Austin Trenum, What His Mother Wants You To Know

30 Nov

I recently ran a story about Brad Evans and his untimely death, knowing this was not the only person or family that has suffered from such horrible things.  What I didn’t know was that there are families that want their stories told.  Let me preface by saying that I am just a guy who has devoted his spare time to raise awareness about concussions and their lasting effects, just ONE guy and I was utterly floored and brought to tears by an email I received today, the sender was Michelle Trenum, mother of Austin Trenum who also ended his life prematurely on September 27, 2010.  Austin had been diagnosed with a concussion sustained in a game the previous Friday.  Here is Mrs. Trenum, a grieving mother’s email to me;

I saw your blog posting on Brad Evans.  Our son, Austin Trenum,  received a “mild to moderate” concussion on September 24, 2010 at his football game.  Less than 48 hours later, our beautiful, smart, funny, happy, athletic, talented son took his life suddenly and spontaneously.  There was no warning, no depression, no mental health issues, no drugs or alcohol issues, no divorce or financial issues, no trouble with friends, no trouble with school, no fights or breakups with girlfriend, etc.  We found out about Brad Evans the day after it happened when the press contacted us noting the similarities of the two boys.  We were not up to speaking to the press but a friend who represents the family did call down there.   The reporter down in Fayetteville who’d personally interviewed Brad’s family and friends and they all said that everyone said the same thing about Brad:  that there was no reason and that he was excited about his future.  That sounded so familiar to us.

We know with every fiber of our being that Austin would never have taken his own life.  He was too well adjusted, happy, and so excited about college.  He was making plans for that Sunday evening with his girlfriend, a work friend for working together the next weekend and with his brother for Monday evening….that was only in the last hours.   He was talking about what day he’d be able to return to practice and which game he may have to miss because of the waiting period and the follow-up ImPACT testing that our school participated in for the first time this year.  The only thing odd about that weekend was the concussion which was his second of the season and his third that we knew of.  We knew the second it happened that it was related to the concussion.   We don’t blame football (we have two other sons who continue to play), we don’t blame our trainer (who is fantastic and who is extremely cautious when dealing with concussions), and we don’t blame the coaches (who always stood by the trainer’s decision).  We do feel the ER medical staff was lacking in their guidance to us as they just sent us home with instructions on what to look for if a bleed occurred.  No true concussion management (sleep, rest, cautions) were provided.   We were sent home watching for a bleed, never dreaming that the real danger was entirely different.

We hope that no family will EVER have to go through the pain that we have and that is one of the reasons we chose to donate Austin’s brain to research at Boston University.  We are very aware that they may not find anything concrete because the beginning damage is electrical in nature and hard to detect.  Austin is the youngest athlete they have examined.  However, we are concerned that cases like Brad’s and Austin’s are not being tracked.  Right now the medical community is only beginning to look at the connections.  When an incident like this happens, the CDC only keeps statistics like age, race, sex and method of suicide.  They do not keep any statistics noting the concussion.   The NFL cases are tracked by Sports Legacy Institute, but the high school cases are more difficult because except for anecdotal stories from family and friends, local law enforcement chalks each case up to a typical teen suicide.  But I believe that that isn’t the case with some of these athletes.

We have a wide network of friends who knew about Austin and through that we’ve received  anecdotal word of other cases from past years.  Of course we don’t know the individual stories from the parents themselves, perhaps those parents are delusional, perhaps there are other circumstances, but in the few cases we heard about, the parents swore  their child’s death had something to do with a concussion and they were ignored or written off at upset parents at the time of their child’s death.  The reception to Austin’s case was different as it happened in the Washington DC area only days after the congressional testimony which gave us more credibility….but what about other parents and other cases?  I think there are more out there.

After Austin died we met with Dr. Gioia at Children’s Hospital, a neuropsychologist who is an expert on the subject and one of the people who testified for the congressional legislation.  He suggested that we consider using Austin’s memory to make a difference.  My husband can make local differences through our school board on concussion management at the school level.  I have an activist background in land use and conservation issues, but I am willing to put my experience to use on this issue once I am able to better cope with the tremendous ocean of grief that has overwhelmed our family.   Right now I am just trying to compile information in between crying jags.

Do you know of anyone tracking these types of cases?   Have you heard of any other cases where a young athlete with great life and future, shortly after a head trauma, takes his or her own life?

Michelle Trenum

I replied to Michelle;

Michelle,

I am deeply saddened by your loss and inspired by your letter.  It is cases like Austin’s that make me do what I do.  I began my “obsession” with concussions after observations of students in school and myself sustaining a concussion in 2006-07 time frame that led me to be eventually being diagnosed with depression.  I finally went to the doctor after I had thoughts of suicide, that was not me.  There was zero reason for me to be that way, my life was wonderful a great wife, awesome job, great family, a son and a daughter on the way.  I had NO reason to act out like that, after the diagnosis something clicked and I looked into the concussion connection.  I am convinced, although it most likely will not be definitively known, my history of concussions made me this way.

To address your specific question about tracking these horrible stories, I do not know of any particular place/person that tracks them.  However, I do work with another parent, Jean Rickerson (of SportsConcussions.org), who has been very instrumental in concussion awareness.

I would like to keep the communication line open with you and your family.  I would like to help you in what ever fashion I can.  I would also like to ask you if I can publish the email you sent to me?  I can make some editorial changes, and you can add/subtract to it, but I strongly feel that this should be out there, you are not alone, at the very least you can let the world know how you feel.

Again thanks for this very difficult message, and I appreciate it.

Dustin Fink

To which she responded;

Thank you for your response.  Austin was just 17 1/2 yrs old…he was one silly big grin to everyone who loved him.  He was always in a good mood and friendly to everyone.   If you google his name, you’ll see many articles about how many people admired and loved him.  They all say the same thing…Austin would have never done this to himself or to us.

