Monday, July 2, 2018

Get up, and Get Moving!

When I was a young professional athlete I sort out as much information and things from external sources like inspirational books, videos and other things I could find to help keep me motivated and help give me a psychological advantage on my opponent and just playing the game. One statement I have always kept in the back of my mind was from an inspirational speaker.  One point that he said that has always stayed with me was this. “Good health is the one commodity we all have that we don’t appreciate until it’s gone.”

That statement has rang true with me and many athletes who were gifted in showcasing our athletic abilities on the field of competition. We were great athletes and to some degree we were at the top of our games until an injury either slowed us down or cut our careers short. Often times gifted and outstanding athletes took what they were able to do physically for granted until they could do it no more. That speaker was right in that our good health (as athletes) was not fully appreciated until it was gone.

Unfortunately I see the same in so many “ordinary people” every day.  I travel quite a bit around this country and internationally and see people of different races, people of various ages, males and females and people of various socioeconomic backgrounds.

What I am about to say is not about offending anyone but from where I sit, we as a country and as a society are on a path to not appreciating our health until it really is gone.  Many of us are on track for shorter life spans than others in foreign countries and even our ancestors.  Why? You might ask. I’m not one to “sugarcoat” my thoughts and feelings but I have to be honest and say it is because we are fat and out of shape. As I travel throughout the country my heart aches as I see so many young people who are in my opinion “morbidly” obese. When I say young I am talking about young boys and girls and young men and women who are pre-teens, teens and those well into their twenties and thirties. My kids hated when I use to play those “when I was your age” stories. But, when I was a bit younger and in elementary and junior high schools physical education was a part of my educational curriculum and while I might not have enjoyed the classes I can say that at least I was exposed to exercise, the purpose of exercise and the benefits of just being active.

As a former high school, college and professional athlete, much of my life has been spent preparing to compete in sports. One of the good things that I took away from that life was the wellness component. I knew I could do almost anything if my health was good and intact. I would go so far as to say, given a choice between good health and money, I would choose good health. I could have played longer professionally but I chose my health (knees, hips and my brain) over the money.  Knowing that once my active athletic life slowed down and eventually ended I chose to continue to work to take care of me and my body as I was trained to do in my previous profession. I will admit that being disciplined to workout or exercise is not always easy. I get busy with living life just like everyone else. But, the big picture of preparing for the game of life is more important.

Many of us live in this country and in this society where we eat lots of fast foods and foods that are fried and are high in fat and is not nutritious. With the lack of exercise to burn up those unhealthy calories those foods turn to fat. The unhealthy foods we eat as part of our diets, the sugary drinks we drink and the lack  of exercise is a recipe for disaster sooner or later. Diabetes and hypertension are two of the main ailments many young people are and will be diagnosed with that could possibly be avoided with an appropriate sensible diet and exercise.

For everyone who reads this and you are fortunate enough to have good health, please don’t take your body and your health for granted.  And for those whose health has been effected in some way it is never too late to develop a plan to eat better and more nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables. Exercise, especially cardiovascular exercises like a good brisk walk, riding a bike or jumping rope to stimulate blood flow throughout the body helps to ward off ailments.  Work to lose weight and feel better to compete and enjoy a better quality of life.

So, regardless of who you are, make the time and the effort to take care of you.  “Just move”! You don’t have to have been a professional athlete or even a wanna be athlete. It does take a commitment to want to take care of the one body you came into this world with. For you women, don’t be afraid to get your hair messed up. Just move!  For you guys, don’t try and compare yourself to anyone else. Get off the couch and put down the smart phone and just move your body.

It is true that good health is the one commodity most of us have, let’s make sure we keep it and appreciate it for life!

– Harry Carson

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

106 over 74...

I recently took my yearly physical examination. Since I left my football playing days (so long ago) where I was examined by multiple doctors to make sure I was physically fit to practice and play on the football field, I diligently made sure that I stayed on top of my own personal health and well being. When I schedule the date of my physicals it is usually 3-4 weeks in advance of meeting with my doctor to make certain that I "listen" to my body and make sure I have noted any changes to be discussed and documented that might have occurred since my last physical examination.

