraid of ever getting a concussion again. Even something like a friend playfully hitting me or something- I feel like I live in this constant state of fear of getting another concussion and know that I am now more prone to them. A lot of things I was able to do before I can no longer do now because of symptoms of my concussions that have never really gone away. I cannot sit in the backseat for a long time without feeling really nauseous and even long car rides affect me in a similar way. I used to love rollercoasters and now I cannot really go on them without feeling sick.
I think the biggest impact my concussions have had on me is my mental health. I forget things all the time and it’s really discouraging. I sometimes will go to another room to grab something and by the time I get there I forget what I’m doing and walk in and out 3 times before I can remember. My concussions made school a lot more difficult, because the school system really emphasizes memorization, I think I was at a disadvantage for that learning style because of my brain injury.
Q: When you reflect on your experience with multiple concussions, how has this changed your perception on concussion prevention?
Harley: I was lucky because a lot of the people around me were educated on concussions and proper management of the injuries, but I did not feel like there was a lot of prevention put in place in general. I think a lot of people do not really understand the effects of concussions and what the long-term impacts are. Especially in terms of the sport community, I think people down-play it especially because I was so young. Everyone also just expected me to bounce back because I was young, and when I did not, I felt really alone and like no one understood. I also wish I had stopped playing sports earlier, even though my short-term symptoms subsided there are long-term effects still impacting me today. I work full time now, but I did not end up staying in school or doing any post-secondary education. I think the impacts of my concussion on my memory really impacted my ability to continue my education. These long-term effects are things people are not really aware of.
Q: What is your message to people and more specifically parents and families on concussions and the importance of concussion prevention?
Harley: I think that more people need to know about concussions and concussion prevention, especially in sports and for children. Athletes and children get concussions all the time and I think people are aware of the signs and symptoms but not educated enough about all the possible long-term effects of a brain injury. I also think it’s important to increase awareness of the mental health impacts; it can be really isolating and it feels like no one really gets it, so increasing support for this is really important too. Finally, I think taking it seriously when someone hits their head is another key part, and the return to play structure should really be taken more seriously, especially for athletes.
Child Safety Link thanks Harley for sharing his concussion story with us, for the sake of helping others learn about the importance of concussion prevention. For more information about how to help prevent, recognize and treat concussions, please see the resources listed below.
- Concussion Awareness Training Tool: https://cattonline.com/resources/
- Canadian Guideline on Concussion in Sport (Parachute Canada, 2019): https://www.parachute.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Canadian-Guideline-on-Concussion-in-Sport.pdf
- After a Concussion: Return-to-Sport Strategy (Parachute Canada): https://parachute.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Return-to-Sport-Strategy.pdf
- Centers for Disease Control & Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/headsup/basics/concussion_recovery.html
CDC. (2015). Reshaping the Culture Around Concussion in Sports. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/headsup/resources/playbook.html