“How I Survived” with Brendan Verrier

Tune in and listen to traumatic brain injury survivor Brendan Verrier, share his story about how he was able to overcome his traumatic brain injury!

Brendan Verrier is from Perth, Western Australia and suffered from post-concussion syndrome for about 18 months after having 6 concussions throughout his career. He played Australian rules football in a semi-professional competition and when he received a concussion he had no clear pathway for support and now wants to help others that are going through the same thing!

Check out Brendan’s Instagram page @inbetweentheears

Madison’s Story

I’ve trained in martial arts almost my whole life. I also compete in Olympic style Taekwondo. Unfortunately, in the spring of 2018 after an intense training schedule for national level competitions, I started having horrible headaches, severe fatigue, speech/memory problems, sound/light sensitivity, irritability, anxiety, vision disturbances, difficulties making decisions, tinnitus, and vertigo symptoms. After being misdiagnosed with Vertigo twice at the ER, I was finally diagnosed with PCS and admitted in the hospital for 3 days for monitoring. I was then released to struggle with a new reality. I had never heard of post concussion syndrome before, but it’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever experienced. The sudden shift from being a national level athlete to needing to be walked to the bathroom so I didn’t fall was a huge and scary transition. It caused me to have depression and constant anxiety because it was extremely difficult for me to be at such a low activity level after being such an outgoing person. 

For the first 3 months I slept in a dark room 16 hours a day because of my migraines, brain fog, and fatigue. Day by day I would set a huge goal for myself like sitting outside for 10 minutes or walking to the end of my street and back. I slowly worked my way from no walking or physical activity whatsoever to being able to go on longer walks each day. Eventually I could do light resistance exercises and an hour long walk. It has been a crazy roller coaster of progress. One day I’d be the best I’d been since the concussion, then the next couple days would be intensely painful and I had to rest. It’s been a long process of exposing myself to a difficult activity then completely resting when I had symptoms.

I wish there was more awareness about concussions and brain injuries in the sports and medical communities. I felt so alone as an athlete in the beginning until I found a  PCS support group on Facebook. It’s scary to go through the pain of PCS and not have very many clear answers about treatments or recovery. Through my neurologist I was finally referred to try something besides strict rest. I was referred to start physical, vestibular, and cognitive therapy. I started physical therapy to try dry needling for my shoulders and neck. It helped reduce the frequency of my migraines, but I still had many symptoms. Vestibular therapy has been very helpful. Even though it was extremely difficult at first, vestibular therapy has helped me improve my balance, vision disturbances, and even helped my fatigue since I’m re-training my nervous system. Cognitive therapy is helping me with my memory, problem solving, and attention deficits due to the concussion. To be able to work with people who not only acknowledges your symptoms, but understands how to treat them has been such a blessing. Find someone who understands this condition. Each injury is different and the therapies and time needed to heal are different for everyone. There are people out there who can help you get your life back, you just have to be strong and advocate for yourself and keep pushing until you find the right team to treat you. I am currently 10 months into PCS, but after a long journey with lots of patience, determination, and therapies, I’m starting to see the light at the end of the dark tunnel that is PCS.

Margot’s Story

Last October, I was jumping my horse and made a slight mistake. Unfortunately, this mistake resulted in the horse coming to a complete stop in front of a fence, and launching me across to the other side. I ended up hitting the ground head first. I felt okay, proceeded to get back on, and continue my work. The next day, I woke up with a terrible headache, dizziness and nausea. I couldn’t read, speak, or listen to music for more than few second before feeling very sick. It took me a while to figure out that I might have sustained a concussion, but once I did, I immediately went to a local emergency room where I was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

My neurological symptoms went away very quickly, and I had normal cognitive function back within two weeks; however, I suffered severe chronic headaches that seemed to be unrelated to any triggers for four months. The headaches would come randomly and made life very difficult. After talking with my physician, I began to use a combination of acupuncture, massage, and physical exercise and after starting this program, I noticed a significant difference in the frequency and severity of my headaches. I became completely headache free after two months! I am now totally healed and am taking precautions in my riding to make sure I minimize my risk for more head injuries.

Renee’s Story

My name is Renee and I am an 18 year old girl from New Zealand. I love running, playing soccer, studying and hanging out with friends. So of course it was the first two that caused my downfall. As you can imagine I felt like a shell of myself, not being able to participate in the activities I love after I sustained the concussions two weeks apart, on 31st May 2017 and 17th June 2017. 

