A Follow-Up Story: 8 Years Post Concussion

An interview with Ally Crich

How long has it been since your last concussion?

My last concussion was June 4th 2010. This was my 6th concussion, which occurred while waterskiing and had a major impact on my life. Although it has been 8 years since my accident, I can close my eyes and it feels like just yesterday that everything fell apart.

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How has that concussion and recovery affected your life?

To say that this concussion had an impact on my life is an understatement! Being a high level athlete with intentions of completing my University athletic career and dreams of going to the Olympics, I never thought my journey would be cut short in such a devastating way. Everyone knows the typical symptoms experienced such as the sensitivity to light and sound, the headaches, fatigue, dizziness and inability to concentrate but they never prepare you for the unspoken ones: the anger, frustration, emptiness, anxiety, depression and the feeling that no one understands what you are going through. I spent the last 8 years of my life as a completely different person than I was before my last concussion and I know the next 60 years of it will be affected as well. The thing is recovery is different for everyone; there is no cookie cutter protocol to follow and while you’re going through recovery you are not wearing a cast on your head like if you were to break an arm. For me personally, learning to not push through my symptoms has been and continues to be the hardest adaptation to manage. Athletes are trained to push and fight through no matter what because that is how you get better and ultimately achieve your goals. However, this is not the case with your health. Ignoring the symptoms without intervention does not lead to better health outcomes. I also never wanted people to judge me or see me as weak so I would just keep going through my day until I would collapse onto the floor in a ball, crying, nauseated and unable to open my eyes because I was in so much pain and agony. These episodes of collapsing onto the floor were almost daily occurrences for the first 4 years after my accident. I finally hit a breaking point and couldn’t continue to repeat that pattern so I decided to be open to all types of treatment. Through this recovery I have done every treatment under the sun. I have done the typical therapies but also added chiropractic, gyro-stim therapy, functional neurology, supplements and countless more. All of these therapies take a time commitment and I had to learn to fit these into the normal life I was trying to maintain. Juggling all these meant making sacrifices that I am still dealing with to this day: fewer friendships, missing family events, ending competitive sports and training of any kind, relearning how to manage school and truly missing out on my 20’s. Every day is different but over time you learn your new “normal”; you surround yourself with your “team”, and this is how I have managed to still complete an Undergraduate degree and then a Doctorate degree.

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What kind of influence did educating yourself and learning from experts like Dr. Cantu and Dr. Stern have on your life?

Educating yourself is vital to your recovery! When mine happened, concussions and post-concussion syndrome were relatively new which meant that my mother and I had to be the “quarterbacks” of my recovery. We would spend hours researching therapies that could possibly help and finding providers in our area to give each one a shot. As I stated earlier, I have tried pretty much every therapy there is and through this I was able to construct my recovery team. Ultimately this led to me sharing my story and experiences on stage at conferences which allowed me to cross paths with Dr. Stern, Dr. Cantu and the Concussion Legacy Foundation. Learning from experts in the field will allow you to construct your team much faster and more efficiently than when I went through it. The quote of “stand on the shoulders of giants” rings true with these two amazing doctors as they have the experience and expertise in this ever changing field. The Concussion Legacy Foundation allows us all to connect, share our experiences and be reminded that we are not alone in this journey. Do not hesitate to reach out to any of us that have shared out stories on here. We are here for you and truly want to help you in any way we can.

What has the transition from student to working life been like?

The transition from student to working life has been rough. When I was not feeling well during school I could make the choice to stay home to rest/recover and catch up on that class at a different time. Now I have my own practice and patients that are depending on me being there and I always have to show up even if I feel ill that day. Being a chiropractor, I have to put a lot of energy into my patients and have had to learn ways to refill my proverbial bucket to be able to serve all of my patients even when I feel empty. Learning this new balancing act has been quite difficult, with a few flare ups of symptoms but every day is a new journey and over time I will figure out this new normal as well.

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Knowing what you know now, how might you have changed your approach to concussion recovery?

Looking back after all these years there are a few things I would do differently if I had to go through it again. I never took an extended break from school to heal my brain, partially because I was never forced to by my doctors and partially because I had too much pride to “slow down and be behind my friends.” I feel this would have benefited me greatly in order to rest my brain. Surrounding yourself with supportive and understanding family and friends is vital to your mental health during recovery. Having to stop all the activities I loved and that defined me was extremely depressing. Having a circle of support during these dark moments kept me moving forward when all I wanted to do was close my eyes and never wake up. Lastly, having someone you trust to be your advocate at all of your appointments is pivotal. When concussed we tend not to think clearly. Our emotions are all over the place throughout recovery and we tend to make rash decisions that are not always in our best interest.

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What is your advice/words of wisdom to others who have experienced a concussion?

My words of wisdom for anyone who experiences a concussion is to believe yourself and listen to what your body is telling you. Everyone’s experience with this invisible injury is different; you have to be strong enough to know that the symptoms you are experiencing are real and brave enough to go through the proper recovery to regain your health. Reach out to the resources around you, take the time you need and let go of the people in your life that don’t support you. Your life will always be impacted by your injury but you will learn a new normal and it is all going to be okay! Athletics and competition were always a part of my life before my concussion, so I have still found a way to keep them in my life even now. After a lot of trial and error with sports and activities like rock climbing, kick boxing, running, biking, volleyball, golf… the list goes on… I was unable to find an activity that I could perform symptom-free. That is, until I recently took up curling as a fun hobby that allows me to still be competitive yet has minimal risk of head contact and doesn’t exacerbate any of my symptoms!

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As a practicing chiropractor, do you now have patients who have experienced concussions? What has that been like, going from patient to teacher?

Having chosen the holistic/chiropractic route versus the medical route was one of the best decisions I have made. As a practicing Chiropractor with my concussion history, my patients with similar issues definitely hold a special place in my heart. Going from patient to teacher has been an easier transition than expected. I believe that is because I have been given the opportunity to share my story and when I have a patient on my table, it is just another way to support this community. I have recently been in their shoes, I know their struggles and I am able to share what helped me which will hopefully help them as well!

My goal is to one day own a clinic that specializes in post-concussion recovery with all therapies in one place to make recovery seamless for anyone who experiences a concussion. This facility would be founded on co-management and would remove the inter-professional communication issues many patients have dealt with.

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Jeff Brooks