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.

-Harry

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...!

-Harry

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.

-Harry

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......!  

-Harry

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Making Living Life a Priority

I consider myself very fortunate. I say that because as I live my life I recognize that I am at a stage where I can pick and choose the things I want to do. Conversely, if I don't want to do certain things I can politely say "no" and move on.  That's me and my situation.  I am very much aware that not everyone has that freedom of choice and options. 

I open this blog saying this because I just recently went through what most mothers and fathers go through on a daily basis, parenting. I just spent a little more than a week being "Pop Pop" to my grandchildren. I can never say "No" to the opportunity to spend time with them.  My granddaughter is 10 years old and is my Princess and my grandson is 6 and is very much like a Tornado.  I call them my "Puddin" and my "Package" and I love them to death! They are the beat of my heart. The time I get to spend with them during the summer I truly treasure.  The time with them also brings me back to a reality that I forget at times (especially at my age). When you have kids in the house who get bored easily and especially a 6 year old young man who has an abundance of energy I realize that my time is not necessarily my time anymore. Having my grandkids with me for a week makes me super cognizant of what most parents go through every day especially during summer vacation when kids are out of school. I usually work out in my gym several days a week but the energy level needed to physically keep up with young children is tremendous. It's not just being active with them but also includes planning and preparing meals. I can clearly see how a parent can opt for fast foods that might not necessarily be the healthiest choice to eat instead of a well thought out healthy meals.  

Now, I say all of that to get to this one point.  Not that I didn't know before but being with my grandchildren around the clock for that week showed me how easy it is for me to neglect myself. Whether it was being so tired entertaining or running after them all day that I didn't feel like going to the gym or getting away from eating healthy for fast food I could totally understand how easy it is to get off track managing life and children. For most parents who work full time jobs and still have to manage their family life I know it is a lot of work. But I want to encourage you to find a way to contribute to your own health and well being. According to the Center for Disease Control, physical activity among adults remained low. When activity of adults is low the doors to ailments like diabetes, cardiovascular disease among other conditions are opened simply because of sedentary lifestyles. Get up and get move, whether it's Meditation, Yoga, Stretching early in the morning or visiting a gym, health club or taking a "brisk" walk at lunchtime or some type of physical activity after work even with the kids helps. In a nutshell, doing something is better than doing nothing.  And remember that aside from time, the best gift every parents can give their child or children is a healthy parents.

Most grandparents I know say the following about being a grandparent. "It's great to have the grand kids, to love on and spoil but it feels even better to give them back to their parents at some point".  For me, that is when I really enjoy making living my life a priority!

-Harry

Monday, May 23, 2016

Still Banging the Drum!!!!

How many of you have been so certain of something that you'd be willing to bet all of your worldly possessions as well as your life on it?  Well, that is how I feel about the issues of sports related concussions sustained earlier in life and the long lasting effects on the brain later in life. As each day goes by it becomes clearer and clearer to me of the residual effects of concussions I sustained as a young man years ago, not just with what I personally feel and live with but also with what I've seen in so many former athletes who played contact sports at some earlier point in their lives.  Many of these athletes are men I know who I either played with or against on the football field or I've admired from other sports.  It seems that while some live very productive lives others live with (in my view) effects of concussions they probably sustained at some earlier point in their sports career.  Some of these former athletes were skeptical of a connection between the "dings" they played with "back in the day" but are seeing their lives differently now that they are experiencing memory loss, mood swings, headaches, depression, an inability to process information mentally, sensitivity to noise and lights, etc. They did not make a connection until they started to feel their own minds and bodies change. I made the connection more than 25 years ago, so I've been at this rodeo for a very long time.

If you've followed the litigation of former National Football League players or lawsuits against high school athletic programs or even lawsuits against Pop Warner Football Programs you will see that those lawsuits brought against those entities have been mostly settled in favor of the plaintiffs. Ten to twenty years ago there probably was no way a plaintiff would have scored a victory against sports programs that have been around for years.  The average person would look at those programs as wholesome sports that taught very valuable life lessons. And I would be one of the first to vouch for the life lessons that came from participating in contact sports like football or ice hockey but very few players and even fewer parents of those players know of the potential life altering changes brain injuries you can sustain while they are playing. Unfortunately, I have personally bared witness to how the lives of many men who have participated in contact sports have been effected. More and more former athletes from all levels of competition are now more than willing to come out of the shadows of silence to share their issues/stories publicly. I think that the viewing of programs like PBS documentary "League of Denial", the big screen movie "Concussion" and high profile suicides of former players like Junior Seau have brought a much greater sense of awareness of head trauma and the effects short and even long term.

