Charlie | New York, NY
Charlie, age 12, still says one of his favorite pastimes is palling around with his younger brother, Oliver. This is despite Charlie getting concussed after colliding with Oliver while sled riding in February 2017.
He had had two concussions before, so when he was reporting dizziness, headache, and feeling dazed and confused, his parents, Kristin and John, predicted another concussion. Charlie would later be diagnosed at a local hospital in New York City.
“The physician had given us the same recovery protocol others had given us before, which was complete shutdown,” explains Kristin. “That meant no screens, no reading, no school, no activity for Charlie. He was to rest until the headaches subsided.”
Unlike the first two concussions, though, Charlie wasn’t making progress with this approach. After three weeks, the physician suggested Charlie see a psychiatrist. The family disagreed, and instead sought a second opinion at a different New York hospital.
“We were told we were putting too much pressure on Charlie. Making him do too much,” recalls John. “This doctor was adamant that Charlie shouldn’t be in school or taking tests. We should cut back and have him sleep more.”
By now, the headaches were constant. Charlie continued in “shut down mode” and eventually tried some physical therapy and acupuncture with hopes of gaining headache relief.
“My son was lost,” says Kristin. “It was probably the most stressful thing we’ve gone through as parents to date.”
“It just wasn’t good,” Charlie adds. “I was sad.”
Two months later, the principal at Charlie’s school called the family to report concern from teachers.
“They were worried because he seemed so ‘out of it,’ all the time,” says John. “We were obviously concerned as well. We kept calling the doctor and were always met with the same shutdown instructions.”
Frustrated by the uncertainty and inability to make things better, Kristin started doing more research, reaching out to family and friends to see if anyone had an idea the family hadn’t thought of.
“We weren’t sure if life was just always going to be like this. Was this our new normal?” she shares.
“It was impacting Charlie. It was impacting us as a family,” adds John. “Oliver and Charlie love to play together and they weren’t able to do that as brothers.”
In May, a client of Kristin’s, with family roots in Pittsburgh, suggested Charlie try UPMC. Not soon after, the family traveled to Pittsburgh and met with Micky Collins, PhD, clinical and executive director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program.
What does Charlie remember about that first visit? “Dr. Collins told me I had nothing to worry about. Then he told me how long it would take me to get better.”
And what do Kristin and John remember?
“Hearing Dr. Collins say that he saw nothing long-term worrisome in Charlie; well, that’s the most comforting thing to hear,” says Kristin.
“Getting that timeframe made a huge difference,” adds John. “We instantly noticed a change in our son’s demeanor.”
After meeting with Dr. Collins, Charlie was sent for exertional physical therapy, which occurs in the same building – the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
“When he started exercising, that was the first time I saw him smile in months,” shares Kristin.
“Yeah,” adds Charlie, “it just felt good to move. To be normal again.”
Charlie left Pittsburgh with some “homework assignments” from Dr. Collins. First, he was given vestibular and exertional exercises to work on at home with his parents.
And second? “He told me to go have a great summer and forget about all this,” says Charlie.
In two short weeks, Charlie’s headaches improved – dramatically. “I had one headache from the time I left Pittsburgh until I returned to see Dr. Collins two weeks later.”
“I remember Oliver saying he even noticed a change in Charlie once we got home,” says Kristin.
After three total visits to see Dr. Collins, Charlie was cleared from his concussion.
“Dr. Collins told me I could do anything I wanted to do,” says Charlie. “So I said I wanted to go to a party at a trampoline park.”
“As long as he was going to be the only one on the trampoline, it was fine to go!” says Kristin, who admits she was amazed at that response.
Now that Charlie is feeling like his old self again, he’s excited to play soccer, golf, and baseball at his school in Connecticut this fall. And his mother couldn’t be more excited that that will be possible.
“I never thought we’d have to leave New York for concussion care,” says Kristin. “Now, if someone were to ask me where they should go? I’d say do not pass go. Go directly to Pittsburgh.”
To learn more about our patients, read their stories.