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Laura's Story: An Avid Snowboarder's Concussion Through Her (and Her Parents') Eyes

[FROM HER PARENTS' PERSPECTIVE]

During a Skype conversation with their 22-year-old daughter Laura in January of 2013, James and Susan noticed a concerning difference in their child.

Concussion Symptoms

“She looked really awful. She hesitantly admitted that she wasn't planning to tell us, but that she had hit a tree while snowboarding. Her headaches were pretty bad and she was sleeping a lot. She just didn't feel like herself at all," Laura's mother, Susan, recalls.

Laura, an engineering student and snowboarder, was living on her own and working as an intern in Fernie, BC, at the time of her injury. She sought medical treatment for her persisting symptoms at a local clinic. When she did not see improvements after a significant period of time, she returned home to live with her parents in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Concussion Challenges

Laura visited a neurologist with an interest in concussion. Due to Laura's age and independence, she played the most active role in her care while her parents took a supportive role. After a few months of working with her neurologist, Laura saw some improvements and returned to school for a short period of time. She again returned home because of the intensity of her concussion symptoms in the academic environment.

Laura's dad, James, commented on the challenges of this time, “When your kids are younger, they need you to provide for them when they are sick. We wanted to be as supportive as possible, but it's frustrating dealing with a condition with so much uncertainty. As parents, we felt a little more helpless than we would with other conditions."

Concussion Assessment

With Laura back at home and seemingly plateauing, her neurologist conducted some research and found the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program. Susan traveled with Laura to her initial appointment in June 2014.

Managing the Concussion

After evaluation, as well as a plan for ocular, vestibular, and physical therapy from Micky Collins, PhD, and the concussion team, James and Susan saw their daughter make significant progress.

Susan described Laura's rehabilitation process as, “We were able to see dramatic improvements. She soared for the first three weeks after that first visit. It was that confidence in knowing it was okay to go ahead and get active that seemed to change everything for her."

Concussion Recovery

After months of dedication to her rehabilitation, Laura was cleared by Dr. Collins in December 2014. With the support of her parents, she has returned to school, her active lifestyle, and plans to get back on her snowboard next season.

“We were very happy to see such a great response so quickly with the program she had been given at UPMC. It was nice to know that they could help her get better," James shared.

Read Laura's story below to learn more about her personal injury, rehabilitation plan, and recovery.

[FROM LAURA'S PERSPECTIVE]

In January of 2013, Laura, an avid snowboarder, had an accident on the slope and sustained a concussion. After following a recommended period of rest, Laura felt mostly back to normal. She revisited the ski slope in February and experienced a handful of wipeouts, including at least one bump to the head, but nothing she found particularly concerning.

Over the next week, it became clear to Laura that things were not quite right. Her symptoms included headaches that worsened with activity and concentration, exhaustion, forgetfulness, mood changes, and difficulty focusing. Laura visited her doctor and was advised to avoid all tasks that provoked her symptoms. Laura followed this recommendation for a year and a half with regular check-ups, but saw very little improvement.

Laura was referred by her primary care physician in Canada to the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program in Pittsburgh for a second opinion. On her first visit, Laura underwent testing to evaluate her injury. Laura says, “I made the trip to Pittsburgh with the expectation that I would be told there was nothing left for me to try. In fact, I was told the exact opposite – that I had barely scraped the surface."

The UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program team came up with a rehabilitation plan tailored specifically to Laura's injury and symptoms. Part of the program included education about the injury. Laura learned that rest alone was not helping her recover and she was able to return to physical activities as part of her rehabilitation. She also was given a set of vestibular exercises to work on at home. In December 2014, Laura finally felt symptom-free and was cleared by the concussion clinic team to return to all activities.

“Living with my concussion symptoms was an incredibly frustrating, confusing, emotional experience, and the doctors at the UPMC understood that. I am so grateful for finding them. It is no exaggeration to say that Dr. Collins has given me my life back."

Read more stories from concussion patients.