“I got nothin’,” was all he could say. We were on a call with our son a few years ago, when he was a freshman in college working on a paper about a topic he knew well. He was frustrated that, despite his command and even great interest in the topic of American 19th century something-or-other, he couldn’t come up with the words to type into his computer. And it wasn’t just a temporary case of writer’s block, with which we are all familiar, but rather a sustained period of cognitive deficits following a downhill bike crash during a competition. He had suffered his second or third concussion at that point, and we could see the effects were accumulating, and his recoveries were taking longer, including absence from classes, avoiding bright lights, “resting” his brain and reducing screen time.
As the general public is now well aware, concussions can no longer be dismissed as, “He just had his bell rung,” as they were for far too many years in sports. We now know the effects are indeed serious, disruptive and dangerous. In the most extreme cases, such as for football star Junior Seau who took his own life nearly a decade ago, repeated brain injuries can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease that has been linked to the deaths of several former NFL players. More commonly, many patients experience headaches, dizziness and problems with concentration and memory that can last for weeks or months after a traumatic brain injury (TBI), a condition called post-concussive syndrome. These kinds of cases are all too frequent in a highly active community such as ours, when velocity and gravity can combine to cause brain injuries on the slopes or on the trails, or on the football or baseball field, or on the ice rink.
The good news is there are proven methods to aid in recovery from traumatic brain injuries, and Aspen Valley Hospital has a team of rehabilitation professionals who are well trained and among the most experienced in western Colorado when it comes to the most effective therapies. In this March issue, which happens to be Brain Injury Awareness Month, we proudly introduce you to the members of our team, who will provide valuable information that you should know about TBIs, when to recognize you are suffering their effects, and how to recover safely. We’ll also introduce you to the manager of our Helmet Program and our Trauma Program, who is helping to keep our community protected from serious brain injuries by focusing on prevention.
As we learned with our son, and more alarmingly from Junior Seau, while recovery can occur, the impacts of multiple injuries are life-long and can accumulate over time with potentially life-changing (or ending) effects. Our son chose to not compete anymore, and to generally slow down in whatever activities he enjoys, much to our relief, after he better understood the long-term risks and consequences of his crashes.
I hope those who are reading this issue will likewise learn from our professionals and make the best choices for yourself, and your brain, including avoiding TBIs wherever possible and seeking medical attention and proper therapy when they occur.