Introduction: This is Your Brain Health with noted Neuroscientists, Dr. Kristen Willeumier. Your Brain Health explores strategies to maximize your cognitive functions through life. Here’s Dr. Kristen Willeumier.
Dr. Kristen Willeumier: Welcome to Your Brain Health. I’m Dr. Kristen Willeumier. Given that we’ve just wrapped up the FIFA World Cup with France winning its second world cup title, I feel like this is the perfect time to have a dialogue on the impact of soccer injuries and long-term brain health. Now, FIFA attracts 3.2 billion viewers worldwide making it the most watched live event in the 21st century. And given this tremendous global platform, it will continue to attract youth to play soccer. While, I love children participating in youth sports. I’m also aware that we have to be mindful of the effects of injuries on their developing brain. When we think about concussions, we oftentimes reference professional football and hockey players. Given that those sports incur significant repetitive sub-concussive impacts leading to head trauma and the neurodegenerative brain disease. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, also known as CTE. We don’t hear much in the media about CTE in soccer players, but noted British soccer player Jeff Astley died back in 2002 at the age of 59.
And his autopsy confirmed the presence of CTE in his brain. In response to his passing, his family created the Jeff Astley Foundation to raise brain injury awareness in sports, and they report that 250 soccer players have had some form of degenerative brain disease. Soccer is a collision based sport and we’re seeing an increase in life changing injuries with soccer causing the highest rate of concussions in female athletes than in males. Today’s guest knows all too well about the impact of concussions in soccer as her beautiful daughter Madeline suffered a life changing injury while playing high school soccer. Here to tell us more about Madeline’s injuries and the steps she took to rehabilitate her brain function, I’m going to welcome my dear friend Jamie Uretsky. Jami Uretsky is social media’s Concussion Mom, Jami became an avid activist for concussion education and awareness when her daughter suffered a life changing concussion in October of 2011. Jami is a certified brain fitness coach and can be heard as the host of Concussion Matters on blog talk radio on the second Thursday evening of every month.
She wrote a chapter for the bestselling book Con Cust, sports-related head injuries, prevention, coping and real stories, as well as numerous print articles and blog postings. She appeared in a promotional video for Bauer hockey as well as in the documentary Overcoming TBI, which was featured at the International Brain Injury Conference in New Orleans. In addition, Jami is a frequent guest on various podcasts and radio shows, is an ambassador for stop concussions in the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts. She consults on return to learn protocols, and she speaks publicly about concussions and concussion management. So Jami, I want to welcome you to the show. It’s such an honor to have you on today.
Jami Uretsky: Oh, thank you so much for having me.
Host: It really is a pleasure and so I’m going to just jump right in. So I wanted to share with the audience. According to the statistics brain research Institute, as of 2017, 211,000 girls participate in high school soccer. Well 286,000 boys participate. Your daughter Madeline was a high school soccer player who sustained a concussion back in 2011. That has completely changed the trajectory of both of your lives. So I’d love for you to share with us how she sustained her injury.
Jami Uretsky: Okay, so it was from a collision as opposed to from a header, which is what you most often hear about. She was a defender running down the field to stop an opposing player who had the ball and that player tripped her from behind. And Madeline went straight up in the air parallel to the ground, fell right on her forehead between her eyes. She snapped her neck, she bounced right back up again, fell back down again, hit her forehead in the same place and snapped her neck again.
Host: Oh my God, snapped her neck. So did she have any sort of cervical injury? So she have some sort of cervical issues as well as head injuries.
Jami Uretsky: She had really severe whiplash that lasted for several years and had to wear a collar around her neck for a while.
Host: You know, you and I have talked about her injuries, so she has this awful head injury. And tell me what happened. So how long does it last? Tell me about her schooling. So I know she had to leave school.
Jami Uretsky: Yes. So she got hurt in October of 2011 and she missed the remainder of her sophomore year. She would go in periodically for a couple of hours, but she wasn’t allowed to do any work in school. So she had to have tutors that following summer to catch her up. In terms of her symptoms, she never lost consciousness or vomited. But she was dizzy. She had really bad brain fog. She couldn’t focus on anything. She had light and noise sensitivity. Her pupils are always dilated. They don’t constrict even still. She, yeah, she developed pots, which is postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, ADHD. And as I said, really bad whiplash. She had no short term memory at all. Couldn’t remember her way around our house. She had pressure in her head, really severe headaches which had been categorized as a chronic migraine because she literally still has that one headache that she got when she fell. It hasn’t subsided except the pain is less.
Host: So you’re telling me, you know, here we are in 2018 your daughter still has daily headaches?
Jami Uretsky: Yes. One headache the entire time. It has never gone away.
Host: I mean it’s, it’s really unbelievable when I hear what has happened to her. So that first year when she had the concussion, I remember you telling me she was at home most of the time. So she just went into school more for the social aspect or was she able to actually participate in classes?
Jami Uretsky: No, she went more for the social aspect and they had to give her accommodations. Like she could leave the classroom early before the bell rang, so it wouldn’t be as loud for her and she wouldn’t have the visual stimulation in the hallway of everybody rushing to get out of the classroom. So there were a lot of accommodations made for her to be able to go just for those couple of hours.
Host: And how old was she when she had her concussion?
Jami Uretsky: She was 15, then.
Host: She was 15. And how much more schooling did you have to do and to complete high school?
Jami Uretsky: So she actually graduated on time. She by nature is an extremely competitive person, which is why she played so many sports. So she did not want to skip a grade, so we had to hire private tutors for her for the entire summer before she went back to school for her junior year.
Host: And she was able to then do her junior and senior year with all of her classmates?
