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?
I replied to 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.
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.
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.