I pay attention to everything that occurs during the examination but there are two specific areas of concern that I pay very close attention to. The first is my blood pressure reading and the other is the results of my prostate exam. When I was younger I never really gave the thought of a prostate examination any serious thought because when I was younger the prostate exam was for older men. Well, now that I am of that older man's age and with a better understanding that prostate cancer is very treatable if caught early it has become an important part of my exam. The other thing people should know about prostate cancer is, it is more prevalent in the African American male community where many men feel uncomfortable undergoing that kind examination. As I have gotten older and as I have seen many men of my age including men I am friends with being diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer it is important  for me not to close my eyes but to embrace it and be an example for men to follow. As a result, I have done extensive voluntary work to help make men (especially men of color) more aware of prostate cancer and the importance of early detection.

The other concern I mentioned about my yearly physical examination is my blood pressure reading. Understanding my own family health history and other key factors play into the importance of paying attention to the reading. Hypertension runs rampant in the families of minorities from the Southern United States. Where I am originally from falls within the Hypertension and Stroke Belt of states that start in North Carolina and run through my home state of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana and Arkansas. I now live in New Jersey but I certainly understand my roots and where I am from. There was a time, years ago, when I ate what I wanted whenever I wanted and I remember my doctor telling me that based on my then high blood pressure reading and my family's history it might be a good idea to start thinking about putting me on medication for my blood pressure. I remember looking at him and saying "Doc, hold that thought!" I walked out of his office and immediately changed my eating habits and doing some type of exercise every day for two weeks. I went back to him and my blood pressure reading was significantly better.

My most recent blood pressure reading was 106 over 74. I was floored! I was looking for something in the neighborhood of 120 over 80. The nurse who took the reading said "this is the best reading you've ever had here!" That is saying a lot because I've been going to my doctor for almost 30 years.  I was proud of myself as it was not my intent to lose weight or to get to those numbers. I had made a conscious decision to eat healthier (less fried foods and foods high in sugar and fat), to drink more water and less sugary drinks and be more active from a cardiovascular standpoint.

I write a lot about brain related issues but it is important to recognize that the heart and a healthy blood flow throughout the entire body including the brain is important to maintain overall good health.

On a personal note, I would strongly encourage everyone, if possible, to take a yearly physical examination to be up to speed with vital stats such as blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, height/weight and for men a prostate cancer screening. To be proactive in managing one's own health is important for everyone; if not for themselves personally, then for their family members who might ultimately be responsible for illnesses one could have sustained neglecting their own health and well being.

Monday, July 10, 2017

PHOTO UPDATE - Festival of Economics of Trento, Italy 2017.

Harry Carson attended the prestigious Festival of Economics of Trento, in Italy as a panelist. He shared his thoughts on the benefits of sports to promote good health, also pointing out the hazard of sports related injuries and the adverse effects on short and long term health. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Be good to yourself…

In some of my past blog entries I’ve spoken a great deal about neurological issues, more specifically concussion awareness and other traumatic brain injury issues. In this entry, I am going to “table” my passion for speaking on those issues I normally address. Instead, I would like to encourage all who read this to be good to yourself.

With so much going on in the everyday task of living life many of us don’t take the opportunity to stop and “smell the roses” so to speak. From morning to night most of us (including myself) don’t always take a moment to count our blessings. We all are inundated with all types of communication and social media like emails, Facebook, Instagram, texting, work, commuting, etc. I know that many who will read this might not devote even 2 seconds to improve their general health and well-being because they are just too busy to focus on anything else. That being said, I would like to share a short personal story that might or might not be meaningful to you.

I have a gentleman friend that I've worked out with in my gym for 20 plus years. My friend is a World War II Veteran, a former Prisoner of War, a Silver Star Medal Recipient and is now almost 94 years old. Whenever I walk into my gym and find that he is there before I do anything else I approach him, stand at attention and give him a salute. He salutes me back and then we begin to talk. While I have never served in the military I took ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corp) courses in high school a long time ago. That salute is my daily greeting to my friend but it is also a sign of the respect that I have for him.

Unfortunately, my friend is now at a place where age is catching up with him. We no longer workout together as he is now confined to a senior assistant living facility near my home. Several months ago, I went to see him and he mentioned that he had not been outside of the facility for 6 or 7 weeks. I told him to put a jacket on and preceded to take him outside. While it was still a little cool with brisk temperatures, when he felt the fresh air and the bright rays of the sun hit his face I could see new life in his face and what seemed like a shot of adrenaline to his spirit. Both he and I continue to talk about that experience and while it lasted for a mere 5 minutes we both know that it was not about the quantity of time we spent together it was more about the quality of that time. Being confined to a room in the facility and not being able to do the simple things he used to be able to do has taken a toll on my friend.

