Anya | Lancaster, NY
Photo Credit: Kelly O. PhotographyAn active soccer player for much of her life, collegiate athlete Anya’s world was changed when she sustained three concussions within a few short years. Her first concussion, in September of 2016, occurred on the soccer field at her high school. “I’m a goalie, so a ball was coming toward me. When I bent down to scoop it up, another player hit me in the head with her elbow, and I blacked out. I woke up to my teammate yelling my name and the athletic trainer guiding me off the field, but I could barely walk or see,” says Anya. After that terrifying experience, Anya was immediately taken to a New York hospital where a CT scan was taken; the results were normal. She was prescribed rest, ibuprofen, and time away from crowds and sunlight. Anya’s symptoms lessened over the years as she prepared for college, but they never fully resolved.
Anya’s primary symptoms were headache, dizziness, nausea, and fatigue. She would wake up with a headache, go to bed with a headache, and would rarely leave her room if she didn’t have to. Even walking up and down the stairs was a challenge at times. These symptoms only worsened when Anya sustained back-to-back concussions in August of 2019—concussions number two and three. “After all of my concussions, I had the same debilitating symptoms that never seemed to go away,” Anya says.
In August of 2019, Anya was preparing for her collegiate soccer career at Carlow University in Pittsburgh. During a summer league game, she fell and hit her head on the ground, and only two days later, at goalie training camp, she bumped heads with another player. UPMC Sports Medicine athletic trainers at Carlow University facilitate the ImPACT® baseline concussion test to all student athletes prior to their athletic seasons. This initial test helps gauge whether an athlete has sustained a concussion when they retake the test after receiving a hit to the head by comparing it to the baseline. “When I spoke to the athletic trainers about recently having a concussion, they told me about UPMC and the concussion program there,” Anya says.
In a matter of days, Anya was at the UPMC Freddie Fu Sports Medicine Center in Pittsburgh’s South Side being evaluated by Michael “Micky” Collins, PhD, clinical and executive director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program, and Sabrina Jennings, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow there. “The level of care was phenomenal,” Anya shares. “They seemed to have so much experience treating concussions and any kind of sports injury.” Drs. Collins and Jennings evaluated Anya’s condition, diagnosed her with a vestibular concussion, and created an active treatment plan to help her recover. A vestibular concussion is one that affects the vestibular system, the body’s balance center, which affects one’s ability to interpret motion, coordinate head and eye movements, and stabilize vision upon head movement—exactly the symptoms that Anya had expressed to the doctors. Her treatment would include vestibular and exertional therapy. “I was shocked to learn that there are six types of concussions,” Anya says. “[The doctors] explained every exercise to me during the diagnosis and treatment, and it all made sense.”
From beginning to end, Anya received treatment at the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program for about one month. But even after one week, both the doctors and Anya were seeing significant improvement. Contrary to her prior treatment plans, UPMC’s approach included active exercises that helped to desensitize Anya’s symptoms. Rather than avoiding crowds, sunlight, and physical activity, Anya was to intentionally place herself in those situations, as it was the only way that her brain could adjust. She shared that Drs. Collins and Jennings had her run on a treadmill, exercise with a medicine ball, and practice many other exercises that involved movement and balance—making for an active recovery. “Before I came to UPMC, I would wake up and go to sleep with a headache, but after a week of doing these exercises…no more headaches,” Anya exclaims. “I was surprised by how quickly I was recovering. After just one week I was seeing great improvement—I could go out in public, hang out with friends, and be my active self again. I feel more myself now than I did before.” Anya was cleared in September of 2019 and is back to doing what she loves, playing symptom-free as a goalie for Carlow University Women’s Soccer.