It happened quickly on a Tuesday 

Fourteen-year-old Connor’s mom was only 100 feet away, but when her son got up off the wrestling mat she knew immediately something wasn’t right. Her mother’s instincts kicked in and she knew he wasn’t himself. He didn’t sustain a blow to the head or hit his head on the ground. So what was wrong?

His speech was slow and his eyes were grey.

He tried to put on a Band-Aid on his arm and couldn’t complete the task. With “crazy speech,” according to his mom, he said “I know what I need to do, but I can’t do it.”

The athletic trainer on site confirmed her suspicion that something neurological was going on. Connor was unable to follow her finger. He was able to answer simple questions, but very, very slowly, taking far too long for his mother’s satisfaction.

Head trauma in kids can have traumatic consequences and Brandi wasn’t going to take any chances. She headed straight to the ER.

I knew I needed to get him evaluated right away. 

“I knew what I needed to do,” she said. “I was worried there was internal bleeding or something else going on. I just knew I needed to get him evaluated right away.”

The doctor confirmed he had a concussion. Even without a blow to the head a concussion had occurred. It was determined that it was caused when his neck was pushed from the back forcing his forehead into the mat.

Even though Connor did not remember the match, the ER doctor said he was okay to go to school the next day because he did not lose consciousness and was not vomiting. Brandi knew enough that if kids sustain a concussion sending them back to school or sports too soon can lead to further damage.

She had no idea how much she would quickly learn in the next few days that would open up a whole new world to her when it came to concussions in children. It would also test her relationship with her precious son.

On Thursday they were in the pediatrician’s office. Following the new protocols, he said to keep Connor out of school and ordered rest for three-five days. Rest meant no brain stimulation including, TV, video games, reading and music. He needed a cognitive rest.

The following Friday, 10 days after the injury, he was feeling better and it was back to school. The noise and the lights were just too much and Connor only lasted one hour. In fact, he was even worse then the initial incident.

Very concerned, Brandi knew this was starting to go down a bad path. She immediately made an appointment with a neurologist.   She learned the new standard of care for concussions involves three phases. The first is physical therapy, followed by mental health evaluation and a concussion clinic for cognitive therapy.

Finding the right physical therapist

Finally, an area she knew something about, physical therapy. Dr. Michael McKindley at Progressive Physical Therapy was the obvious choice. He had treated her and her whole family for years and she trusted him implicitly. But not so fast. The neurologist had his preferred clinic that had experience dealing with concussions.

A conversation between the neurologist and Michael eased the doctor’s concerns. He allowed for Brandi’s request and told her, “You have the perfect physical therapist for Connor.”

“We deal with concussions all time,” said McKindley. “We are able to treat the ocular, vestibular and balance components that most physical therapists do not have the skills to perform. Progressive Physical therapy is a physical therapy-run office, meaning we can generally get patients in same day. More importantly, we usually has the time to not only talk over issues with patients and their parents, but spend time on education and calling the physician to discuss progress.”

Within a week some of the symptoms started to resolve 

The duo started making the trip from Lake Forest and in just two weeks, Connor’s physical therapy progressed rapidly. Within a few days he was back in school. By the end of the first week he was able to complete full days of school and was catching up on homework from the time he was forced to take off. Even though he felt like he was ready to go back to school, he wasn’t quite ready to return to sports.

Within one week Connor’s ocular symptoms from the concussion (difficulty reading, light sensitivity and unable to follow moving objects without getting a headache or nausea) was over. Yet, he still was getting headaches with aerobic activity. The second week his program was able to progress with specific aerobic exercises to increase his activity level while reducing his headaches. After two weeks and four visits he was released back to sport.

A big part of Connor’s rehab was homework that was designed to challenge his ocular system, proprioception (balance) and aerobic output.

“Connor was so diligent about doing his exercises at home,” Brandi said. “One of them was focusing on an Ace of Hearts card. Connor took it with him everywhere and even did it in the car. I am so proud of how hard he worked

“It wasn’t easy,” she continued. “Keeping a 14-year-old calm and quiet for nearly three weeks is not an easy task, especially when he keeps saying, ‘I’m fine Mom, really, I’m fine.’ It really tried my patience and my husband as well. We were and are only looking out for his best interest even though he was angry and frustrated.”

Physical activity added after three weeks and progress continued 

By the end of three weeks, Michael had Connor doing physical activity for the first time. He was running and doing squats to make sure he was ready to return to wrestling.Once he was able to perform these exercises symptom free. Michael had a follow up conversation with the neurologist and together they agreed, Connor was cleared to return to his sport.

In typical Southern California fashion, Connor wasted no time getting on his new skateboard that sat idle in house as he recovered.

“Connor progressed quickly, because he listened and did exactly what we instructed him to do,” Michael added. “He not only wanted to get back to wrestling, but he wanted to ride his skateboard. Within three weeks of starting physical therapy he was able to complete all his schoolwork, wrestle and ride his skateboard.”

Five weeks after the initial incident, Connor was back wrestling again. A decision Brandi did not take lightly.

“It was hard”, Brandi said. “It was scarier for my mom than it was for me. I was thinking what if it happens again? We put our trust in Michael and the neurologist, who said he was cleared to play. If he has a second one, we know it’s a big deal and then we’ll re-evaluate.

“This has also taught Connor some great lessons on how to be aggressive, but smarter. He is more aware of what he is doing and not doing some of the stupid things boys do at his age. During the match, he got a little nauseous and stopped. He knew enough to rest for about 20 or 30 minutes until it passed. It makes me feel a lot better that he has learned from this and knows his limits.”

The journey back to recovery and the learning process 

By the end of three weeks, Michael had Connor doing physical activity for the first time. He was running and doing squats to make sure he was ready to return to wrestling.Once he was able to perform these exercises symptom free. Michael had a follow up conversation with the neurologist and together they agreed, Connor was cleared to return to his sport.

In typical Southern California fashion, Connor wasted no time getting on his new skateboard that sat idle in house as he recovered.

“Connor progressed quickly, because he listened and did exactly what we instructed him to do,” Michael added. “He not only wanted to get back to wrestling, but he wanted to ride his skateboard. Within three weeks of starting physical therapy he was able to complete all his schoolwork, wrestle and ride his skateboard.”

Five weeks after the initial incident, Connor was back wrestling again. A decision Brandi did not take lightly.

“It was hard”, Brandi said. “It was scarier for my mom than it was for me. I was thinking what if it happens again? We put our trust in Michael and the neurologist, who said he was cleared to play. If he has a second one, we know it’s a big deal and then we’ll re-evaluate.

“This has also taught Connor some great lessons on how to be aggressive, but smarter. He is more aware of what he is doing and not doing some of the stupid things boys do at his age. During the match, he got a little nauseous and stopped. He knew enough to rest for about 20 or 30 minutes until it passed. It makes me feel a lot better that he has learned from this and knows his limits.”

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