Kristen Falcinelli’s Concussion Story
I am a 22 year old from Silver Spring, MD and graduated from the University of New England.
|Sport||Years Played||Highest Level of Competition|
I have had 4 diagnosed concussions and don’t beieve to have had any undiagnosed concussions with my longest recovery being 6-9 months.
All four of my concussions were sustained playing indoor volleyball, with the second and fourth ones being the worst. I got my first two concussions in high school, my third in college, and my fourth shortly after graduating from college. I suffered my second concussion towards the end of my senior year of high school and fractured my upper jaw in the process. I dove for a ball, missed, and got hit in the face with the ball as my head hit the floor. As a result, I missed nearly two months of school and barely finished all the assignments I had missed in time to graduate. After that concussion, I developed anxiety which caused or worsened other problems, but I did not realize that until my 4th concussion.
I got my 4th concussion in October 2018, playing in a competitive adult league co-ed volleyball game. A ball came off the net weird, and in the process of diving for it I managed to get hit with the ball and punch myself in the face. I did not think I had a concussion until I went to the doctor the next day to see if I had a broken nose, as my face was swollen and I thought my headache was a result of that. At first, the doctor thought it was only a mild concussion, but it turned out to be much more serious. I was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome a few weeks into recovery, and I still struggle with it. Because this is my fourth concussion and I have had two very serious ones, I am not allowed to return to playing sports.
I have seen several specialists including a neuropsychiatrist, neuro-optometrist, and a cardiologist specializing in nervous system disorders. I have also gone through vestibular and physical therapy and am still in occupational therapy. Besides struggling with post-concussion syndrome, I have been diagnosed with convergence insufficiency and dysautonomia. Convergence insufficiency means I have trouble seeing three dimensions and focusing on objects as they get closer to me. It can also cause problems with reading comprehension, which probably explains why I never liked reading and always had to take excessive notes on readings in college. My doctors think that before all my concussions I had been able to compensate for this, but repeated concussions have made my convergence insufficiency much worse.
Dysautonomia is an autonomic nervous system disorder, which can cause problems in regulating things like heart beat. I was diagnosed with a heart problem related to my nervous system shortly after my second concussion, and I now know that may have been triggered by concussions. Luckily, this problem did not prevent me from participating in college sports.
At this point in my recovery, I am back to working out and working full time. I am still learning to deal with post-concussion syndrome, as some days are better and some days are not so good. I’ve also had to find new things to do with my time, since sports consumed the majority of my free time before this point. Changing my lifestyle has probably been one of the most difficult things to do.
What has been the most frustrating aspect of your recovery?
Feeling helpless – not being in control
What I Would Have Done Differently
From everything I have learned over the course of my four concussions, there are a few things I would have done differently. I was a competitive soccer player growing up, and although my concussions all came from volleyball and not soccer, I headed the ball frequently. There is now evidence that this can cause injury to the brain without it being a full blown concussion. This probably made me more susceptible to getting concussions when I got older. I would not have headed the ball nearly as much, and I encourage other girls in soccer and coaches of young girls in soccer to think about whether heading the ball is really necessary. I also would have sought out more treatment for my first concussion. I was never tested for visual issues after my first concussion and I think that had I known about my convergence insufficiency, I could have avoided having more concussions by fixing it then.
Advice I Would Give To Others
If you are going through a prolonged concussion recovery right now, do not get discouraged. I know that is much easier said than done, but there is so much more knowledge about concussions and how to recover from them. Listen to your doctors and follow their advice. Even though you may not want to do some of the things they suggest, you’ll be much better off and make a fuller recovery in the long run. Concussions and the lasting effects are much more common than you may think. You may have a teammate, or a friend, or a friend of a friend who has gone through something similar and could be someone to talk to. Do not be afraid to reach out for help.
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