Mailbag: Response/Comment

I know we have talked about Michelle Trenum before, in fact she has been a very good sounding board for us here at TCB.  When we posted the Mailbag yesterday she had a thoughtful response and very intuitive words for everyone to see.  She even said it was OK to share with everyone.  So here is the email in full;

I really think what you are doing is so important…I only wish more people knew the information before they needed it instead of reading about it afterwards.

In today’s posting there was a mention of seeing yellow.   Austin and my other son would come home from football practice each day and tell me their “war stories” of particularly difficult or funny things that had happened at that day’s practices.  I enjoyed hearing about the practical jokes; about who was got put in their place by the coach that day; and who made everyone laugh.  They would also update me on particularly hard hits or injuries.  One day Austin told me about being hit so hard by our 300 lb lineman that he passed out for a moment then woke up and everything looked yellow.  He described it like he was looking through a jar of pee.  The mom in me freaked out when he said he’d passed out and he said “it is no big deal, I’m fine, I probably just got the breath knocked out of me because REDACTED is so big and he was on top of me, I don’t think I was really passed out….mom, stop freaking out, I’m fine”.  The possibility of a concussion was never on my radar.  I did mention the story after Austin’s death to Dr. Gioia including the “yellow” part only because it stuck in my head as being something really strange.  I had never heard of someone seeing yellow.  Dr. Gioia said that the yellow story was probably a concussion incident.

If I had known about the “yellow”, would have I done things differently?  It is hard to say now because I know so much more about the dangers of concussions, but back then I may have been concerned but just asked him about headache type symptoms.  At the time things may seem significant enough to be concerned but all those concerns go away when the next day you have your funny, laughing, normal teenager back who scoffs at you for being so worried about him when he is sure he is fine.

There were other similar incidences, one involving Austin being dizzy to the point of passing out at a fall lacrosse league game that he played in 11 days after the first 2009 football concussion.  He had been cleared that Friday to return to practice on Monday so he thought it was fine to play in the lacrosse game on Sunday.  Once again we never thought concussion and instead blamed it on possible dehydration from an allergy pill he’d taken  that morning (like the lacrosse player blaming it on low blood sugar) or the heat of the day.  His teammates grabbed him and kind of carried him a few steps until they could lay him down off the field.  They ripped off his helmet and threw water on his face before he completely passed out. By then we had left the spectator area and were headed over to congratulate him on a good game.  I saw the players laying him down  but the concussion never came to mind and the whole incident was over in 2 minutes. We got in the car and he was still shaking so we rushed to the corner 7/11 to get him Gatorade and a sandwich.  By the time we got home in 20 minutes  he was perfectly fine.  It wasn’t until after he’d died and I was looking at my 2009 calendar to note the exact date of the first football concussion for medical information we were providing to Boston that I saw that lacrosse game  on my calendar and remembered that was the game that he was dizzy to the point of collapsing.   Now if I saw that happen, the concussion would come to mind immediately…hindsight is always 20/20.   Now I look back and think how could have we thought it was heat, dehydration and the allergy pill when he had practiced in 90+ degree weather all of August; had taken hundreds of allergy pills; and this was just a warm September day.  It was even a light lacrosse league so the games were a short 40 minutes and not nearly as intense as his grueling football games.  Looking back of course all those things now hit me like a brick…how could I have ever thought it was heat or an allergy pill?  Gil and I have concluded after consulting with the neuropsychologists that instead of the two known concussions, he probably had 4, possibly 5, concussions between August 2009 and September 2010 when he died.

I also see so many similarities in the stories you have posted on the Project Brain Wave of the other teens that have suffered.  They also follow Austin’s story in so many little ways.  When the lacrosse player describes how she couldn’t untie her cleats and was upset, I think back to Austin’s concussion in 2009 when he could not figure out how to unbuckle or buckle his football helmet and starting crying and screaming.  That is how his teammates knew something was wrong.  He had finished 4-5 plays after the concussion and no one, including him, knew until he cried about the buckle at half time.  I also cannot believe there are this many identical stories out there of teen concussions and the ER is still sending people home with only instructions on bleed symptoms.

I just wish it was parents whose children have never had a concussion that were reading all these stories instead of parents and students who have already suffered and are searching for answers to their child’s post concussion issues.  I hope things will change as more medical research comes out and people began to take things like “seeing yellow” more seriously.

I try to tell myself that years ago no one took driving without a seatbelt or drunk driving seriously and think about now: 20 years of information campaigns have completely changed the way we think about seatbelts or driving after a couple of beers.  Maybe we’re just at the beginning of that cusp of concussion information and in 20 years things will be completely different. Maybe in 20 years a mom will hear a story about seeing yellow, seeing stars or being dizzy and know differently….

Thanks again for everything you do,


Thanks for sharing once again Michelle.  I know it is not easy, and it will not be any easier in the future, but what you are doing is just as important in spreading the message.

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