One Day At A Time: Greg DiTullio’s Story


“Greg, open yours eyes.”
“Greg, squeeze my hand.”
“Greg, PLEASE don’t leave us.”

The words of a worried standing beside her son unsure of the future of her fourteen-year old child are powerfully unsettling to say the least.  For Sue DiTullio, August 8, 2007 will be a day she will never forget—a day where she could have lost her son, Greg.

Greg sustained a concussion during his football practice following a helmet-to-helmet hit during a basic tackling drill.  After the hit, he approached his coach and told him that he had a bad headache, which came to result in Greg dropping to a knee, vomiting, and then passing out on the field.  Within minutes, an EMT unit was on-site and found what would be described to be a “very weak pulse.”  To the shock of all bystanders, the hit was more than what one would consider to be a typical collision in a youth football environment—it was a decisive blow that caused a subdural hematoma, which is a collection of blood that forms upon the surface of the brain.

In the hospital, Greg’s parents arrived to a room filled with hospital attendants surrounding their child pinching him, slapping him on the chest, and yelling at him to try and get the slightest response—a method that was used for the next ninety-six hours while the medical staff monitored him.  It was found that Greg sustained a severe midline shift in his brain that was nearly a 1.2-centimeter misalignment, which caused massive bleeding on the right side of his cortex.  Doctors from the neurosurgical team were clear to insist that his craniotomy procedure was to be performed immediately.

“If we don’t operate now, he will die.  Even if we do operate, we are not sure what the outcome will be.”

Greg would be later declared the stability to survive this heart-wrenching incident, ultimately marking the beginning of a life that would be significantly altered with regards to his physical and cognitive capacity.  That moment, to the understanding of the DiTullio family, was the day in which they nearly could have lost their son.  The DiTullio family rather sees it as the moment in which God let him live, for they never gave up on the hopes of Greg’s recovery.

To the DiTullio family, life has come to be a continuous altercation against struggles in health for Greg.  They know that Greg’s life will never be the same, but their true optimism and love for their son gives them motivation to take on each challenge and make every day better.  From the moment in which Greg emerged from the hospital as a survivor of sport-related head trauma, his family has put forth an effort in setting goals to make his remarkable recovery mean something.  There are days in which they feel that everything has fallen out of their control, but such days are complimented by ones in which they feel that their efforts and prayers are making a difference in their son’s life.

Ever since the incident of Greg’s injury, the DiTullio family has been provided a handful of theories that try to explain what caused his concussions to become so severe.  This included the questioning of whether or not the helmet was too old, or if the padding was too old and too stiff to absorb the force of the hit, or if he had been significantly dehydrated, causing fluids in the brain to be low, increasing the risk for contrecoup injury.  Some say that this may have just been ‘bad luck.’  As much as the questions arose, the DiTullio family received little to no answers.  All that they understood was that after this seemingly mild hit, their son found himself soon fighting for his life.

The impact of Greg’s story has affected his community in a unique way.  One year after his injury, his high school replaced their helmets at every level, and soon found decreased concussion rates in their football programs.  In addition, this situation was powerful enough to launch what would come to be known as Families Against Brain Injury, a non-profit organization located in Ohio, headed by Sue, that aims to share Greg’s story while campaigning for greater awareness of sport-related head injuries.  They also support the Outpatient Neurorehabilitation team of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital—a dedicated group of therapists and specialists who work with children who are suffering from traumatic brain injury.

Through progress has been a common theme in the steps of recovery for Greg, he seems to have fallen into another rough spot.  Changes in medication, along with coping with the social effects that his injury has left him with, have debilitated his patience, as he finds himself struggling to move forward with his individuality.  He is battling headaches, visual difficulties, pituitary dysfunction, endurance issues, and has developed a sleep disorder (post-traumatic hypersomnia/narcolepsy).  From a cognitive perspective, Greg has shown significant improvement, though he has shown spells of issues with memory and attention.

When Greg’s coaches were questioned why they did not evaluate him for a head injury when he first complained of a headache he described to be like no other that he had before, one replied saying: “it was a mild hit.”  The others were unaware that there was even a helmet-to-helmet hit because Greg was not working in their group at practice.  The first to really pick up on an issue was one of Greg’s teammates, who noticed him walking around at one point, and when he caught up with him, Greg seemed confused.

The story of Greg DiTullio is one that should be heard by all involved in contact sports, specifically in all youth football programs.  It is unreal how precious our very lives are, for at any moment they could be catastrophically misdirected toward a path of uncertainty.  Like many other tragic stories that have been heard throughout the realm of athletics, Greg’s must be placed upon a platform, alongside many others, to represent that we all must think twice about our decision-making and recognize that the implications of sport-related head trauma are no joke.

