With reported head injuries on the rise across the nation, three UA athletes look back on how concussions ended their seasons early
By Bo Fisher and Will Seymour
Defending a corner kick was no more than a routine play for senior soccer player Anna Walley. As she dove out to block the goal, her path had been redirected by another player. Walley then collided head first into the goal post, knocking her unconscious instantly.
She realized two hours later—after regaining total consciousness—that it was everything but routine.
“I was in and out of consciousness for two hours,” Walley said. “I woke up in a medical tent at the tournament fields [and] had probably the worst headache I [have] ever had in my life. It was kind of terrifying being in the medical tent.”
Walley was sidelined from the Ohio Premier U-18 fall soccer team for two months with a concussion. However, the following day, Walley asked herself if returning to high school athletics was a risk worth taking. When it comes to sports-related head injuries, that option seems like the only means of prevention.
“I thought about not going back to soccer the day after my concussion,” Walley said. “There is really no way to prevent [concussions]. The only way is to stop playing sports all together.”
Along with Walley’s experiences, in recent years the number of concussed high school athletes has increased significantly.
In a 1983 study on concussions by Dr. Susan Gerberich, the estimated frequency of concussions annually was approximately 200,000 in the years between 1978 and 1982.
In recent years, the number of concussions in high school and collegiate sports has risen to approximately 300,000, according to the article Concussions Among United States High School and Collegiate Athletes from The Journal of Athletic Training.
The article goes on to state that sports are the second leading cause of traumatic brain injuries among people ages 15 to 24, next to car accidents.
And when it comes to sports-related injuries, a head injury is one of the most dangerous, both short term and long term.
Dr. Chris Stankovich, a sports counselor for Advanced Human Performance Systems, said he believes concussions are more dangerous than any other injury.
“I would say they are the most serious [injury] in my opinion,” Dr. Stankovich said. “Head injuries can dramatically alter the quality of life, and unlike broken bones, the brain doesn’t recover the same way, if it recovers at all.”
In Walley’s case, recovery was inevitable, but returning to the game was not. To Dr. Stankovich, early retirement is always an advised option for athletes, but varies from each individual.
“My general rule of thumb is if the athlete feels afraid of the injury, and is not as motivated to play as they once were,” he said, “then it might be time to consider an exit from sports,” he said.
Walley dropped the consideration of leaving soccer as soon as she met with an optimistic doctor who, according to Walley, only focused on getting better.
“I went to a Sports Medicine Doctor at Ohio State and she knew that not returning to soccer wasn’t going to be an option for me,” Walley said. “[She] never looked backwards or said, ‘Well, maybe she should stop playing.’”
After two months of headaches and rehab, Walley eventually restored her health and returned to the soccer field. Unlike Walley, senior Vince Camillo did not get a chance to return to the football field following his latest concussion.
Camillo, a former athlete at the varsity level for both football and lacrosse, suffered from a subdural hematoma during the spring of his sophomore year.
His head injury proved to be much more than just any other concussion received in a contact sport. His subdural hematoma, which is defined as a collection of blood on the surface of the brain, occurred at his home when he fell down his stairs and became unconscious.
“I had a traumatic brain injury that set me back months in athletics and school, and then I was cleared to come back too early,” Camillo said. “I was out for six months and that was still [not enough time].”
Upon an early return to the football field by his doctor, Camillo suffered his second concussion and was again sidelined. This time, however, the doctors had a much different opinion on a return for the vulnerable athlete.
“The doctors encouraged me to go back in the beginning [of my recovery], but towards the end they strongly advised against it,” Camillo said. “I could have had serious health problems if I had returned.”
Similar to Camillo, Ohio University freshman Eric Krack, a 2010 UA alum, also had multiple sports-related concussions. As a serious four-year athlete throughout high school, including varsity football and varsity baseball, Krack’s head injuries were mostly credited to the football field. A series of dangerous head-to-head collisions during both games and practices added up, eventually hindering his future in sports.
Athletes of Krack’s caliber, who have participated in multiple sports and thrive on hard-hitting contact, risk suffering from any number of bodily injuries.
“My last concussion [occurred in] the football game against St. Thomas Aquinas,” Krack said. “I blacked out for a second, and when I opened my eyes I started hallucinating green across the entire horseshoe.”
Only one week into the football season of his senior year, Krack found himself sidelined for the rest of his life. When he was advised by his doctor not to return to any contact sports, Krack looked at it in a positive way. Although he does not believe in quitting sports altogether, he said he believes you should find a happy medium between playing hard and being safe.
“My initial reaction was very disappointed, losing my senior year of football,” Krack said. “However, I understood it was in my best interest to quit football to ensure that I would have a healthy future.”
Fortunately for Walley, her recovery went smoothly, enabling her to return to soccer with her doctor’s approval.
Krack made his own decision in deciding how long he would be off the field for routine concussions, usually returning to his sport after no more than a few weeks. While being concussed, he said he made sure to keep hydrated and to sleep as much as he could.
Even though Krack no longer competes in contact sports, he has made sure to stay in shape, finding alternative exercises and less dangerous sports in which to participate.
“Playing basketball was a good way to stay in shape, even though sometimes I would take a couple hits,” Krack said. “Also running on my own was a great way to stay in shape without risking any injuries.”
Camillo, however, had more serious effects from his concussions. He experienced more than just the normal side affects of his concussions.
“Some of the bad side affects were the severe memory loss, bad headaches and [poor] word recollection,” Camillo said. “I would know the word I would want to say, but would end up saying a different word.”
Walley’s worst side effects had been severe headaches. She said she avoided strong lights and any kind of class work until she made a full recovery.
“For the first two weeks I had a migraine for 20 hours a day. I had to sit in the dark,” Walley said. “It was hard to concentrate. When you break your leg you cannot run. When you get head trauma, you can not think. I couldn’t think for two months.”
Walley fortunately was able to fully recover in all aspects of her life, both socially and physically.
Camillo was not so lucky. After watching the end of his career in contact sports, Camillo realized the risk he had taken when he returned too soon from a serious head injury. He said he believes that the only thing an athlete can do to prevent these cases is to take them seriously.
“I had to stop playing sports,” Camillo said. “My advice is not to rush it. Take [concussions] seriously because they are dangerous.” •