Teen athlete creates concussion guide and website to help others
By Greg Bach
Koby Bernstein sustained his first concussion during a basketball game mid-way through his ninth-grade year after colliding with an opposing player during a game.
And the following year, during varsity basketball tryouts, he suffered his second concussion that ended his season before it ever had a chance to get started.
The lengthy recovery process the New York teen endured required staying away from headache-inducing television, laptop and phone screens; getting out of bed and chairs slowly to combat dizziness; and not being able to handle a full day of school for three months.
It was a scary, frustrating and confusing time in the teen’s life, and he’s doing everything he can now to help others who are navigating the complexities of concussions and searching for answers in their lives, too.
The 17-year-old created A Concussion Guide For Teens By a Teen, which features valuable information on everything from symptoms and myths to prevention and recovery; he started a website: www.simplyconcussions.com; and you can follow him on Instagram at: simplyconcussions.
We caught up with Koby, this year’s youth honoree of the Brain Injury Association of New York, to find out about his recovery, what he has learned through the process, and the outstanding work he is doing to help others:
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Tell us about that first concussion and what the recovery process was like?
KOBY: My first concussion happened playing basketball. It was during my first year of high school. I collided with an opposing player. The next day, during my last class of the day, I started to not feel well. I developed all kinds of symptoms, including a headache, nausea, dizziness, and most of all was just not feeling right. I was concussed. I was sensitive to light, sounds and movement. My entire system was off. It took one month to be symptom free and then fully back at school and sports.
My school has a formal return to play protocol that includes the following steps:
- Stationary bike: 15-20 minutes at 55-65% of maximum heart rate.
- Arc trainer: 20 minutes at 65-75% of maximum heart rate.
- Treadmill: 20-25 minutes at 75-85% of maximum heart rate.
- Non-contact practice: Drills only. No live scrimmaging.
- Full-contact practice: All portions of practice, including scrimmage situations.
- Return to games.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: How did you sustain your second concussion and how difficult was that recovery?
KOBY: My second concussion happened in 10th grade. This time, the back of my head collided with a taller player’s chin during a varsity basketball team practice. I do not recall the hit being a big deal, although I had a bump on the back of my head that night. But, the next morning I woke up and I knew I was in trouble. I had concussion symptoms which really scared me because I knew how awful it was the first time to be out of school and sports. I had no idea though that this time would be so much worse. My symptoms were worse. My anxiety about feeling concussed was high because I knew so much more about concussions and how long it takes to heal. I was out for the entire basketball season.
It was very depressing and isolating to suffer for so long. For years, my identity has been wrapped up in my athletic persona. Not being able to play sports for such a long period of time was challenging. I missed my friends, I missed the game, and I missed the athletics. Being home was not fun. I could not watch tv, look at my phone, or use my laptop without getting a headache. I stayed away from digital screens as much as possible. My brain needed to rest. Every day that I missed school, I got further behind in multiple classes. The missed work was just piling on. I slowly got back to school, but some days I could only go for one or two classes. It took several months before I was back to full days at school. It was close to four months before I was fully back at sports.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: How are you feeling these days?
KOBY: I am happy to say that I have recovered. I do, however, still have chronic pressure in my head and sinuses, as well as neck pain. I continue to treat these conditions with lots of visits to the chiropractor and I have done some acupuncture, too. I have returned to playing sports for my high school: I play varsity soccer, basketball and baseball. I have learned to be grateful for my recovery. In the process, I have gained a lot of perspective. I learned that you cannot get out of a tough situation by complaining; you have to take responsibility and action for yourself. I learned that I can be resilient.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What inspired you to create the guide and website?
KOBY: During my ordeal, I found it frustrating that it was hard to find helpful information. I also felt pretty alone and wanted to connect with people who could understand what I was going through. I felt compelled to take responsibility and to act as an agent of hope to fill a void in the concussion community. First, I created the Instagram page, Simply Concussions. From there, I developed a website, www.simplyconcussions.com.
In addition, I wanted to educate other kids who might not have much awareness about concussions – the significance of them and the importance of speaking up and being honest about your injury. I could relate to a common athlete’s worry about admitting, “I have concussion symptoms” knowing the ramifications of having to miss out on continuing to play sports for a period of time. I created the Concussion Guide for Teens to share my insights, debunk myths about concussions, and speak to kids directly about how critical it is to sit out when injured.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What’s your message to kids who are tempted to try and hide concussion symptoms to stay in the game?
KOBY: Just because you cannot see it like with a gash or broken bone, it is a very significant injury. It is much tougher and stronger of you to speak up, sit out, and allow your brain time to heal. Nobody can protect you as well as you - you have to be the one to say something. Do not try to judge the severity of your injury yourself. Always ask for help!
What a lot of teens do not know is that it is very dangerous to get a second injury while your brain is still healing from an initial injury. A repeat concussion within a short time period can slow your recovery or increase the chances for long-term problems. It is definitely better to miss one game or activity than hide it and then suffer for much longer.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What’s the key message you want teens to keep in mind?
KOBY: A traumatic brain injury is no joke. For me, it has been a nightmare. So my main message to other teens is to please take care of yourself and your teammates! Wear proper protective equipment. I started wearing a head guard to play soccer and a mouthguard to play basketball. I wanted to keep playing competitive team sports and I definitely do not ever want another concussion. These protective items may or may not help reduce my risk. There are mixed studies out there, but I want to do whatever I can to try to protect myself from another serious injury. Also, there are a lot of myths out there about concussions – I want athletes to learn the facts! I want there to be better concussion awareness so that teens can help themselves as much as possible to play safely.
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