Shelagh | Toronto, Canada

Shelagh | Toronto, Canada

Shelagh, 42, led a busy lifestyle as a university professor in Toronto, Canada. She worked hard to navigate her many roles as wife, mother, architect, urban planner, and respected faculty member. It was unusual, then, when Shelagh fell ill during April of 2017. Late one night, while assisting her daughter who had woken in the night, Shelagh collapsed and struck her head on the bathroom vanity. After struggling with headaches for two days, she was admitted to the hospital and was surprised to receive a diagnosis of meningitis.

Shelagh remained in the hospital for two weeks as part of her meningitis treatment. All the while, she remembered feeling, “there’s something really wrong with me, I cannot think straight”. Shelagh had started to experience intense headaches almost immediately after hitting her head on the bathroom vanity. But because of the severity of her meningitis, it was almost seven months before physicians realized that Shelagh was also struggling with symptoms of a concussion.

Concussion Symptoms

After Shelagh struck her head, she began to experience some of the symptoms commonly associated with a concussion:

  • Light and noise sensitivity
  • Lack of attention span
  • Memory loss
  • Loss of interest in activities and hobbies
  • Headaches

While Shelagh made a full recovery from meningitis, she continued to experience significant symptoms from her concussion. She met regularly with a neurologist in Canada in an effort to overcome her concussion symptoms. However, Shelagh did not experience many improvements to her condition. She remembers, “For me to not have an idea, not to have any interest in anything, not be able to read and remember anything I had read, and to be aware of my disinterest and isolation, was debilitating. Mentally, socially…it’s a deep dark place down there. I thought I would never teach again and never research again.”

Fortunately, Shelagh knew of a colleague who suggested that she reach out to the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program.

Concussion Treatment

Shelagh took the advice of her colleague and reached out to Michael “Micky” Collins, PhD, clinical and executive director, UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program. After learning about her case, Dr. Collins recommended that Shelagh travel to Pittsburgh for an evaluation at UPMC. Shelagh remembers that the light and noise sensitivities she was experiencing as part of her concussion symptoms were so severe that she decided to travel from Toronto to Pittsburgh by car rather than travel through airports and on a plane.

Upon meeting with Dr. Collins and sharing her experience, Shelagh was diagnosed as having a vestibular/ocular concussion. Shelagh remembers, “To hear there were 6 different types of concussions and how each type uniquely interacts with symptoms was surprising—I had never heard that before despite being treated elsewhere.” Dr. Collins worked with Shelagh to develop an individualized treatment plan that was specific to her condition.

Though her treatment plan was challenging in the beginning, Shelagh remained committed to the process. When reflecting on how she felt during the start of the recovery process, Shelagh recalls, “It was the exact opposite of what anyone had ever told me. Being told there was something I could do to get better rather just relax, wait, and hope resonated with me.” Her active treatment plan was designed to strengthen and rehabilitate Shelagh’s ocular and vestibular system.

Concussion Recovery

While not always easy, Shelagh remained dedicated to her treatment plan, and noticed improvements within weeks. She first visited the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program in November 2017, and by late January 2018, Shelagh was able to go to a restaurant for dinner—an activity she had been unable to do since before her injury. At that point, she knew that she was on her way to a full recovery.

Shelagh has since returned to teaching, and credits Dr. Collins and the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program for providing her with the hope and support system she needed to take back her life. She is a proud advocate of the research and program at UPMC, saying, “Just because everyone is saying to do it one way, doesn’t mean it’s the right and only way. We’re learning so much about the human brain all the time. Seek out something that is getting amazing results.”

Shelagh remembers her last visit at the clinic with Dr. Collins. She had overcome so many setbacks and struggles during her recovery. At times, Shelagh didn’t know that she would ever return to feeling like she did before her injury. But her perseverance and commitment to her treatment plan proved that she could return to her former self.

During that last interaction at the clinic, Shelagh recalls Dr. Collins turning to her and saying, “It’s really nice to meet you.”


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