Jeff | New York, NY

Jeff | New York, NY

It was Dec. 11, 2016, and Jeff was busy prepping a Broadway show for its opening that night. As an independent contractor, Jeff provides theatrical support to different shows at different venues — often at the same time.

“I might be a production assistant handling logistics and scheduling for one show, and be an orchestrator, songwriter, or writer on another,” he explains.

Getting to work on Broadway is a dream come true for the native of Pittsburgh’s North Hills community. For Jeff, who loves creating new work, to open his own show on Broadway is his next goal.

Concussion Symptoms

The face-first fall he took that hectic day in December hardly seemed serious.

“I bounced right back up,” recalls Jeff. The next morning, his body was achy but his head felt fine. “Since I was working on two shows, it was a very busy day and everything went smoothly.”

Toward evening, Jeff began to notice troubling symptoms:

  • Light sensitivity
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Anxiety
  • Jaw stiffness

He became concerned that he might have a concussion. Seeking emergency treatment at a major New York City hospital, he passed a basic concussion test, indicating he was fine.

“Since then, I’ve learned that it’s actually rare for someone with a concussion to fail one of those standard tests. That means many cases like mine go undiagnosed at first,” he says.

With Christmas and his 24th birthday just around the corner — and still dealing with the symptoms that had landed him in the ER — Jeff took a few days off to visit with family in Naples, Florida. His parents, concerned that he wasn’t feeling any better, suggested he see a local neurologist in Naples. The neurologist confirmed his suspicion that the ER was indeed incorrect, and he did have a concussion. Jeff left the appointment armed with a prescription for rest and medicine, and reassurances that he would be feeling better by New Year’s Eve.

Instead of improving, Jeff began to experience new symptoms that included balance and eye movement problems, print sensitivity, trouble concentrating, insomnia, double vision, and disorientation — although no headaches. Frustrated and increasingly worried, Jeff says, “I stopped doing anything, thinking that activity was the reason I wasn’t getting any better. And all the while, my doctor encouraged me to keep taking it easy.”

“By February, I’d had an MRI, made several return visits to the neurologist — and I felt no different than I did in the last week of December,” he says.

Analytical by nature, Jeff needed more information about what he was experiencing. He started reaching out to friends who’d had concussions or were in medical school. “From what I learned, it was an easy decision to head back to Pittsburgh where I grew up. I wanted answers and I trusted UPMC’s reputation,” he says.

A week later, Jeff found himself face to face with David O. Okonkwo, MD, PhD, clinical director of the UPMC Brain Trauma Research Center. “We spent 90 minutes together, a level of attention I never expected.” After the initial exam, Dr. Okonkwo referred Jeff to Michael “Micky” Collins, PhD, clinical and executive director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program.

“After meeting with Dr. Okonkwo and Dr. Collins, my anxiety level dropped significantly. It was comforting to know that everyone at UPMC was invested in the outcome of my treatment plan, and I started to feel confident that I was really going to get better,” says Jeff.

Concussion Diagnosis

Taking the ImPACT® test was the first big step in Jeff’s recovery.

“Finally I had a firm diagnosis — convergence insufficiency — which is a common symptom of a concussion,” says Jeff.

Dr. Collins explained that Jeff was experiencing double vision because the left and right eye had forgotten how to work together. He also said that in order to recover, Jeff needed to resume activity again, as opposed to the rest treatment that had been recommended by other medical professionals. To retrain Jeff’s brain and get his eyes working together again, Dr. Collins recommended vestibular therapy under the direction of Anne Mucha, which included specific exercises that would became more challenging as his rehab progressed.

Within a few days of starting vestibular therapy, Jeff could see a difference. “It was a smashing success,” says Jeff. “I’m very task-driven, and Dr. Collins knew I would push hard. He went out of his way not to baby me and I really appreciated that. I had to push through some bad days, but the staff at UPMC gave me the skills and the support I needed to have a successful recovery.”

Staying with family in Pittsburgh while he worked on his rehab was also important for Jeff. “With support and care from my parents and family, I could focus all my attention on therapy and getting well,” he says. Just 10 days after beginning treatment, Jeff was released by Dr. Collins, but he continued the exercises for another month.

The Outcome

Jeff returned to work on March 11, 2017, exactly 3 months after his fall. His return to Broadway came just in time: under independent contractor regulations in New York City, Jeff did not qualify for any short-term disability aid.  As such, he had no income during his injury, and any further work delays would have had a long-term financial impact on Jeff’s life.

“I’m very lucky. UPMC gave me the chance to take my life back — and helped save my career,” says Jeff. “I’m a firm believer that the show must go on!”


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