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The Road to Recovery
As a child, your parents may have signed you up to play a sport,
whether it was soccer, hockey, football, or ballet. What probably never crossed
your mind, though, when you scored your first goal or threw your first
touchdown, was having to deal with a serious sports-related injury, like a
For 17-year-old Andrew Rover, a recent Loyola High School graduate and Vimont resident, that was his reality for most of the second half of his senior year of high school. As he was practicing a wrestling drill at Loyola one day after school, his head accidentally missed the practice mat and hit the floor.
“Because wrestling is always on a mat, it cushions impact quite a bit,” he says. “Usually, you don’t really protect yourself because you just know you’re falling on mat.”
Rover was always an active kid, playing soccer, hockey, rugby, football and wrestling on various Laval and Loyola teams. Previously, he got two concussions, one during a football practice and one playing rugby, while playing on his school team. But this last one felt different. He went about the rest of his day without feeling any symptoms, until he was biking home from the gym that night. He says he found the lights were a little brighter than usual, but didn’t think there was anything to worry about.
“[When] I woke up the next morning, the symptoms were a bit worse,” Rover says. “We went to our pedestrian, and he diagnosed me with a mild concussion. As the days went on, it got progressively worse, until about the fifth day. It got pretty bad.”
He suffered his concussion on November 9th, 2015, and was only back to normal at the end of February. Rover’s symptoms included confusion, headaches, and sensitivity to light and nausea. According to Dr. Alain Ptito, Director of the Psychology Department at the McGill University Health Centre and a professor in Neurology and Neurosurgery at McGill University, it takes longer for young people to recover from a concussion because their brains are still developing and once you get one concussion, the chances of you getting a second one is five times greater.
“There seems to be a cumulative effect of concussions, meaning that the more concussions you’ve had in your lifetime, the greater the likelihood that you will develop depression later on in life or some kind of degenerative disease,” he adds.
Because Rover’s recovery time was so long, he missed a lot of school. After two weeks of being home, he started going back to school for half days, then eventually full days.
“I would just sit in class and listen, and not do any work,” Rover says. “They wouldn't put any pressure on [me]. But the whole point is to not think about it, because anxiety will make a concussion last longer. And I think that played a role in mine lasting longer. You try not to have anxiety, but you're thinking about everything you're missing.”
A 2006 study from Dalhousie University in Halifax says there are 110 concussions per 100,000 Canadians annually. But measuring the number of concussions is not always accurate because, according to the Sports Concussion Institute, about 47 per cent of athletes don’t report feeling any symptoms after an impact to the head. So, although Loyola helped Rover in school, it was harder for his parents to help him at home, because Rover wasn’t always being honest about how he was feeling.
“I didn't realize what was going on,” his mother, Bruna, says. “When he went back to school, I only realized afterward that he was breaking down at school, crying a lot, and he's not an emotional guy.”
Dr. Ptito says that now, diagnosis and treatment of concussions has changed drastically over the years. With functional MRIs—looking at the brain in activity—it’s much harder now for athletes to hide their symptoms.
“Now, we put the subject in the scanner and we have them carry out a task and while the person is doing the task the regions involved in carrying out the task will demand more blood and more oxygen,” Ptito says. “What we saw is that those regions that were affected would show less activation proportional to the severity of the symptoms.”
If you’re thinking, doesn’t protective equipment help prevent serious injury? Well, for Rover, wearing a lot of equipment makes the athlete feel invincible.
“If you have a bunch of people wearing helmets and they're all crisscrossing paths, [injuries are] going to happen,” Rover says. “Because in my opinion, the helmet's the worst part, because you feel like you can run through a wall with the helmet.”
Amanda Guedes, a first year Education student at McGill University, suffered two concussions while she was a cheerleader in high school and CEGEP at Dawson College. A 2012 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics says that the concussion rate in cheerleading has increased by 26 per cent annually from 1998 to 2008. Despite this, it is not mandatory to wear equipment. Guedes says part of the reason cheerleaders don’t wear helmets is because they’re uncomfortable.
“They’re annoying [to wear] because you get sweaty,” Guedes says. “Obviously, it’s a good idea to have them, [but] you also trust your [teammates] to catch you, so I never saw the point in buying them.”
So, what needs to change in sports to help prevent concussions? Football, for example, “is the most common sport with concussion risk for males (75% chance for concussion),” according to the Sports Concussion Institute. Mickey Donovan, the head coach of the Concordia Stingers football team, says that finding ways to reduce the risk of head injuries in football was the number one priority at the American Football Coaches Association convention he attended last year in San Antonio, Texas.
“A coach from Dartmouth [New Hampshire] talked about how they practice and they don’t tackle at all through the week,” Donovan says. “Everything is done on bags, they don’t hit each other and it’s less hitting through the week, so when it comes to game day, your body is fresh, your head is fresh, and you’re not pounding as much. They had a great season last year, so it shows that you can practice that type of style, you just need to know how.”
At the end of the day though, Ptito thinks attitudes toward concussions have changed, so less of them are going untreated.
“[With] the media reporting more on concussions, the public is aware that there’s a problem with concussions,” Ptito says. “The realization that a child has had a concussion is very present now with the parents contrary with what it used to be. Parents are learning to recognize symptoms; they’re learning to listen to their child.”
So, what does all this mean for the future of sports for Rover? Well, the third concussion has taught him that it’s time to backtrack on all the sports and relax a little bit.
“I've said I'm not going to think about sports anymore,” Rover says. “I’ll just be going to the gym. There's nothing that could impact your head there.”
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