Jane | Toronto, Canada
For three years, Jane, a professor in her early fifties, suffered from the effects of a concussion. She incurred the injury in 2013 in a run-in with a door (literally): she ran up a flight of stairs toward an exit door that had been locked without notice.
“It was an ordinary mishap,” she shares, “just a piece of bad luck.”
Because her accident had not been dramatic, Jane’s family doctor thought that her concussion would resolve with a few weeks of rest. But six weeks after the injury, she still had significant symptoms, including:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty reading
- Difficulty staying awake
- Difficulty being in public places
- Motion sickness in cars
- Bad dreams
- Memory lapses
“I couldn’t even manage a short conversation without a disabling headache,” she says.
These symptoms forced Jane to take an extended period of time off work. A year after she was injured, a prominent concussion specialist told her that she would never recover fully.
“She said that the concussion had intersected with the beginning of my inevitable old-age cognitive decline,” Jane recalls. “But I was just past fifty! I refused to believe she was right.”
Despite the doctor’s prognosis, she continued to get better, and eventually she was well enough to return to full-time work.
“I finally felt like myself again after eighteen months,” she estimates. “The symptoms had disappeared on their own, very, very slowly.”
In May 2016, though, bad luck found Jane again. This time, she bumped her head getting off an airplane.
“Almost immediately, I started having [concussion] symptoms again,” she recalls. “They were the same problems as before, just at a lower degree of intensity.”
Again, Jane’s family doctor thought that her symptoms would be gone after a couple of weeks’ rest, but they persisted over the summer. By August, she was worried about how she would meet the demands of the school year.
“I couldn’t work effectively, I couldn’t swim, I could only do about 30 percent of what I was used to,” she shares. “It was frightening.”
Then one day, looking for information to try to help a friend’s daughter who had suffered a disabling head injury, Jane came upon an article about concussions. The expert featured? It was Micky Collins, PhD, from the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program in Pittsburgh, Pa.
“In the article, Dr. Collins discussed the changing science of concussion,” Jane says. “The way he had classified symptoms and types of concussion made me think that he might be able to explain what was happening to me.
“I thought, ‘My friend’s daughter should see these people,’ and then I realized, ‘Wait—I should see these people!”
Jane first met Dr. Collins and the concussion team at UPMC in October 2016.
“From my very first conversations with the team, I felt better,” Jane explains. “After years of being told that my symptoms were a mystery, I’d found people who could explain my injury in scientific terms. My whole experience followed a pattern they knew.
“I told Dr. Collins a story I’d told the neurosurgeon: after I tried to swim, I couldn’t pour water accurately from a tea kettle. The neurosurgeon thought that didn’t make any sense, but Dr. Collins said, ‘Of course you had problems, because your vestibular system was compromised by the concussion.’”
To treat Jane’s concussion, Dr. Collins prescribed vestibular and exertional therapy. He also recommended she get a pair of eye glasses to use for reading and computer work. After just a week of doing her exercises at home, she saw improvements.
“I could tell that my brain was changing, and I couldn’t believe how rapidly my capacity increased after months of almost no progress,” she says.
Now recovered, Jane is hoping more people turn to Dr. Collins and the team at UPMC for concussion treatment.
“My experience is evidence that the old advice about concussions—rest, sleep, wait—doesn’t make people better,” she says. “Because of the work that Dr. Collins and the UPMC team have done, I have my life back. And the bad luck that brought me my injury is more than outweighed by the good luck that got me to Pittsburgh.”
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