Invisible Injuries

New club aims to discuss concussions

Steph Nanos (left) and Julia Hamer are the co-presidents of the Queen’s Concussion Awareness Committee.
Steph Nanos (left) and Julia Hamer are the co-presidents of the Queen’s Concussion Awareness Committee.
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Steph Nanos had to give up sports in high school because of concussions.

Now, she’s heading up a group intent on changing perceptions. Nanos, ArtSci ’16, is one of two co-presidents of the Queen’s Concussion Awareness Committee, a club founded last year to lend support to students who have suffered a concussion — and challenge any misunderstandings about the injury.

Nanos and Co-President Julia Hamer started the club last year, and while Hamer hasn’t suffered concussions, she’s had several people she knows deal with them.

“We just aim to bring awareness to an invisible injury, where a lot of people feel alone because there are so many misconceptions,” Nanos said. “We just want to act as a breath of fresh air — making sure people know there are resources on campus, that they’re not alone.”

The club is the first on campus to deal with the day-to-day impact concussions have on individuals. Unlike injuries like fractures or sprains, concussions don’t have obvious physical symptoms, making them more difficult to notice.

Nanos’ concussions occurred when she was playing hockey — a sport she eventually had to quit due to multiple head injuries — and caused her to suffer from brain damage and mood disorders.

At the time, rest was the prevailing treatment for dealing with a concussion. While Nanos did this, she noticed changes in her behaviour, mood and her general cognitive functions.

As she did more research on the topic, she found out that depression, anxiety and other long-term effects could arise from concussions.

“With some people, especially we’ve noticed on campus, they’ll say ‘I’m feeling sad after my concussion, is that normal?’ Yes, it’s normal,” Nanos said. “But not a lot of people would know that. So it’s really, really important to put up personal stories because it kind of challenges the stigma.”

Nanos said one thing the club wants to work on is creating resources — such as tips on what do after suffering a concussion — to allow injured students to return to day-to-day life “The entire concept is how to return to a healthy lifestyle,” she said. “How to contact your TAs and professors, should you be drinking. Things that would involve a university student’s lifestyle because that’s what we’re dealing with.

“I just genuinely hope [the committee] has a positive effect on people’s lives and that people don’t feel so alone,” Nanos said. “I felt alone when I had mine and I just don’t want other people to feel alone.”

Last March, the club held a speaker event — something the group is seeking to do again this year, involving students, medical staff and former professional athletes. As well they help point people in the right direction towards getting help.

The committee isn’t connected to Athletics and Recreation, but on an individual level, several varsity athletes have supported the club, including current vice-president and former men’s hockey player Jordan Auld.

While athletes are often at risk for concussions, Hamer said the club is for anyone who might suffer a concussion.

“We hope to reach all the Queen’s community,” Hamer, ArtSci ’15, said. “That includes Queen’s varsity athletes, or athletes in general who might be at higher risk of concussions. It includes non-athletes who might not think if they fall and hit their head on the curb they could be concussed. They need to think about that the same way a football or hockey player would.

“I would love for us to be sustainable enough to keep going, to keep having the strength we have now,” she added. “And to eventually be able to make a chip in the mentality that exists now. I think we’re off to a good start there.”

A Personal Concussion Story

When I suffered what I believe was my only concussion, I wasn’t even aware of it.

I was in grade 12 at the time and was clearing pucks out of the net during warm-ups for my hockey team. A teammate of mine fired a shot that hit my helmet and dented my protective cage.

Not once did I think about the possibility of a concussion.

After all, the shot didn’t seem like it did any damage. I’d been knocked woozy from hits before while playing hockey, but that time, I hadn’t suffered any injury.

I played the remainder of the game, taking an elbow to the side of the head in the first period, but never felt like I was injured.

The next morning, I suffered from a pounding headache and felt sluggish throughout the day. While others were concerned about the possibility of a concussion, I strongly believed I was fine. Simply put, I wasn’t.

I was hit on a Sunday; on Tuesday, I was nauseous, dizzy and sensitive to light. I missed three days of school, and still only felt about 90 per cent healthy when I came back.

I took a week off hockey, and while I was healthy enough to return at that time, I probably would have done so regardless. I strongly believed in playing through pain, whether it’s a broken ankle or a concussion.

My physical symptoms went away quickly, but the invisible symptoms that come along with concussions remained. My memory hasn’t been quite the same since I was hit, and I still struggle to maintain my focus today.

At my worst, I occasionally blank on simple things, such as what a blender is called.

It’s a scary thing to go through, especially because there aren’t a lot of places to get help when these things happen.

I’m lucky that my concussion wasn’t as severe as those of many others, and that I don’t suffer from my symptoms to the extent where I can no longer deal with day-to-day life. That said, I know the risk exists for additional concussions in my future.

I hope I’m fortunate enough to avoid that situation. More than any broken bone, a brain injury is much harder to fix.

Sean Sutherland

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