It is okay to use our story.  I always hope one more parent will see it and when their son says “I’m fine” or the coach says “he’s fine” that they will think twice.  Austin was in the top 5% of his class and would have had his choice of colleges.  He was so excited about his senior year and everything that came along with it.  Instead of paying tuition and buying stuff for his dorm, we spent the first year of his college fund on a funeral.  Our family will never be the same.  His girlfriend, friends and teammates will never be the same.

The week Austin died they testified in Congress.  Then within the next two-three weeks: the NFL changed its guidelines concerning head hits, the Purdue research came out, the Army information about the simple blood test came out and Sports Illustrated made concussions a focus for their issue.  The issue is finally gaining attention and maybe it will make a difference for someone else.

Thank you,

Michelle Trenum

No, THANK YOU Michelle.  I truly hope and it has been my mission to help as many people as possible.  If anyone out there wants to share thoughts or stories with us, feel free to contact us.  If you are more comfortable being anonymous I will do that as well.  A video tribute to Austin.

This story also touched a personal chord with me.  March of 1992 a snowy day a fellow high school student Clint Coppin tragically ended his life.  I still remember Clint explaining the finer details of using a Velcro wallet to me days before his death.  He has stuck with me, and is part of the reason stories like Austin and Brad will be special to me.

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8 Responses to “Austin Trenum, What His Mother Wants You To Know”

  1. Maria Procter January 2, 2011 at 18:41 #

    I am a family friend of the Trenum’s. Our son was very close to Austin growing up. The boys would have sleepovers, fishing at a friends home and just typical boyhood fun. Our son misses his friend far more than words can say.
    We are all saddened by this (to the core) and are willing to become “advocate friends”. Please let us know what we would be able to do to continue your cause. If we are able to do research, collect info or write to Congress/Senate…please feel free to contact us.
    The description of the Austin that Michelle has portayed to you is more than accurate. We know that Austin is with the Lord right now.

    Thank you for your continued concern!!

    Maria Procter
    mariaprocter@verizon.net

    • Dustin Fink January 2, 2011 at 20:12 #

      Wow, thank you Maria… You can help by just keeping all aware, including all health care professionals you know… At the very least send them to this site… Thank you once again!

  2. Linda Roleff February 3, 2011 at 17:55 #

    I came upon this tragic story while doing genealogy research on the Trenum family that is linked to me through the Metcalfs of Mineral County, WV. This fine young man is a distant relative, and I find myself deeply saddened at his death. I am a retired high school teacher, and I can identiify with the grief that everyone who knew him is suffering. I have to believe that the concussion was the contributing factor.

  3. Jackie Hopper August 31, 2011 at 00:28 #

    My son had a concussion last football season. I must admit that I can’t remember how they rated it, I just remember saying to everyone I just want my son back. He had a long and tough “recovery” and really struggled with the school year. He attempted suicide 5 months later. I always felt there was a connection with the concussion and his suicide attempt. He is a brillant, funny, happy kid. But to this day he struggles with some short term memory loss. I worry every day that he will attempt again. I never worried about this before the concussion. I know I am a lucky mom, my son is still alive. But my heart grieves intensly for those parents whose child did not survive. Together we can make a difference. What can I do to help this cause move forward?

    • Dustin Fink August 31, 2011 at 06:59 #

      Jackie,

      I am sorry to hear about your son’s injury and recovery, it can be a long road, it sounds as though you will make a difference in his life. You can help by simply making sure everyone knows about concussions. As we have stated on the blog over and over, the main concern is not the injury, rather the mismanagement of the injury that is the issue. Thank you for reading the article and blog.

      df

  4. Eileen August 31, 2011 at 08:27 #

    Austin’s story is tragic, and I am so sorry for Mr. & Mrs. Trenum’s loss. They have done a wonderful thing in helping others.

    My oldest son (27) suffered a concussion in a football game when he was a sophomore in high school. It was awful. He was allowed to go back into the game, and he still was “woozy”. The next day (and for many days) he was dizzy in the shower and vomited. A neurologist eventually diagnosed it as a seizure disorder (epilepsy) and treated him with lamictal I believe, and other drugs.

    In addition to this concussion, he had a concussion snowboarding, where he said he was “out for a minute”. I suspect there were other smaller bumps as well. (Wear a helmet!)

    Long story short, doctors decided later it was probably just migraine headaches and not seizures (!?). Meanwhile, my son started having problems with depression and got into drugs as well. The medication made him go to the other extreme– manic behavior. There is some history of this in the family, one generation removed, so I know this is a real possibility. My point here is that I feel 100% sure that the football blow directly precipitated events. Maybe my son would have had problems anyhow, but I am not convinced. To this day, he has not gotten a clear diagnosis, and is not on any medication.

    My son is doing pretty well–lives on the opposite coast, holds a good job, but struggles with impulse control and sometimes, a rather nasty temper. He probably has some substance abuse issues as well.

    Please continue to research the subject of concussions in young athletes. The brain is incredibly complex. An injury can probably compound an underlying problem, or set a whole string of events in motion. If you have children with a concussion, be on top of things from the very start, and don’t be afraid to speak up and demand answers.

    Thank you.
    Eileen

    • Dustin Fink August 31, 2011 at 13:05 #

      Eileen,

      Thank you for sharing your story! I truly appreciate it, others do as well.

  5. valerie May 22, 2014 at 21:39 #

    My son played football from age 9 to 18. Defensive linebacker, 2 state championships. Started with memory loss, emotional labile, had trouble driving a car, depression, committed suicide 9 weeks ago. Would love to see if others have stories of their own.

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