I received the first injury running in PE class, where I slipped on wet concrete and fell face first down a hill. I refused to believe I was concussed and continued to study and play sports, despite the migraines that followed me around for the next two weeks. My second concussion occurred in a soccer game. I was a starting player who was generally kept on for the whole game because my team was always short on defensive players. The entire game my head was pounding, I couldn’t see well, had poor reflexes and I just wanted to be subbed off; which I now recognise as common concussion symptoms. The moment came when myself and an opposing girl a lot bigger than I was were sprinting at full force towards the ball. If she reached the ball before I did she would almost definitely score the winning goal. Time almost slowed in those moments and even 20 months later I remember it so clearly. I knew it would be my last play of the game before I likely fainted, but I am the type of player who will quite literally put my body on the line for my team. We collided with each other at full force, and I was thrown backwards, smacking my head on the ground. I lay there for about 5 minutes drifting in and out of consciousness, and remember trying to tell my teammates to stop screaming at the ref but I was so exhausted that no words could form. I was taken to the hospital immediately and diagnosed with a mild concussion, (but hey, at least I managed to get to the ball first!) and even though it was my second knock there was still an expected healing time of around 4 weeks. 

The first 2 months were the hardest. Doctors put me on complete bed rest when they noticed I wasn’t healing and I couldn’t do any activities I previously enjoyed. I was meant to be going on a soccer trip to Australia with the First XI at school but had to cancel, which was heartbreaking. Some of the symptoms I experienced were headaches, noise & light sensitivity, fatigue, vision problems, difficulty concentrating, motion sickness and in-coordination. An example that comes to mind was when I wanted to make a salad, so I grabbed some lettuce with one hand, then a cucumber with the other. My hand suddenly relaxed and I dropped the lettuce because my brain was so focused on holding the cucumber. This was a very eye-opening experience because it showed me how much my body was altered by the concussions, and how far I still had to recover. For reference, a baby will usually learn to hold an object in each hand by four-six months old, so my lack of that skill was quite concerning at the time. At this point I became depressed and knew I couldn’t recover on my own so we started a concussion rehabilitation program in effort to get back into my usual activities. This was when I found out I had post concussion syndrome which I was relieved to hear because it meant I wasn’t alone; there were other people going through the exact same thing. 

The next 16 months had the exact same focus: getting me back into (and passing) school. I attended appointments with general practitioners, behavioral optometrists, an ophthalmologist, occupational therapists, massages, a health school program, holistic healing, reiki, neuro-physiologist and I’m yet to see a neurologist. Though I managed to complete Year 12, I did eventually hit a plateau in my senior year. Going from pre-concussions A’s to failing was a big blow to my study-loving self. I became sick of the pain from school – all I wanted to focus on was exercise. To me it didn’t make sense that I could recover by sitting in insane symptom stimuli – a busy, loud classroom doing math and sciences (environments NOT easy on the brain). But time and time again my request to change the focus to exercise was declined by the rehabilitation program: I could only settle for 20 minute walks with my heart rate not exceeding 105bpm. The problem was this was because I hadn’t done any exercise at all since before the concussions, my heart rate while walking around my house was reaching 100bpm. So 105bpm was reached pretty quickly. All the while I was googling recovery stories and trying to implement survivors techniques, but it seemed no one had been knocked quite like me. 

I became restless and decided to take matters into my own hands to restart my fitness journey through a resistance based workout program (exactly what I had been advised not to do). It was on January 6th that I discovered @concussionbegone on Instagram. This was one day before Nicole launched the blog, which whether coincidence or fate, I was drawn to her journey. The most interesting post I came across was “Exercise to Recovery”. I have always known in my heart that exercise is what my injury needed to heal. The workout program provided is similar to the resistance based program I had already purchased, and three weeks into the program I am already feeling SO much better. I am now able to do 3-4 big things per day (eg: making lunch, shopping, unpacking dishwasher, going out for meals, etc), as opposed to the 0-2 things I have been able to do for the past 20 months. It can still feel impossible at times but taking the time to invest in your health is the most important thing in the world. The hardest part of my concussion is helping people to understand my daily life when they themselves have never experienced a brain injury. My friends and family are extremely supportive, but the support from a community of people, all at different stages, who let me know I’m not alone is the most inspiring part of it all. I am not fully recovered, but I know in my heart there can be a future without symptoms for all of us. 

Renee & Best-friend
(December 2018)