While I see the evidence of head trauma of many people around me, I also pay very close attention to my own personal experiences. No one knows me, my mental makeup or of my own experiences better than I do. With all that I've seen but more so, of all that I've experienced, what I know, I know for sure!  And while it might not be the best topic of conversation to have over dinner with friends who cannot relate to my football experiences, all who know me know that if you bring up the topic of concussions I will inundate you with a pretty strong message on the subject. Once again, what I know about the subject, I know for damn sure and slowly but surely others who are willing to listen with an open mind and give some thought to information on head trauma that was not available before are making sense in understanding that in collision sports the brain cannot be fully protected from trauma. What actually happens when it's injured?  No one knows until after death.

Here is why I continue to "bang the drum" as much as I do. I wrote in my book "Captain for Life" several years ago that I knew I could get hurt physically before I ever step on the football field to play that contact sport. I assumed that risk and played the game anyway. And yes, I did get hurt physically (many times) and today I live with those aches and pains as a result of the obvious physical injuries from my football career. But I didn't know that I could injure myself neurologically playing football. Nobody shared that information with me and others like me who took the field like gladiators knocking ourselves silly just to entertain our fans! I feel that it is important to "bang the drum", no matter how uncomfortable people feel or how much they get tired of hearing me talk about concussions and the residual effects. I don't "bang the drum" as an indictment of football or contact sports. And no, contrary to what some people feel, I am not trying to wage a war against football. I simply feel that it is imperative that every parent understand and is fully informed of the neurological risk they assume when they sign their child up to participate in a contact sport.  No one ever told me before or doing the time I played that I could injure my brain but I'm sharing with you that the risk to play or emulate what is seen on television on Saturday and Sunday afternoons in the fall might be more dangerous than it's worth.

The science of the brain and traumatic brain injuries and concussions is constantly evolving. The issues of many of those who played contact sports early in life is coming into clearer focus because as they've aged conditions like dementia, Alzheimer's and ALS have surfaced in many individuals later in life. And now, with CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) being found in so many former athletes after death, every parent, both mother and father should arm themselves with as much truthful "scientific" information as possible in regard to making their "informed decision" as to whether their most important possession (their child) playing a contact sports is worth the risk.

I am in approximately 14 different Halls of Fame, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and I am the 231st individual to be inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame. Any father or grandfather would want his offspring to follow in his footsteps. But I feel so strongly about this concussion issue and the possible long term effects that I am not willing to bet my 6 year old grandson's life and his world on playing contact sports. He knows as well as everyone in our family knows that his "Pop Pop" is not willing to allow him to do that given what we as a family knows.  This is no judgement on anyone else but I "value" and "treasure" my grandson much too much to take that risk! 

-Harry

Monday, February 29, 2016

Brain Injury Awareness Month

The month of March is designated "Brain Injury Awareness Month". I applaud that recognition for the condition. But for someone who is and has been effected by some type of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), every month and even every day brings an ever increasing sense of Brain Injury Awareness. I posted in this blog a couple of months ago that the effects of brain injury might not matter until you or a family member are effected in some way. I have to be honest and acknowledge that if I had not been effected by this issue as a result of the hits I gave and took on the football field the significance of the recognition might not be of such high importance to me. So, I truly speak from experience and I get it!

I am involved with quite a few projects and causes that take up a lot of my time but I am very much “keyed in” on what is happening in the Brain Injury Awareness world especially as it pertains to current and former football players on all levels of the sport. I know all too well that physical injuries to parts of the body can be surgically repaired, rehabilitated and in time players can get back on the field and even (in some instances) play better than they did before their physical injury that sidelined them. The human body is amazing from that standpoint. But, that is not necessarily the case for players sustaining concussions and other traumatic brain injuries. Physically the body might feel fine but if and when there is some type of cognitive decline, such as the inability to process information in a very short span of time, that player becomes a liability and must give up the game. It is at that point that Brain Injury Awareness becomes more of a focal point to a football player along with his family.

Whether it’s the athlete on the field, a soldier in the military, an individual involved in an automobile accident that injures the head or spinal cords of the driver or passenger or even a senior citizen who merely walks out of their home, to their driveway to pick up the morning newspaper in winter and slips on an icy surface, falls and hit their head, in every walk of life we all are vulnerable to a Brain Injury. Just as I referenced earlier the athlete being able to re-bound from a physical injury, most people can withstand knee, back, ankle injuries. Unfortunately, the brain is the one organ of the body that we cannot afford to injure or damage.

I want to strongly encourage you to not jeopardize your health and well being by not exercising good judgment in your daily walk of life. Once you lose your ability to do all of the things your brain allows you to do, you might not be able to reverse that course.

-Harry