Monday, December 28, 2015

Until It Happens to You!

Since I was diagnosed 25 years ago with Post Concussion Syndrome I have tried to be an open and honest voice for others who have had to deal with traumatic brain injury on some level whether the cause of the condition was sports related, as a result of an automobile accident or a simple slip and fall striking the head. I know first hand of the neurological challenges one can experience once the human brain is injured.

I'm not a doctor and I'm not a medical expert on the issue of traumatic brain injuries but I do know what I have experienced personally. Using my college education (with heavy emphasis in the human sciences) I've listened to my own body and have paid pretty close attention to others (especially those who have played contact sports like football) to see how concussions may have effected their lives after leaving their respective sport.  All that I've spoken of since sharing my own diagnosis a quarter century ago regarding concussions and the long term after effects has come to light and is on the minds of many with the National Football League offering a settlement worth over a billion dollars to many former players who brought lawsuits against the League. Documentaries such as League of Denial have aired to provide information of former athletes who wanted attention to be drawn to the case of head trauma and contact sports. Now a full length movie is hitting the big screen to document the discovery of CTE by Dr. Bennet Omalu.

I know Dr. Omalu personally and know his story first hand from a conversation we had over dinner several years ago.  His research was done and the discovery was made because others in similar positions failed to dig deeper to gain a better understanding of why former football players committed suicide thinking they might have been going crazy. Dr. Omalu is a mild mannered man who was naive enough to think that by going to the NFL to share his finding that he would be welcomed. Instead individuals associated with the League tried to discredit and marginalize him and his discovery. Now a movie will tell his story for all interested in hearing and learning more about CTE.

Unfortunately, knowing the sports culture of fans in this country much like the NFL,  many people will not want to listen or even care. Most of those who will be disinterested want and love their football no matter what the cost to those on the field will paid neurologically. The entertainment of watching their favorite team and players supersede the head trauma they might see in a game or witness in a movie. Most people don't and won't care about Dr. Omalu's findings. They won't care until it happens to them!

When I first started talking about my issues with Post Concussion Syndrome people thought I was crazy to even acknowledge my condition. There were even a couple of former players who laughed when they heard my story. "What's the big deal? We all played with "dings"! So? They laughed until they started experiencing the lingering effects of those "dings" they played through whether it was in high school, college or in their professional football days. Those players are now very much concerned about their own lives and futures and most of them were plaintiffs against the NFL in the lawsuit.

Over the years I've found that there is a stigma to acknowledge anything "brain injury" related. To many, the subject of traumatic brain injury means nothing until it happens to them or someone in their family. Most football fans think that players know or should have known that head injuries are a part of the game. Unfortunately I and many of my predecessors and contemporaries never got that "memo" of the possible long term effects of hits to the head.  I'm pretty sure we all knew we could get seriously hurt physically when we played but we, quite frankly, did not know that our brains could be injured long term playing football. Because of Dr. Omalu's research and findings we now know that there is a connection between hits to the head from contact sports and dementia, Alzheimer Disease and ALS.

Because of my advocacy on the TBI subject I've met many people in football and other contact sports who never thought about brain injury until it affected or happened to them or a family member.  Fortunately for many who play contacts a sprained ankle, strain ligament or even a broken bone can heal in a timely fashion, unfortunately we only have one brain and once it is injured there is no guarantee that it will heal immediately and there is certainly no guarantee of lingering long term effects in later years.

25 Years ago I never knew that with my Post Concussion diagnosis I would be speaking on a neurological issue that very few people had heard of. It was very real and was one that science had to catch up with almost 15 years ago.

If you are reading this I'm asking every parent who has a child and every grandparent who has a grandchild to make the time to view Dr. Omalu story not to be entertained but to gain a better understanding on the issue of sports related concussions that might not matter to you...... Until you are affected!