Time to Heal: Tracy Yatsko’s Story (3/22/11)

Last June, I had the pleasure of speaking at a press conference at Lincoln Financial Field in support of Pennsylvania State Representative Tim Briggs’ proposed concussion management legislation.  I was an eighteen-year old who had been researching concussions in sports for nearly ten months at that point—a task that I engaged in to further educate myself and others on the subject at hand; a project that would essentially close many doors in my past that had been left open for too long.  But as I situated myself beside the podium at this press conference, I had no idea what kind of story the young woman sitting to my left had to say.  Of course, throughout my research, I understood that others have been through worse—much worse—than what I had experienced, but never did I think I would meet someone I could relate to.  It was even more than just relating to, for this individual shared a heartbreaking story to the public.  She was at the press conference for the same reason as myself, and that was to promote the need for concussion legislation in our state, but she did more than that.  Her words were more than the cover to a bill.  Her words were the voice of the sports concussion crisis.

Today, Tracy Yatsko, a twenty-three-year old woman from Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, is still fighting the repercussions of an injury that ended her high school athletic career.  Six years removed from the moment of her last concussion, Yatsko represents the qualities of strength and motivation, for her battle has not been one that has been easy.  Sure, I have heard of stories in which athletes have sustained decisively fatal blows to the head.  But when I talk to this woman, and when I think about her story, the only words that I can describe how I have perceived her story is hell on earth.  Why did this situation in which Yatsko found herself within come to be?

2005 was a year, with regards to concussion awareness, that was still present in the sports’ ‘Era of Good Feelings.’  There was not much to worry about, and though there were stories creeping out of the media regarding concussions in football, there was not much of a worry in other athletic activities.  There really wasn’t much consideration as to what a concussion was.  It was merely an injury that was ignorantly summarized as a headache; a distraction; a joke.  And with such stigma comes tides of the familiar phrase that claims pain to be weakness leaving the body.  Only did we, or rather, do we, come to open our eyes to what a concussion is until the moment of a tragedy personally affects ourselves or those who we consider to be close to us. Continue reading

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A Calling For Ease: Drew Fernandez’s Story

(Project Brain Wave)  High school football is one of the most exciting, defining, and proud markers of American culture, and is a level of play that to many, extends beyond being just a game.  The dreaded months of training camp, the long hours in the weight room and practice field, and the time spent studying playbooks to perfect a team’s system all contribute to the same goal—that being the unforgettable feeling of standing beneath the lights on a Friday night before your home crowd, set to take on the opponent you have prepared for.  This feeling that empowers our student athletes, that makes our parents proud and supportive, that makes our friends anxious to witness game day, is what the coaches and players live for.  High school football is defining, and is home to life lessons to be learned and experiences to cherish.  But for the Fernandez family, the high school football season of 2008 is one they will never forget.

Drew Fernandez, a young up and coming running back for his high school’s football program that was known for state championships in seven of the previous ten years, was productive both on the field, and off the field, executing plays on the field and performing well in his studies in the classroom.  His older brother had also been part of their high school’s championship legacy, and Drew was looking forward to contributing to such successes as well.  His first year in high school was in 2008, and it would be the first time he would have an opportunity to be a part of his hometown’s illustrious football program also.  According to his mother, Tracey, “football was everything to him.”

But such a mentality would soon be combated during one of his freshman football games, as Drew received the ball at running back during play, and then took hits from defenders in both the front and back of his head while he was being tackled.  Drew had sustained a concussion, and would be removed from play.  His mother told me of what events would then follow after her son took a blow to the head, resulting in his diagnosis.

“The trainer of the opposing team (the game was away) called me to tell me Drew suffered a concussion, and asked me if I wanted him to go back to school on the team bus or if he should call the paramedics,” said Tracey.  “I asked him to call the paramedics, and I met them at the ER.  The last thing Drew remembers from the day of his injury was riding on the bus to the game.  He has no recall of the trip to the ER via ambulance or anything thereafter until the next morning when he woke up at home.” Continue reading

7 East

7 East is a floor at the National Hospital in Bethesda, MD where our service men and women come home after being injured on the battle field.  7 East houses many concussions or traumatic brain injuries (TBI) from abroad.  Christian Davenport of the Washington Post wrote a story that appeared on The News Tribune’s Military page.

The military brass are discovering that what used to be shrugged off as “getting your bell rung” can lead to serious consequences. In some cases, even apparently mild brain injuries can leave a soldier disqualified for service or require lifelong care that critics say the Department of Veterans Affairs isn’t equipped to handle.

Since 2000, traumatic brain injury, or TBI, has been diagnosed in about 180,000 service members, the Pentagon says. But, a Rand study in 2008 estimated the total number of service members with TBI to be about 320,000.

This “hidden” danger is not hidden.  It is a problem that the military REFUSED to believe in and spend resources toward.  More and more pieces like the one written by Davenport need to be put out there.  Many lives, not only the soldiers, but their families are affected by this.

Concussions Not Only The Field of Play, but…

On the field of battle.  Amy Davidson of the The New Yorker wrote a story about concussions in football and in battle.  More significantly our soldiers are not getting Purple Hearts for such injuries.

She went on to source a ProRebublica/NPR report that was directed at the military and their lack of apparent recognition of brain injures as valid injuries.

An even deeper issue, one that seems not to garner the press it should be getting is the trouble that most soldiers are having trying to readjust to civilian life.  PTSD has been the biggest “diagnosis” for most with issues, but possibly could it be the concussions sustained on the battle field?

Marc Savard Continues with Post-Concussion Effects

Marc Savard of the Boston Bruins took a big hit last year while playing in the regular season.  He was scratched from playing for 20 games leading up to the playoffs.  Then as expected symptoms cleared and he passed his required testing and given an all clear for return during the NHL Playoffs.

But as we know or SHOULD know… Continue reading