Recent media attention has alerted people to brain injuries caused by concussions in hard-hitting sports. But sometimes a series of relatively minor concussions combine to have just as devastating an impact on the brain.
For Sherry Zettler, a twenty-eight year old preschool resource teacher, her first concussion was sustained in 2008 when she was hit on the side of the head with a baseball. In the following years she sustained more concussions from a bar falling on her head when she was assembling a treadmill, bumping her head getting into a car and being head-butted by a small child. These seemingly harmless incidents combined into challenging issues for Sherry.
After each concussion the symptoms subsided when Sherry followed medical instructions and rested, but once she resumed her normal activities they would reemerge with a vengeance. As a sports enthusiast she admits she yearned to resume playing baseball, hockey and running and often didn’t rest long enough after each concussion to allow her brain to heal.
Never being one to malinger, Sherry returned to work after each concussion, but was plagued by severe migraine headaches, vertigo, fatigue, speech and vision issues. She credits the strength of her boyfriend Shayne and her mom with helping her get through those dark days. “I went from being extremely active to not being able to get off the couch.”
With MRIs and CAT scans showing no brain damage, Sherry began questioning herself. She knew her health was unraveling, but it wasn’t until she was referred to Parkwood Hospital’s Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) program that she got the answers she’d been seeking for so long.
“The day I first met with the team at Parkwood was the best day ever,” Sherry says. “I finally had hope – everything’s changed since I started coming here.” Now Sherry gets her exercise fix through a walking program, takes regular rests, and uses the tools and skills she learned at Parkwood to take control of her situation.
About 15 per cent of people who sustain relatively minor head injuries end up with a lasting brain injury.” I didn’t rest to let the injuries heal, so they compounded,” she explains. “If I had slowed down, taken the injuries seriously, and listened to what my body was telling me, I wouldn’t be in this difficult position today.”
During the Brain Injury Survivor and Family Education videoconference series hosted by Parkwood Hospital Sherry shared her story with others with a brain injury. ”I wanted them to know they are not alone, and that they’ll be OK.”
With a summer wedding planned, Sherry and Shayne know that if she’s having a bad day, a good day will be right around the corner. “Now I feel like I have a future,” she says.
(Above: Occupational therapist Becky Moran, right, with Sherry and Shayne discussing strategies to help Sherry cope with lingering post-concussion symptoms)