Dillon Abend is a 16-year-old from Chester, NJ, a lifelong hockey player, and a sophomore at West Morris Mendham High School in Mendham, NJ.
I started playing hockey at the age of five, doing local clinics, playing with local travel teams, and doing 3 on 3’s with my cousin. I fell in love with hockey because it takes not only great technique but a great mind to succeed. Hockey is a thinking sport where you must be thinking ahead to the next play before you can execute the current play. Through my own experiences and by learning from my teammates, hockey has made me a more dignified person, a better problem solver, and more understanding.
On a Sunday night in July 2018, though, my hockey career took a pause. One mammoth blow to the head on one play turned my life upside down. That’s why this past year has been the hardest of my life. And that’s why by telling my story, I hope I can provide some hope to other kids going through the same thing. Here’s how it happened.
There was captain’s practice at my High School. There was a coach present, but college kids were running it. At the end of practice, the college kids instructed that we do a non-contact 3-on-3 drill. In the last minute of practice, the college kids blew the whistle and I went in. There were upcoming freshmen on the team and I wanted to show them I was one of the nice kids and to help them learn and develop. I received the puck and dangled through two defenders and looked to pass to a freshman on the post. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a teammate charging at me halfway across the ice. I thought he was just going for the puck, and then BOOM. I was hit by what felt like a truck and suffered a double-concussion. The first came from the whiplash, then the second from my head hitting the ice. I saw stars and was very dizzy and my mind has felt cloudy ever since. I had no idea what was happening and stumbled back up and felt like I was going to throw up off the ice.
I was out for a couple of weeks after that day. I missed five practices and a camp, and started to feel pressure to practice again. I wasn’t completely symptom-free but felt close enough to normal to play again. But practicing brought on a headache and I stopped after that.
I tried to go about my normal life. I was hanging out with friends, going to school, exercising, and driving. I was trying to be a normal teenager. But my symptoms made that impossible. It got to a point where I was throwing up in school because I was trying to do math problems and then throwing up again at home because I was trying to catch up on the work I couldn’t do in school.
Eight months later, I am still symptomatic and have major neck problems. My memory has suffered since the incident. Before the injury, I was doing great in school, had a big group of friends, and was a tier-1 AAA hockey player with high hopes for playing college hockey. Since the injury, I have not been able to comprehend or learn new concepts at school, hang out with friends, or even have Thanksgiving dinner without my head pounding. My head feels like Niagara Falls is rushing through it.
I had to take a break from school, my friends, and hockey to recover. During that time, I’ve picked up some strategies to help deal with my headaches and nausea. I put a blindfold on when my symptoms flare up to help subdue them for parts of the day. Screens make my symptoms worse, so I limit my phone time and stopped watching TV. Busy areas only make things worse, so I avoid them now. And as much as I want to be an athlete again, I had to stop trying to exercise to give my brain a break.
Is it working? A little. I’ve seen progress and hope my sacrifices will end up curing my concussion for good.
While I’ve dealt with my concussion, my dad has been battling Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer, lost his job, and is bed bound in chemotherapy. Hell is an understatement for what I’m going through. While this concussion has drastically changed my life, I know that all I can do is have hope. I know I will get better and have hope that I’ll be healthy and happy one day, hope that I’ll be very physically fit again, and hope of attending a good school and playing college hockey. I have hope that my dad will have energy again and be cured of his cancer. And I hope my story can show kids who are battling a concussion how things might seem tough, but if you take the time to recover it will all get better eventually.