The first time I got hit was November 15, 2008, during my freshman year at Aloha High School, at basketball practice. I dove, a girl moved her knee and I smashed into it with my forehead. I was dizzy, confused, nauseated and my head was pounding.
Three weeks later, I was shooting around with a friend when a basketball hit me on the head. Since I was not symptom free from my first concussion, my symptoms only became worse. This is called second impact syndrome.
My first concussion was right before finals. I tried my best, but my grades slipped. I had problems with short-term memory, fatigue and concentration. Months passed and my pediatric neurologist (not at OHSU) prescribed bed rest and medication that caused awful side effects. Their approach was “time and rest.”
I had many different symptoms — lights and noise bothered me, and my eyes hurt whenever I used the computer or watched TV. I had a constant migraine, which caused me to wake up 10 to 12 times a night in pain. Nothing helped.
I went without any improvements for over a year. I often felt as if no one, not even the doctors, believed me when I described my problems. It became apparent during the few speech and physical therapy sessions I received that their philosophy was to teach me how to deal with my symptoms, not expect any improvements.
In January 2010, my family switched our insurance plan and we were able to go to Dr. James Chesnutt and the concussion rehab team at OHSU. For the first time, wefelt there was hope. Dr. Chesnutt had me evaluated by a speech therapist and a physical therapist. I was also diagnosed with severe whiplash from my initial injury. This had never been diagnosed or treated, and I had to see a neck therapist who specialized in strengthening my neck. I went through seven months of intense physical therapy as well as 13 months of speech therapy.
The speech therapist gave me tools to help my memory, concentration and toimprove my thought processing. Dr. Chesnutt also referred me to a neuro-ophthalmologist who discovered previously hidden vision problems. Six weeks of vision therapy and three months of at-home online vision therapy got my eyes working together, which further decreased my headache pain.
My OHSU therapists not only believed me — they believed in me. Instead of hoping I would get better, they actually made it happen. Although it took me two years to recover, Dr. Chesnutt’s first priority was my safety. Time was passing, but he was patient and made sure I didn’t rush back too soon. At the same time, he helped lead me back to a regular life again.
I ended up missing about a year of school altogether, and was told I would not graduate with my class because I was so far behind. It seemed impossible, but I was determined to work hard to catch up. I put in numerous extra hours throughout the year. And along with my regular classes, a combination of online classes, summer school and having a home tutor, I was able to graduate with my class in June of 2012.
In the fall of 2012, I started full time at Portland Community College. Community college was a perfect fit for my situation; I am slowly adjusting to the college routine. I am also working on writing a book about my concussion journey and turning all the pain I went through into a purpose. To give hope to those who feel hopeless.
Concussions change you emotionally, physically and mentally. In the two years of having this concussion I lost a lot, but I have gained even more. As strange as it sounds, I’m thankful this happened. The injuries helped shape me into a better person and have opened up many opportunities.
Jamie Wirth, 19, is a patient of OHSU’s sports medicine program and James Chesnutt, M.D. She lives in Aloha.