Daniel | Gothenburg, Sweden
Successful Swedish concert promoter, Daniel, 37, was rushing to pick up his young children from preschool in May 2017 when he walked into a street pole, hitting his left temple. “It hurt very, very much, but I didn’t think too much about it,” says Daniel.
Although he went to work the next day, it only took an hour to realize something was wrong. “I felt strange,” says Daniel. “The next day, I couldn’t get out of bed and had a terrible headache together with extreme fogginess.” He went to the emergency room where a nurse told him he had a concussion and handed him a brochure instructing him to rest and stay home in a dark room.
Unable to work, Daniel received compensation through the Swedish healthcare system. But it was significantly less than the salary he earned in the music industry. “It was expensive to stay home,” he says. “I needed to earn money; I was eager to return to work as fast as possible, but my body stopped me.”
As weeks and months passed, Daniel’s condition began taking a toll on his personal life and career. He experienced constant headaches, fatigue, dizziness, vertigo, mood swings, anxiety, and panic attacks. In his quest to find relief, Daniel consulted at least a dozen specialists, including a neurologist, physical therapist, behavioral therapist, and chiropractor. He even tried alternative treatments like acupuncture, massage, yoga, mindfulness, and healing. One doctor advised him to try a less stressful career.
“I was willing to try everything — even things I didn’t believe in,” says Daniel. “I woke up every morning hoping the feeling in my head would be gone, but it wasn’t. I was losing hope.”
At his lowest point, Daniel even contemplated suicide. “I felt I would never be the same again and would have to live with these symptoms the rest of my life,” he says. “My whole family struggled. My mood swings were terrible. I went from being a happy guy to a depressed guy.”
Desperate for answers, Daniel searched the internet for help. He found many blog sites to be depressing, written by people who had struggled with concussion symptoms for years. But he finally found one written by a grateful patient who had been treated successfully at the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program. “I felt sure this was what I needed,” says Daniel.
In July 2018 — 14 months after his accident — he flew to Pittsburgh and met with program director Michael “Micky” Collins, PhD. “I’ll never forget it. Dr. Collins looked me straight in the eyes and said, ‘We’re going to do everything in our power to help you feel normal again, I promise you,’” says Daniel. “I started crying. That was the first time anyone said I should be fine.”
Having read the blog article detailing Dr. Collins’ approach — the exact opposite of the bed rest, quiet, and darkness he’d been told to do in Sweden — he was prepared for the program’s “exposure and recovery” strategy. “It made sense to me to do what made me feel bad so my brain could get used to it,” he says.
Under Dr. Collins’ care, Daniel returned home with an individualized treatment plan that included exercises and repeated exposure to sights, sounds, and settings that made him uncomfortable. He remained in touch with UPMC via email and phone.
The first three or four weeks were “awful,” recalls Daniel. “But I was never afraid. I was full of confidence. I gradually began feeling better.”
In October 2018 and January 2019, he returned to Pittsburgh for follow-up appointments with Dr. Collins and his team of specialists, including Raymond Pan, MD, a clinical psychiatrist who prescribed medication for anxiety and depression. Each time, Dr. Collins tweaked his treatment plan while Dr. Pan adjusted his medication.
“It was such a relief to work with specialists who took me seriously and who understood right away what I was going through,” says Daniel. “They listened to me and treated me as a whole person.”
When he continued to struggle with fatigue, Dr. Collins referred him to an eye specialist who adjusted his eyeglass prescription and added a blue light filter to help with computer usage. “I immediately felt a difference,” says Daniel. “It helped with my fatigue and headaches.”
Today, Daniel says he is almost entirely recovered, with occasional brief headaches and evening sluggishness. He’s also back to work as a concert promoter and now heads the renowned Gothenburg Culture Festival. And, whenever he has the opportunity, Daniel does what he can to spread word of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program in Sweden.
“I’m so happy. It was a lot of money for someone without American health insurance to travel to the Pittsburgh for treatment. But health has no price,” says Daniel.
“I love Pittsburgh — it’s the city that saved my life. Going to UPMC was life changing. I’m back again, and it was worth every penny.”