One of the best and truest lessons I learned from playing football is this. Everything in your life can change in the blink of an eye. I’ve seen many players make one wrong turn on the field and their knee or ankle is no longer the same. So, I try my best to never take anything (especially time) for granted. Not a day, not an hour and not a minute do I take for granted. While my friend is almost 94 years old, our 5 minutes in the sun inhaling the fresh air re-enforced my understanding of what is valuable and yet does not cost a thing.

Regardless of your age I encourage you to Live Your Life to the best of your ability. Take a mini-break from phones, emails and texting. Make time to spend some “alone time” to take a walk near a pond or a body of water. And if you do, take that time to smell the fresh air and feel the warmth of the sun on your face. Be good to yourself at least for a few moments a week and always remember that every minute that goes by is a minute that will never happen again.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

"Suffering vs Managing"

In sharing my personal experiences with concussions with others and as a traumatic brain injury survivor, I understand that many who read my story, but more importantly, those who write my story might not fully understand the words used to describe my experiences. When I was diagnosed with Post Concussion Syndrome in 1990 it was a relief because I originally thought I had a brain tumor. I had no full understanding of what it was as I can remember asking my doctor, "will I live?" He smiled and said, "you'll live, but you will have to learn to manage it." So, for more than 25 years I've lived, I've learned and I have done my best to manage something that I acquired a very long time ago. One of the things I can definitively say is I have never considered myself as one to "suffer" from Post Concussion Syndrome. Like a good patient I've followed the instructions of my doctor to "manage" my condition and in doing so I live what I consider to be a pretty "normal" life. In living that "normal" life I make time to exercise often, I eat healthy foods and drink lots of water and fluids. I do my best to get plenty of rest and avoid stressful situations that could trigger a headache. More importantly because I have been diagnosed with a brain injury I understand that I often might look at things differently than someone who has not sustained a head injury.

Unfortunately some reporters, writers or people who have recently delved into the world of Concussions, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, Traumatic Brain Injuries or even Post Traumatic Stress Disorder issues too often paint a doom and gloom picture of individuals living with those conditions. What I don't necessarily care for and what burns me up are the writers and reporters who willfully embellish the severity of the condition to sensationalize it for the sake of drawing greater attention to their article or story and paint the subject of the article as a very "sympathetic" figure the reader should feel sorry for. When I do any interview with members of the media, especially the sports media who generally are not up to speed with medical or neurological issues, I now make certain to emphasize that I do not "suffer" from Post Concussion Syndrome! Instead, I "manage" my life quite nicely, thank you! I actually enjoy sharing what I know with others on sports-related concussions to at least give them an insight into a subject many have no true understanding. Anytime I consent to do an interview, sit on discussion panels, lecture groups or speak with anyone who would like to learn more about the long term effects of head trauma, I make certain to emphasize what Dr. Kutner shared with me, but with my own little spin, "You can live with the condition, you just need to know how to manage it."   

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, I have the opportunity on a daily basis to share with many who have joined the ranks of those who have sustained some type of brain trauma or brain injury. The spectrum of individuals effected is wide and greater than most people think. From young kids who were concussed playing a contact sport like youth ice hockey and Pop Warner or pee-wee football dealing with headaches to once world class athletes who are now Hall of Fame former athletes dealing with memory problems that stem from head injuries sustained many years ago. From members of the military who have survived bomb blasts and are now Wounded Warriors to average everyday women and men of all ages who have been in automobile accidents or have slipped and fallen striking their heads damaging their brains. The message I share with all is "manage your condition, refuse to suffer."  

Continue to live the best life you can...!


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Some Things Cannot Be Hidden

Some things cannot be hidden......!

I played the game of football a very long time ago! And when I played I will acknowledge that I was pretty damn good at what I did on the football field.  I think I have a very good eye for players who have talent especially those who play the same position I played many years ago. I know that in playing the middle or inside linebacker positions as I played you have to possess a certain degree of toughness to take on blocks from players who are bigger and perhaps stronger but also be able to be (in essence) a "heat seeking missile" to get to and tackle the player who has the football. Bottom line and I mean no disrespect to any other players on the football field, the middle linebacker has to set the tempo and be the fearless leader for the defense. When I see players who can rise to the highest level of the game at that position I have to give them my respect.  Such is the case of Luke Kueckly the middle linebacker of the Carolina Panthers. Kuechly is an outstanding team player and is a player many younger players on all levels of football try to emulate to project their style of playing defense.

