Have you or someone you know received a concussion or suffered from a head injury in an accident? Have you not felt the same since, or noticed behavior changes since the incident? Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) are types of injuries that occur when there is sudden trauma or a blow to the head, causing damage to the brain.
The severity of the injury can range from mild to severe, causing both short-term and long-term effects. In cases of more severe injuries, there is an increased risk of a number of more severe complications.
These complications include:
Altered Consciousness: Based on the severity of the injury, there can be prolonged or permanent changes in one’s state of consciousness, responsiveness, and awareness. It may lead to states of consciousness such as a coma (i.e. unable to respond to any stimuli), vegetative state (i.e. the person is unaware of surroundings but may open their eyes or respond to reflexes), or brain death (i.e. meaning there is no activity in the brain or brain stem).
Physical Complications: There are several physical complications that may occur including seizures, hydrocephalus (i.e. fluid buildup in the brain that causes pressure and swelling), infections, blood vessel damage, headaches, and vertigo (i.e. extreme dizziness). Paralysis of facial muscles, loss of ability to taste and smell, loss of vision or impairments to eyes, difficulty swallowing, ringing in the ear, or hearing loss may also be present due to damage to the cranial nerves.
Intellectual Issues: Changes in thinking skills are very common in TBI. Those affected may face cognitive issues that affect their memory, learning, reasoning, judgment, and awareness. They also may face executive functioning issues such as problem-solving skills, multitasking, organization, planning, decision-making, and completing tasks.
Communication Problems: Language and communication problems are very prevalent in those with severe TBI. They often have trouble understanding speech or writing, speaking, organizing their thoughts and ideas, and following and participating in conversations. This can present difficulty for not only the patient, but also for friends, family, and other support.
Behavioral Changes: Changes in behavior often occur including difficulty with self-control, verbal or physical outbursts, risky behavior, lack of awareness of one’s own abilities, and trouble in social situations.
Emotional Changes: people with TBI may often face emotional issues such as depression, anxiety, mood swings, irritability, lack of empathy, anger, or insomnia.
Sensory Problems: Issues with senses such as a persistent ringing of the ears, difficulty recognizing objects, blind spots or double vision, a persistent bitter taste or a bad smell, trouble with balance, itchy skin or skin pain, or impaired hand-eye coordination.
Degenerative Brain Diseases: In cases of repeated or severe brain injuries, there is a higher risk of developing a degenerative brain disease. There is ongoing research as to why this is true, however, the gradual loss of brain function can contribute to diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia pugilistic.
Two examples of individuals with different complications after a TBI include Zachery Lystedt and Norma Myers.
1. Zachery Lystedt
Sports are a very big part of a child’s life; they learn social skills, they make friends, they learn teamwork, and they have fun doing it. It is often their favorite part of the day, but it can also be very dangerous, especially with close-contact sports like football or lacrosse.
Zachery Lystedt experienced that danger firsthand. Zachery played both offense and defense for his football team. He was only 13 years old when he sustained a concussion after his head struck the ground after tackling an opponent; at 13 years old his life was changed forever. Although he remained conscious after the hit, anyone on the sidelines could tell that he was in serious pain.
His coach pulled him out of the game but just as the 3rd quarter was about to start his coach allowed him back in the game. His eagerness to get back in the game came at a large cost. After playing the entire second half, he collapsed on the field. He was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center where he went through life-saving surgery, experienced several strokes, spent a week on a ventilator, and three months in a coma. It was over a year after the injury before he could speak, move an arm or leg, or could eat without a feeding tube; he was not able to stand on his own until three years later.
Zachery Lystedt’s Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) not only changed his life indefinitely but also the game of football. The Lystedt Law, more commonly known as the “shake-it-off law”, stated that any youth who shows signs of a concussion during a game must be cleared by a licensed healthcare professional before returning to the game. We do not know what life would have been like for Zachery if he had not gone back into the game. But we do know that we can use Zachery’s story as a reminder that enough is enough. Prioritizing the safety of these children should be sports’ main priority.
There are hundreds of concussions that occur in every season of football. Creating countermeasures that can help to reduce the number of concussions and educating the players and coaches about the dangers of playing with a concussion can help prevent TBI. You can read more about Zachery and this new law here.
2. Norma Myers
Norma Myers wrote a series of blogs on the story of her son who suffered a severe accident that resulted in a traumatic brain injury. She discussed the hardships that came with it, not only for her son Steven but for her entire family. In August of 2012, Ms. Myers’ two children, Steven and Aaron, were involved in a severe car accident. Unfortunately, Aaron died in the accident and Steven suffered a severe injury to the head causing TBI. The unknown was paralyzing for the Myers family; what would TBI mean for their son? Ms. Myers admitted that she was uneducated on the topic of TBI and had no idea what life would be like for her now-only son.
Having to tell Steven that his brother died in the accident was the most grueling part for Ms. Myers. She knew that Steven was going to need her to stay strong as his caregiver and his mother.
Fortunately, five years after the accident “Steven bravely fought his way through recovery.” He will always be someone dealing with TBI, but he did not let that define him or limit him. He graduated college, began driving again, got a job, and even got to do physical activities that he loved like hiking and swimming.
As Ms. Myers mentioned in her blogs, it was very difficult for her to watch her son do the things he loved again. Of course, she was happy he had the ability to, but the fear of losing him again was almost too much to handle. Dealing with her grief for Aaron and her new role as Steven’s caregiver taught her many lessons. Taking one step at a time and allowing herself to feel all emotions helped her to better care for her son. TBI is life-changing for an individual, but it is also important to recognize and remind ourselves that without a support system, recovery may not be possible.
You can read Norma Myers’ blogs here, as well as stories from others who have been on a TBI journey.