By Scott Cohen
On October 19th, I will be one of ten Westchester County teens to be presented with the Milly Kibrick Youth Service Award for my work with concussions. I am so honored to be recognized for my advocacy work with concussions, but frankly, I never thought I would be an advocate for concussions in high school; I thought I would be a football player.
In my freshman year, I suffered a major concussion. I assumed I would bounce right back as I did from the one other concussion I had sustained. I figured I would rest for a day or two and then I would be fine. I thought I would be better in no time. I was wrong. It took me more than two full months before I could return to school and just over a year for my brain to fully heal.
When sophomore year came around, I was sick of concussions. My freshman year had been all about my concussion and I was aching to finally return to normal life and forget this injury ever happened. But I found myself thinking about my injury more than ever before: how frustrated I felt when every doctor I went to told me the same thing about staying in a dark room and just giving my brain “the time it needs to heal”; how each day I would wake up filled with false hope about this finally being the day my headache would go away; how no one at school really knew how to handle my long absence or my impaired cognitive abilities. I knew something needed to be done.
So I contacted the Concussion Legacy Foundation, hoping they would let me join their mission to help educate athletes and their families on concussions and Post Concussion Syndrome (PCS). Even though their Ambassador program wasn’t off the ground yet and they don’t often work with high school students, I was able to get my foot in the door and start a fundraising campaign for concussion research. After many hours spent over the course of several months calling friends and family, and through creative ideas like a March Madness bracket to raise money, when all was said and done I had raised over $10,000 for concussion research. I also had proudly earned the title of CLF High School Ambassador. In addition, co-founder and CEO Chris Nowinski agreed to come to my school and speak to and further educate the physical education staff, nurses, and varsity coaches on concussions.
Chris’s visit was amazing, but I wanted to do more. I felt I had just scratched the surface on what I could do to raise awareness about concussions and PCS. So Chris put me in contact with Dr. Mark Herceg, Commissioner of Mental Health in Westchester County. After hearing my story, Dr. Herceg offered me a chance to share it on a bigger stage. He invited me to be a part of the Westchester County Concussion Task Force and to come speak at a press conference unveiling the task force’s “Ten Best Practices for Concussion Management.” I spoke to the press about how my life was changed from concussions. I explained how the Ten Best Practices would have benefitted me. People need to be educated on concussions to provide support and understanding. The story was featured that night on several local news outlets.
After hearing me speak at the press conference, Eileen Reardon, executive director of the Brain Injury Association of New York, invited me to present at their first ever Advocacy Day in the state capital, Albany. There I once again shared my story, this time in front of a group of New York State Senators and Assemblymen. I now had the attention of people who could help promote education and awareness of concussions and PCS on a larger scale than I ever could have imagined. I am honored to been a part of the fight to promote legislation that would help Traumatic Brain Injury victims.
Looking back on all I have accomplished in the last three years, I am proud of who I have become and the work I have done. I never thought that reaching out to CLF would eventually lead me to an official Westchester County press event, let alone a podium in the lobby of the New York Legislature, but I’m glad it did. Though I never set out to be, as one reporter called, the “poster-boy for concussions in Westchester,” I would not trade the title for the world.
It is difficult to think of the day I got my concussion, mostly because I don’t remember much of it. I have been told that my teammate Ben brought me off the field when he sensed something was wrong with me. He said I was slumped over in my stance, wobbling back and forth, and looked asleep. I am thankful that I was lucky enough to have had someone looking out for me on the field that day. It’s scary to think about how much worse my injury could have had my teammate not been there. That is why I was so proud to be a part of Team Up Day and to bring it to my school. I feel very connected to this initiative and know it can help a lot of people. With over 44 million youth athletes in America, it is important for them all to know they have someone else looking out for them. Athletes have a responsibility as teammates to help each other in their times of need. Let’s all Team Up and Speak Up to fight concussions!