Jami Uretsky: Yes, she had, she did have to drop down in some of the classes. She had been an honors student and she had to not take some honors classes and just take some regular classes because she wasn’t able to do things like look at graph paper keep up with some of the heavier reading of the honors classes. So when Madeline did go back to school after her sophomore year she was tested at her speech and language therapist office, and she tested at the cognitive level of a five-year-old. But she just worked so hard that she ended up graduating high school fifth in her class.
Host: What kind of brain rehabilitation protocols did you follow?
Jami Uretsky: So we’ve been to an herbalist. She’s had nutritional counseling. She sees a psychiatrist for her ADHD to regulate her medication. She’s been to a chiropractor who specializes in kinesiology and muscle memory for her whiplash. She’s used special glasses called eye lights for her focus. As I mentioned, she had tutors for every subject when she returned to school. She’s done cranial sacral therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy and a chiropractor who adjusts only her Atlas, and then another chiropractor who specializes in functional neurology. And that’s what I think has helped her the most because it included a rigorous course of vestibular therapy three days a week for three months.
Host: Wow. So these chiropractic seem to be some of the most helpful to you?
Jami Uretsky: Yes. And they were all very different from each other.
Host: Was it really expensive? So I’m also thinking what’s the burden or the cost on, on the family. And how did her injuries impact the family?
Jami Uretsky: It is very expensive because most of them don’t take insurance. I was lucky that I was able to do these for her, but there are so many out there who can’t afford to do all of this.
Host: Is she, to this day, is she still doing some of these protocols. Is she still seeing a chiropractor? Is she still working with the psychiatrist? Is she?
Jami Uretsky: So she isn’t doing anything regularly now because she’s working full time. But she was going to the chiropractor who was adjusting her Atlas regularly up until this past January when she went back to school for the rest of her senior year. She does go to the psychiatrist for checks on her medication every three months.
Host: And let me ask you this. So sort of in looking at high school soccer, I wanted to ask, had they done any baseline testing on any of the athletes prior to Madeline having her injury?
Jami Uretsky: Yes. All athletes at her school were required to take the impact test, which was great, but she was never well enough to then be tested again because she’d never been cleared to play any more sports.
Host: That’s interesting. And when she had her injury, did she have a CT scan? What did they do when she went to the hospital?
Jami Uretsky: Yes, she had a CT scan and she had an MRI and both were clear.
Host: See, that’s what’s so interesting. And that’s in working with kids who play collision based sports. We hear a lot of that. And so parents feel like I’ve gone and had my child tested, the head CT is good. The neurologist said, I’m good, I need to just sleep this off. You know, just watch and monitor. What would you say to that? Now you’re a parent who’s gone through this, what kind of advice would you give to parents whose children’s are about to go back to school and play soccer and even to those who’ve struggled with brain injuries?
Jami Uretsky: Well I would not keep my kids out of sports because I do think that the lessons that you learn playing sports, especially team sports, reach far beyond the field and last a lifetime. But I would say that it’s important to take precautions so that they’re not in a sport where they’re repeatedly hitting their heads like headers in soccer for example. And if you do suspect a concussion to have it checked out by a doctor and of course not to return to the field or the classroom without the proper return to play and return to learn protocols in place, it’s really important to protect that brain.
Host: You and I are in complete agreement with that. And really the reason why I’m so excited to have you on and talk a little about Madeline is she’s really an extraordinary story. I think of hers as one of hope and inspiration because not only did she graduate from high school and as you’re saying, she graduated on time with her class. She went on to go to Simmons college in Massachusetts and she received the alumni award for academic achievement, which in speaking with you is one of the highest academic accolades that you can get at her college. Graduating with a bachelor of science in neuroscience and behavior, and a minor in biostatistics and nutrition. So you alluded to the fact that she is a competitive spirit and it’s pretty impressive to see somebody go and get a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience. And what’s even more impressive about her, she’s now a research associate in the laboratory of Dr. Robert Stern over at Boston University in their Center for the Study of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, one of the premier research facilities in the world studying brain injuries and athletes. And you know, I’ve been in communication with your daughter and I know she is focused on studying the female brain in brain injuries in sports. So I love her all the more for that. So, you know, many of us who are listening have participated in youth sports, myself included or have had children’s who participate in youth sports. So I think one of the most important points to remember here is that taking a proactive approach to your brain health is really one of the best ways to maintain the health and longevity of the brain for years and decades to come. And I know you being a certified brain fitness coach, so impressed with you as well. I think you and Madeline are really living that message.
Jami Uretsky: Well thank you. You know we try to help because it was a struggle.
Host: You’re extraordinary. And really I wanted to have you on the podcast today to be able to share with parents that you know, your children may have these sort of life changing injuries, but there is hope that you can have this incredible future. And I just look at, Madeline is so inspirational. So really to learn more about Jami, I would love for everyone to visit her website at www.concussionmom.com or to listen to her show Concussion Matters on the brain injury network. On Blog Talk Radio, which is the second Thursday of every month at 10:00 PM Eastern time. So Jami, any closing thoughts?
Jami Uretsky: No, I just really appreciate your having me on. And I do want parents out there to know that there is hope that you do have to really take care of that brain if you suspect a concussion
Host: And for anybody who wants to reach out to Jami, ask her any questions. I mean, she really is a wealth of knowledge, especially, you know, having experienced this herself with her daughter. So I encourage you to do that and I want to thank everyone for listening. Have a great day, Jami.
Jami Uretsky: Thank you. Bye bye.
Host: Bye, now.
Conclusion: You’ve been listening to Your Brain Health with Dr. Kristen Willeumier. For more information or to contact Dr. Willeumier, visit DrWilleumier.com. That’s D, R, W, I, L, L, E, U, M, I, E, R.com.