JOHN GONOUDE

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4 thoughts on “One Day At A Time: Greg DiTullio’s Story

  1. Michelle February 7, 2011 / 10:14

    He probably doesn’t realize that by going to the coaches he saved his own life.
    What an amazing story.

    As an athletic trainer I am wondering did he collapse right away or was there time for the trainers to evaluate him? And if they did have a chance to evaluate him what did they see in terms of signs that would point to the fact that he had suffered such an extreme injury (e.g blown pupil,confusion,dizziness). Head injuries can present themselves in so many different ways.

    Good luck to Greg as he goes forward.

    • John Gonoude February 7, 2011 / 10:51

      Michelle,

      The following is what Greg’s mother provided me in response to your question…

      From what we had been told from coaches and some of his friends that were at the practice, was that after the hit Greg told the coach watching his group that he had a bad headache. This coach told him to just sit out the next set. As Greg moved to the next drill with his group he told that coach he did not feel well and had a bad headache. That coach told him to go to the head coach. When he got to the head coach he was told to go sit down. His friends noticed that Greg had collapsed and ran and told the coach, the head coach went to him and then they started the CPR and called 911. When the first coach was questioned why he didn’t evaluate him for a head injury his response it was a “mild hit”. The other two coaches said they didn’t even know that there was a helmet-helmet hit as Greg was not in their group. His close friend said he was just walking around and when he caught up with him he seemed confused.

      Greg will say that he remembers the hit and he remembers that the headache was completely different than any other headache he has ever felt before. He has said his vision became blurred and he just felt weird. Greg will also tell you that this all happened in the afternoon and he can be pretty insistent even to this day that is when it happened. This happened at 9:30 in the morning.

  2. Vincenzo De Palma March 27, 2012 / 13:24

    Hockey – The Game and Current Aggression and Concussion Challenges – Game Must Change
    Opinion: Vincenzo De Palma – March 22, 2012

    Being raised in Canada to immigrant Italian parents I have fond memories of watching NHL Hockey Night in Canada as a youngster. Family of ours immigrated from Italy firstly to the Boston, Massachusetts area in the early 1940’s with subsequent family members immigrated to Western Canada in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Hockey became an important part of our family’s lives and still is a significant component of our life and more specifically the NHL – our favorite Boston Bruins – and the excitement the game provided and still provides. Watching the local NHL telecast with Dad and my brother was a regular ritual for our Saturday evening frequently followed by attending the local Coliseum to take in the local Senior Men or Junior A teams.

    The game was a simple one to follow and also was one I enjoyed playing as a youngster. Today, as new father with a sub one year old son I am internally questioning if this game is something our new family wants to participate in. I am sure my family and close friends will wonder what has happened to me and why my apprehension. The aggression that is part of the game is fine to an extent and striving to be competitive, to be the best and win is what drives sports and more importantly sporting enthusiasts like me – but to what level of risk and what are we teaching? And let us not forget is only a GAME.

    But here is the question posed by me – Vincenzo De Palma: Why is it that now we wonder how to make the game, a sport that involves physical contact, a respectful game that drives to be safer than any other organized sport in the world? We have many NHL Superstars been sidelined with massive head trauma with several of them that will never return. But do we really know how many youth boy and girls are sidelined due to head trauma? Do we even understand when the young children even have head trauma?

    Please read the following excerpt from a Hockey Canada medical expert in his session at the Ottawa Scotia Bank Place a few months ago.
    Dr. Mark Aubry was speaking to about 200 parents, trainers and coaches in a conference organized by the Ottawa District Hockey Association at Scotiabank Place on head injuries in hockey.
    Solving the matter won’t be as simple as designing a new helmet or wearing a mouth guard, he said. Instead, players and coaches will need a culture shift in the way they think about the game.
    He cited the example of hitting players when they have their heads down as something minor hockey league players and coaches will need to differently. Players used to be encouraged to do this, he said, even if it meant the person would get a concussion as a result.
    “Now I think our children hopefully will change,” said Aubry, the chief medical officer for Hockey Canada. “If you see somebody with their head down, hopefully, out of respect, you actually hold up.”
    “The number of children who sustain concussions while playing hockey continues to grow, said Aubry. This can lead to a number of symptoms for players, including depression and, in some cases, suicide.”

    I believe we truly require a shift in our thinking with respect to what is acceptable to the parents and more importantly the North American Minor hockey programs and how about acting on comments from senior level hockey people like Dr. Mark Aubry.

    I guess I have the luxury of time to experience what the changes if any occur to the game before I make a decision for our son.

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