Max | Belton, TX
Hailing from the small Texas town of Belton, Max, now 23, was born to play baseball and his talent backed up his dreams. He excelled at the sport in high school and went to a Division I university in Arkansas on a baseball scholarship. But two concussions in the same year would bench him, potentially shattering his plans of playing baseball professionally.
In February 2015, Max, then 21, was hit by a baseball the pitcher threw while he was at bat during intrasquads, before the season started. The bat hit his head so hard, it cracked his helmet and hair rubbed off on the inside.
Max could feel the pressure building in his skull and had double vision, causing him to see multiple baseballs. He went back to the dugout and told his coach that something was wrong. The coach had an ImPACT® test administered immediately afterward, to measure the effect of the concussion.
During the first week, Max monitored his concussion symptoms and although the double vision stopped, the pressure in his head kept building, causing extreme headaches and dizziness. He missed the first three weeks of his season but eventually started to feel better. He played 15 games but the pounding headaches and double vision made playing difficult.
At this point, Max spoke with his athletic trainer and doctors who ordered a CT scan and an MRI, but found no bleeding on his brain. They warned Max that his baseball career might be over, but Max pushed through. He started basic physical therapy, ran on an anti-gravity treadmill, and underwent extensive vestibular therapy exercises designed to improve balance and reduce dizziness-related problems.
“I got sick of looking at popsicle sticks, I’ll put it that way,” recalls Max, referring to various tests administered to track vestibular rehabilitation progress when undergoing concussion treatment. “But I was finally cleared in June of 2015 and all of my symptoms had gone away.”
A Second Concussion
Max was beginning to feel optimistic as he started back to school that fall. He had just finished class and was pulling out of the parking lot when someone rear-ended his car. Within 45 minutes, Max could feel the effects of his head being jostled, and his concussion symptoms were triggered once again.
“I made it to baseball practice that night, but for the rest of the week I saw athletic trainers and doctors at the university, and they were really worried about my health,” remembers Max. “They started saying that my baseball career might really be over this time, and the worst part was, this time I started to believe them. My symptoms were the same as before, but now even worse.”
By September, Max had to medically retire from baseball. Had it not been for the support from family and friends, as well as his strong Christian faith, Max believes he would’ve “spiraled into depression.” His baseball coach asked him to be a student assistant, so Max started preparing for a career as a baseball coach instead of a player. His symptoms persisted but so many months had gone by, he was beginning to get used to life with piercing headaches and double vision. More physical therapy and vestibular exercises at the university weren’t helping.
“I was desperate to get back a good quality of life,” he shares.
Several months later, a fortuitous meeting that Max describes as “divine intervention” occurred. A friend of his ran into a neurosurgeon and told him about Max’s plight. The neurosurgeon suggested Max travel to Pittsburgh, Pa., to see Micky Collins, PhD, clinical and executive director, at the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program.
In May 2016, more than a year after Max sustained his first concussion, he met Dr. Collins. The duo got to know each other during this initial consultation, and Max took another ImPACT test.
After giving Max the diagnosis of a vestibular concussion, Dr. Collins asked him two questions:
- What if I tell you you can get your life back?
- What if I can get you back to playing baseball again?
Max was skeptical but dove into doing the prescribed vestibular and physical therapy at UPMC that day. He went home with a comprehensive exercise treatment plan that involved running, lifting weights, and rigorous vestibular exercises.
“Dr. Collins told me that you have to start feeling the symptoms to break through the barrier of pain, until you get back to the other side,” says Max. “Other people who treated me in Arkansas told me not to do certain activities if it caused pain. Dr. Collins said otherwise, and by increasing my tolerance level, I actually started to get better.”
After ten weeks of treatment under Dr. Collins, Max was asymptomatic and was cleared in August.
“Every person I came across at UPMC was awesome,” says Max. “There were many people being treated when I was there, but the staff always made time for everyone and were always patient. They truly cared about me as an individual. They’re a first-class team.”
Due to his medical history, Max had signed papers at the university in Arkansas that said he could no longer play baseball there. But since Max was healed from his concussion and could pursue playing again, he enrolled in a masters of education program at a Division II university in Missouri.
Max played every game that following season. Lucky for him, scouts were watching. When the big league baseball draft came around in the spring of 2017, Max’s name was called.
“Many people told me I’d never play baseball again,” says Max. “It’s been a wild ride but now I’m living my dream. Dr. Collins gave me my life back.
“He gave me the game of baseball back.”
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