Falmouth athlete triumphs over concussion symptoms
There's no such thing as a mild concussion.
Just ask Tim Greene.
In August, Greene, a 16-year-old sophomore at Falmouth High School, suffered what was believed to be a "mild concussion" in a junior varsity football game.
Then, for months, he could barely function.
Luckily, this story has a happy ending, thanks in large part to Greene's perseverance combined with a unique post-concussion approach taken by Rob Sullivan of Port City Physical Therapy and Dr. John Vogt, of Martin's Point.
In the dark
Prior to getting hurt last summer, Greene was a high-functioning student-athlete, but his life changed dramatically after he continued to play and practice.
"Tim was slurring his words, staring into space," said his mother, Dawn Greene.
Sullivan, the athletic trainer at Falmouth High, was asked to check on Greene and was disturbed by his examination.
"I did an Impact test, which is a computerized cognitive test, and his scores were horrible," Sullivan recalled.
Two days later, Greene went to see Dr. Vogt, who confirmed that there was a serious problem.
"I could see he was off," Dr. Vogt said. "He had difficulty walking and had memory lapses. Those are classic post-concussion symptoms. It was mystifying at the time that such a mild hit led to such a dramatic result. It demonstrated that it doesn't take much to incur a serious injury. Kids normally progress quickly, but Tim stayed at a level of significant impairment."
The majority of sports-related concussion patients are expected to recover within seven to 10 days, but for nearly three months, Greene's life spiraled downward. His memory got worse, headaches persisted and he couldn't focus on his schoolwork. All of that, combined with his forced exclusion from athletics, led to depression.
"Various neurologists said I'd feel better, but months went by and nothing improved," Greene said. "I felt worse for my Mom than for me."
"This honors student couldn't handle more than two classes," Dr. Vogt said. "Months passed with no real changes. If anything, there was some deterioration. We needed to some kind of intervention."
On Nov. 24 of last year, Greene came to see Sullivan.
"Rob hadn't seen Tim in awhile and I saw his jaw drop," Dawn Greene said. "It was a particularly bad day."
Sullivan ran a Fall Risk Assessment and discovered that Greene had the balance of an 105-year-old man.
At that point, the group decided to take a different approach. While post-concussion syndrome victims are usually encouraged to rest, Sullivan and Dr. Vogt determined that secondary symptoms of fatigue and reactive depression had set in. Greene, they believed, needed physical activity.
"We bit the bullet and said we have to change it and I told Rob to do as much (physical therapy) as (Tim) could tolerate," explained Dr. Vogt. "I knew if we could get him in a physical program, it would have a positive effect."
Port City Physical Therapy began a regulated post-concussion exercise program and Greene was the first patient. He immediately showed positive results.
"We started with 10 minutes of exercise," Sullivan said. "We progressed pretty fast. I saw him three times a week. When we realized he could handle it, it was no holds barred. In a couple weeks, his personality came back. By Jan. 4, his Fall Risk Assessment was back in his age range. He was showing tangible results."
The improvement was noticeable at home as well.
"(The physical therapy) helped everything," Dawn Greene said. "After five months of going to school just part-time, he started doing full days again."
Greene, finally, felt like himself.
"Once I saw I was starting to tolerate more, I felt like I was making progress," he said. "The program helped me turn the corner."
While Greene is back to 95 percent, according to Dr. Vogt, and is taking Advanced Placement classes in school, his athletic future is up in the air.
"I definitely want to play sports and I want to play football, but the doctors said I shouldn't play football," Greene said.
Dr. Vogt said that the main reason for that is that concussions are so prevalent in younger athletes and that each successive concussion is exponentially more harmful than the last.
"Concussions are much more significant in the younger athletic population," Dr. Vogt said. "They're so competitive. If Tim had another serious concussion, the rate of recovery would be very difficult. The adolescent brain has a long way to go. The vulnerability to concussion is much more serious. The brain doesn't fully develop until the mid-20s. Tim hopefully has 75 years of life left. Playing is a decision he'll have to make."
Greene has accepted, for the most part, that he can't play football, but he can play basketball and will look to continue to author his inspirational story.
"I feel like I'm a lot better than I was," Greene said. "I think I probably won't be able to go back to football, but I want to try basketball. I have plenty of gas left in the athletic tank. The question is, can my head handle it?"
Everyone involved with Falmouth High and with youth sports fervently hopes that the answer is a resounding yes.
For more information, please contact Port City Physical Therapy at 797-7578 or portcitypt.com.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org