On Pledging My Brain to Science

I’ve been fortunate to meet a variety of Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS) sufferers -- from NFL players to other high schoolers -- who have helped me realize that while PCS can prey upon anyone, we also can work to stop it. At the end of the day we want the same things: to protect others and to leave our sports—whatever sport, whatever level—better than we had found them. So, with camaraderie and in the hopes of providing the answers, that these athletes and I lacked, to protect future athletes, on my 18th birthday I pledged my brain to science, making me the youngest CLF brain pledge ever.

I suffered with PCS for over four years, enduring daily headaches, struggles with memory, having to defer my entire junior year, and ultimately giving up contact sports. Now significantly recovered, I remain committed to sharing my experiences in the hopes of helping others.  

I’ve relentlessly sought answers to why some symptoms are so long-lasting, and what the most effective treatments are for them.  Unfortunately, there is a dearth of information when it comes to PCS, and what is available has been scattered.

I was extremely fortunate to connect with Chris Nowinski and the Concussion Legacy Foundation. Through CLF, I’ve reached other people struggling with PCS. By sharing my experiences and being an advocate via CLF and my website Headstrong, I hope to provide answers to others, even if the answer is that there aren’t many. I don’t want other people to feel helpless and out of control--I want them to have more information. I’ve decided to pledge my brain to research to the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank.

I tell people to “get yourself back in the game, even if it’s a new game,” and that advice has two meanings. First, don’t be a victim of concussion and PCS and even if you have to totally redefine yourself, as I did, you can do it. Second, we have to put kids back into a new game of football or a new game of soccer that is safer without ruining the integrity of the game. Sports are invaluable. I do not regret playing sports, nor do I want contact sports to be ruined. But, I think everyone can agree that we don’t need kids to get hit in the head so much at a young age that they are forced to stop playing.

Most of the research done at the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank is focused on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative brain disease linked to repetitive head trauma. CTE recently made massive headlines when studies were published showing that 110 of 111 NFL players studied had CTE. Through CLF, I have met athletes and families for whom CTE is, or will be, a major concern. The effects of CTE, which can cause personalities and minds to deteriorate, are heartbreaking. I am not personally worried about CTE, but I’m still worried about the brains and the future of all young athletes. I want to donate my brain in camaraderie with those affected, and I also hope for answers about PCS.  

We also need more answers about the female brain specifically. Females seem to be more susceptible to concussions, which has been largely attributed to less neck strength. I want to know if, as a girl soccer player, I was at significantly more risk for long-term issues than my male counterparts. If research proves that to be true, how can the games be different for girls and boys to reduce this risk? Also, why do girls tend to recover more slowly than boys from concussion?  I will leave my brain as part of my concussion legacy in the hopes that it can provide, especially to other girls, answers that future athletes deserve to keep them safe.

I’m incredibly grateful to the Concussion Legacy Foundation. I want to give a massive thank you to Chris and the entire CLF team for their tireless research, education, and devotion to this cause. I can’t think of any other person or organization which could have so perfectly changed my life at the perfect time. I thank them for all that they have done for me and for athletes everywhere.

I have pledged my time, passion, and brain to be a resource for concussion and PCS sufferers, advocates, families, and athletes of all ages in the hope of safer sports, swifter response after head injuries, and heightened awareness in the future. I ask you to help me shed a light on PCS to educate students, athletes, schools, coaches, and families. Let’s start honest conversations about PCS, and let’s get Headstrong.

 

Leading to a Safer Future

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