I've had some of the best defensive coaches in college and professional football teach me how to be the best at the position and while I've never had a desire to coach others what I know is well ingrained in my mind. Or as I like to say, "what I know, I know for pretty damn sure"! What those coaches taught me helped and inspired me to get to the top of my game and ultimately elected and inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame. So, when I see players like Kueckly play I can clearly see the talent that has made him a Defensive Player of the Year in the National Football League. That is no small feat for any player.

If you've read my blogs here before you should know that I have been a very strong and vocal advocate regarding sports related concussions and traumatic brain injuries. As I and others like me have spoken up in regard to this issue, many (especially those who have a vested interest in contact sports like football) have pushed back hard as they feel that what I and others say regarding concussions is an "attack" on football. For several years now, more and more information has been disseminated in documentaries like "League of Denial" or the movie "Concussion" on the possible long term effects of sports related concussions. What is even more interesting is now more and more former athletes who have played contact sports are speaking up on the neurological issues they might be experiencing.  As a result more families (especially mothers) are opting for their children to play non-contact sports where the risk of concussions are less prominent.  The "push back" against me and others is being done to promote and justify the sport of football. Promoting football from the highest levels is being done to convince parents that the game is safer now more than any other time since the beginning of the sport. A lot of effort has gone into trying to reshape the game into one that is safe for children of all ages to play.

Unfortunately, for people like me who know what we know for pretty damn sure we get pushed aside or ignored because others have a larger platform. With that larger platform comes the truth in pixels and big screen televisions that cannot be denied. On a recent Thursday Night Football telecast the Carolina Panthers player Luke Kuechly was in on a tackle where one of his linebacker mates accidentally hit him on the back of his helmet. What followed was something I had never seen on any level of football. Kuechly could not get up after the play, he sat on the field turf while the medical staff examined him.  The viewing audience both live in the stadium as well as the millions who watched at home held its collective breath wondering if he was okay. And then the television cameras zoomed in on his face. He was crying uncontrollably as a result of being concussed on the play. I've seen a lot of football but I have never seen a player actually cry uncontrollably. From the reaction of many fans, viewers and members of the media after watching what unfolded it seems many in those groups felt the same way. The play Kuechly was involved in and the aftermath was on display for the world to see in high definition. A traumatic brain injury, to one of the most dominate defensive players in professional football refuted and revealed what many in positions of power have tried their best to suppress.  One play showed parents, especially mothers, that the game of football was not safe for one of the best defensive players nor is it safe for their young children to play.  What happened to Luke Keuchly is far from being a mark on his strength or manhood. It is a mark that he is human and a realization that anyone at anytime in a contact sport like football can lose themselves and their ability to control their emotions once the brain is injured.

I've always felt that when you speak the truth it might not be welcomed or appreciated by some, but it will always come out, no matter how long or how much it is covered up or suppressed. The truth will always be revealed!  Certain things like concussions in a contact sport like football cannot be hidden in spite of denials or push back when it is on full display for the world to see in high definition. There are football players like former San Francisco 49ers Linebacker Chris Borland who did his own research, saw enough with his own eyes and opted to retire. He and several other former players who  have "prematurely" retired were not willing to risk their neurological health and well being to entertain football fans. While these former players have retired they might not necessarily be out of the woods in regard to neurological issues.  Because, in a small study of young or recently former NFL Players, researchers at Johns Hopkins report finding some evidence of brain injury that is visible on imaging from the players compared to a group of men without a history of concussion.  This new research builds on a rising tide of anecdotal evidence and a few scientific studies suggesting that people with repeated concussive head injuries incurred while playing football, hockey or boxing are at higher-than-normal risk of developing the neuro-degenerative disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is associated with memory deficits, confusion, poor decision-making and later onset of dementia.

I personally speak of what I know because I've lived through my own experiences.  I played a sport during a time when very little was known about concussions and traumatic brain injuries. When I played there was absolutely no connection between the hits players took to the head, the "dings" or concussions players sustained then but subsequently developed neurological ailments that have led to ALS, dementia or Alzheimer's disease later in life. Unfortunately, my life experiences now include the health issues of former coaches I have maintained friendships with since beginning my football playing days. Some of those coaches either have passed away or are now living with neurological issues. What has not surprised me is that those coaches who played football suffered from dementia or Alzheimer's disease now or before passing away. While I never saw them play the game personally I can clearly sense what may have brought on their conditions that have left their wives now in the role of care givers.

