Carolyn Tangoran of Fayetteville suffered her first concussion as a competitive cheerleader. She was at the base of a cheerleading stunt during practice, when it fell on her.
"I didn't really say anything, because I just, you know, it truly is a very competitive sport, and I didn't want to step out for any reason," said Tangoran.
She kept on practicing and competing with the team.
"I had had other stunts fall on me,” she said. “One day at practice, I was telling my coach ‘I wasn't feeling well, I'm dizzy, I need to sit down.’ And she goes ‘No. You can't do that, you have to practice.’ and I went ‘No, you don't understand, I can't tumble right now.’ and she said ‘No you need to.’ and I threw a back flip and landed flat on my head.”
After six weeks of several different kinds of symptoms beyond headaches, Tangoran says "I never ate because I was never and sort of the sight of food made me sick to my stomach.”
She was diagnosed with a concussion that forced her out of competitive cheerleading, but not sports. She’d had also played lacrosse since 3rd grade and was cleared to play on her school’s lacrosse team, but she was hit in the head.
“Finally, I was diagnosed and I was out for the entire season,” said Tangoran. “I remember when I had to quit cheerleading, I said ‘Fine. I can still play lacrosse. I'm fine.’ But when I had my second concussion, second one from lacrosse, and I'm done now.”
Carolyn says quitting has been hard for her.
“I loved being part of the team. I love team sports, and I really miss that, but it's not something I was willing to risk my brain and future for."
Connor Jones’ story is more dramatic. He was playing in a youth hockey league program in Skaneateles last December.
" I was in a hockey game, and my head hit the ice first, and went flying into the boards,” said Connor.
He was taken off the ice in an ambulance. His mom, Lynne, thought maybe he had a broken collarbone, but he was released from the hospital. Doctors said he might have a mild concussion. But after a few days, she knew something wasn’t right. After having had another son suffer two concussions in hockey, Lynne went to concussion experts.
"He ended up with a concussion with brain injury,” said Lynne. We've been with five doctors and seven therapists and tutors. He's definitely progressing and improving. To look at him now compared to where he was two months ago, there’s huge progress. Two months before that, phenomenal progress, but still struggling.”
Connor tried to go to go back to school, but says "I was very sensitive to lights and all the lights in school were very bright, and when there were too many people around talking at the same time, I got headaches."
Connor’s mom Lynne says it’s been a long haul.
“This happened December 4th and in February he really bottomed out,” said Jones. There was times he couldn't feel his limbs. There were times he couldn't breathe. There were times where he was collapsing for no reason. They thought there was a brain bleed. So we had more tests than the average concussion person. But it was all from this crazy concussion.”
Conner never finished out the school year in Skaneateles. Instead, he and his mom visit therapists and doctors. His mother carries a several inch thick binder documenting the tests and treatments he’s undergone since his clash with the ice almost a year ago. And while she sees glimpses of the old Conner, his mom says the concussion has changed him.
“The past couple months he's talking less and less, because I don't know if you can tell but his speech is a little mumbled,” said Jones.” And he gets frustrated people can't understand him so he has kind of stopped talking. For a long time because of the pain and discomfort he was a little bit withdrawn, and he was always wild and crazy Connor so to see him tame has been a little sad.”
Both these kids were treated at the sports concussion program at SUNY Upstate Medical University. Doctor Brian Reiger says there’s a reason doctors worry more about brain trauma in youth.
“They have the most risk of suffering concussion due to sports, and they may be more vulnerable to being taking longer to recovered, and therefore that window that they can be re-injured may be open longer,” said Dr. Reiger.
In part two of our series, we’ll take a closer look at what concussions do to the brain and why it can be so bad.