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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Nick Mercer: Recovery is in the Eye of the Beholder

For those new to the blog, Nick Mercer is our only “staff” writer here at The Concussion Blog.  He provides a great layman’s perspective; one from a person recovering from a traumatic brain injury.  If you want to know why he does this – for us and himself – you can read THIS POST.  Thanks Nick for your time and content!

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In recent years, my “recovery” (more on why that word is in quotes later) seems to have gained steam and I’ve noticed more improvement, even though the accident that caused my brain injury occurred over ten years ago. I’m sure there are many physiological and neurological reasons why improvements would take this long, then again, maybe I haven’t improved that much neurologically or physiologically, maybe I just feel better in general and in my attitude toward “recovery”.

For the first nine or so years, I was focusing on trying to fix problems – I wasn’t able to do this or that, I was tired, my vision was messed up – problems that no matter how much I tried to fix, I could always improve upon, so I was reaching for a goal that couldn’t be touched. That kept me going, kept me striving. It also put me in a permanent state of dissatisfaction. There were times, of course, when I was depressed, but there were also times when I was happy. Happy, but dissatisfied.

All the while, I was pushing myself physically, in the pool, the gym, walking to and from work. I was also pushing myself mentally, through work, and through reading a lot, especially non-fiction books. My sister had told me for years that I should try Pilates, that she thought it would be good for me. I always had some excuse Continue reading

Nick Mercer: Finding yourself after a brain injury, first step – Recon

As has been said countless times in countless articles about brain injury, “every brain injury is different”. I don’t know and don’t care to know how many times I’ve heard or read it. That phrase is used primarily for the benefit the general public to explain or define a lasting injury about which little is known. Although geared towards people who have – seemingly – little or no experience with brain injury, the statement should still be understood as fully as possible by those of use who have such experience.

In 2003, until making a hard and fast right turn on my bike on a hill in Victoria, BC, I had every intention of completing my upcoming 8 month MPA work term with the Auditor General in Ottawa, and while there, continuing to ride my bike and join a local water polo club. When I finished my MPA I would work somewhere for a few years, then, hopefully, pursue a PhD.  The next morning, all that changed. Two weeks later, when I woke from my coma, I was a different person. Not completely different – I was lucky – but different enough that I had to change my plans for my future.

My focus wouldn’t be on finding an apartment in Ottawa or impressing my Continue reading

More Confirmation of Age/Sex Differences

The difference between male and females has been known for a little while as the females tend to show more cognitive issues and in research have shown to be slower at recovering.  Also known but for some reason discounted is the age aspect; it would be logical to expect a developing brain to struggle more with brain trauma.  Reuters wrote up an article about the recent research;

Female and high school athletes may need more time to recover from a concussion than their male or college counterparts, according to a U.S. study that comes amid rising concern about concussions in young athletes.

Researchers, whose report appeared in the American Journal of Sports medicine, found that of 222 young athletes who suffered a concussion, female athletes tended to have more symptoms than males. They also scored lower on tests of “visual memory” – the ability to recall information about something they’d seen.

Meanwhile, high school athletes fared worse on memory tests than college players, and typically took longer to improve.

For parents, coaches and athletes, the key message is to have patience with concussion recovery, said lead researcher Tracey Covassin, an assistant professor at Michigan State University in East Lansing.

Research like this will now begin to be shown to the world, as the research and money has ramped up over the past 3-4 years making longevity and high volume studies available.  The simple moral of the story is; take plenty of time to recover before returning.  One or two games is better than a semester or year.