Unfortunately, because we are a visual society, Luke Kuechly is now the face of concussions in football and contact sports on every level of football. Any one who saw him being carted off the field will always remember the look on his face. This latest concussion sustained was his second in the last 2 years that caused him to miss playing time. If he sustains another concussion within the next year, his playing career in the National Football League most likely will be in serious jeopardy.  While much attention will be on Kuechly, there are many athletes participating in a variety of sports that are concussed yearly.  For the record, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, anywhere from 1.6 to 3.8 million concussions happen each year in the U.S. because of sports or recreational activities. Not to mention those who have served in the military and are wrestling with the effects of TBI.  According to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, 352,619 service members worldwide have been diagnosed with TBI since 2000, the majority of these cases being mild TBI. In addition, psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety and major depressive disorders, are becoming common in military personnel with brain injuries.  Researchers have found that a disruption of the circuitry in the brain's cognitive-emotional pathways may provide a physical foundation for depression symptoms in some service members who have suffered mild traumatic brain injury in combat.

Whether a concussion or a traumatic brain injury stems from a bomb blast during military service, an automobile accident or a sports related concussion at any level, once the brain is injured there is absolutely no guarantee that the brain will heal itself to where it was before the injury. The unknown information on brain injuries that has come to light as a result of research, personal experiences from those who have lived with neurological issues and now from seeing the effects first hand in high definition of athletes like Luke Kuechly is on full display for any and everyone to see. Eventually, no matter what is done to suppress it, things like the truth cannot be hidden.

The Truth will always come out.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

In the blink of an eye.......!

I was recently honored by an organization that treat individuals affected by Aphasia with their Advocacy Award for 2016. For those who don't know, Aphasia is a language disorder that results from damage to portions of the brain that are responsible for language. The disorder impairs both the expression and understanding of language as well as reading and writing. Fortunately Aphasia does not affect one's intellect.

Many times, the cause of the brain injury is a stroke that occurs when blood is unable to reach a part of the brain that controls speech and language. Other causes of brain injury are severe blows to the head, brain tumors, brain infections and other conditions of the brain. With that said, anyone can acquire Aphasia, but most people who have Aphasia are in their middle to late years. Men and women are equally affected. And, it is estimated that almost two million people in the United States currently have the condition.

I was introduced to this condition when I was a teenager. My father suffered 3 strokes over a period of several years. After each stroke I can remember times when he struggled to communicate with members of my family. I also remember the frustration he felt not being able to get the words out to convey his thoughts and wishes. Believe or not, my father was lucky because he eventually recovered from all 3 strokes. At that time I didn't know nor did I understand what he had experienced and I didn't know the name of the condition. I only knew that it was a stroke.

My second introduction to the condition was almost 15 years later when a former girlfriend from college suffered a stroke at the age of only 34. While she sustained a paralysis on her left side she also was diagnosed with Aphasia.  Now, every year we send each other birthday cards. With every card I receive from her I am reminded of her struggles to communicate.

My third and perhaps more personal introduction to Aphasia is one that hits home for me. At times during my professional football career I struggled to find the right words to complete my thoughts doing interviews with the media covering my team. I felt my own frustrations and even embarrassment but it was something I kept to myself.  While I was experiencing my own communication problem and while it was not on the same level as someone who suffered a catastrophic stroke or was in a near fatal automobile accident I eventually realized that my neurological issues were a result concussions sustained on the playing fields.

The experiences I've outlined have helped to fuel my desire to speak out on all Traumatic Brain Injury issues. A reason I felt compelled to share my thoughts on this topic is to emphasize that I know (at least to some degree) what it's like to literally lose my voice and become unable to express what I would like to say. But I also know that regardless of who you are, what gender, race, color, religion or how wealthy or poor you are, in the blink of an eye your life can be changed significantly. Life and the ailments that come with living do not discriminate. I know too many people who have been affected by a traumatic brain injury. Whether that TBI was initiated by a stroke, an automobile accident, from playing a contact sport or a bomb blast for a soldier, once your brain is injured you will most likely see the world from a much different perspective.

Unfortunately for many who read this, Aphasia and other Traumatic Brain Injuries will mean nothing, until they are affected......!