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Junior Kalley Kragenbring (right) posed for a photo with teammate Taylor Ellingson during picture day for the Alexandria girls' hockey team earlier this season. (Contributed)
Junior Kalley Kragenbring (right) posed for a photo with teammate Taylor Ellingson during picture day for the Alexandria girls' hockey team earlier this season. (Contributed)

Kalley's challenge: Life after hockey

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Cardinals Alexandria, 56308
Alexandria Minnesota 225 7th Ave E
P.O. Box 549
56308

Editor's note: This is part two of a two-part series on how concussions suffered in hockey altered the life of Jefferson high School junior Kalley Kragenbring. Part one was published in the April 3 edition of the Echo Press.

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Kalley Kragenbring never imagined the game against Detroit Lakes where she suffered her second concussion in a span of 31 days would be her last, but as the months passed, the symptoms never diminished.

Kragenbring said she dealt with headaches and fatigue every day for six months after the second concussion. Symptoms lasting that long are rare but not unheard of and the Kragenbrings were willing to search everywhere for answers.

They met with a concussion specialist at the National Dizziness and Balance Center who mandated a technology-free life for 14 days. That meant no TV, no iPads, no cell phones and no computer. She was also kept out of school for three straight weeks last spring. Her family tried to make it a little easier on her by staying away from the same devices themselves.

"It all sucks," Kragenbring said. "Not knowing if I was ever going to feel 100 percent again. Not knowing if I was ever going to be able to stay a whole day at school. Those are the questions that I was asking last year and a little bit at the beginning of this year, too."

Months passed and another hockey season started without her when the family's concerns finally reached a breaking point in early February. Kalley had slept for the better part of two days when she joined her mom and her dad, Mark, downstairs to watch TV on a Sunday night.

She rested her head on Chris' leg and fell asleep. Her parents tried to wake her after Kalley's face started to twitch and contort as if she were in pain. Nothing worked.

Kalley was brought to the emergency room where Chris says she remained in that condition for almost an hour. Doctors ran every test imaginable after she woke up. Labs, X-rays and a CT scan all left them with more questions than answers.

"That's when we just really hit it like, 'OK, what are we going to do?' " Chris said. "The first thing was, we got to pull her from school and go back to resting her brain completely and start to work from there."

SIGNS OF PROGRESS

The Kragenbrings were willing to exhaust every option in order to gain some clarity. They contacted both the Mayo Clinic and Gillette Children's Hospital in St. Paul before setting up an EEG at Gillette on February 18. That alleviated some concerns after the test came back normal.

Kalley says the biggest relief came a few days later after a second visit with a chiropractor. She met with Dr. Bjorn Hurlen of Alexandria and got a gentle adjustment after he noticed some slight swelling at the base of her skull.

Kalley woke up early and on her own the next day. Physically, she says she has felt close to 100 percent for more than a month. Kragenbring feels the chiropractor visits have played a big part in that. The family also credits the support and prayer from family and friends, but accepting what this ultimately meant for her in hockey was a necessary step as well.

"Another thing that really helped was dealing with it emotionally," Kalley said. "I lost the thing that I loved, so I was basically depressed. That makes you tired too and to not want to do anything. After I started dealing with that, I noticed that things were getting better."

LIFE AFTER HOCKEY

Kragenbring says no matter how long she is symptom free that playing the sport she grew up loving is no longer a part of her future. She still skates with her younger cousins at Noonan Park. She loves to run and do yoga. But she will never light a lamp again or help her team to a state tournament.

"I know my limitations," Kragenbring said. "I know that I can't play hockey. I can't snowboard. I know what I can and can't do, and I've learned to accept that and find other fun stuff to do."

Getting to that point was a process that lasted as long as the headaches. Kragenbring admits that she never wanted to blend in on the ice. She wanted people to look at her, to recognize her as the hockey player when she walked through the halls at school.

Kragenbring attempted to stay involved by accepting a student manager position for the Cardinals this past season, but she quickly found that she couldn't handle going to games. She tried. Her family traveled to the season opener at North Metro on November 10. Kalley made it through the first period before breaking down emotionally.

"Don't let your identity be your sport; because mine was," Kragenbring said. "That was one of the hardest things. I felt like my identity was taken away. That was a hard thing, rebuilding that and getting my confidence back, but I feel like finally it's happened."

Kalley is slowly easing her way back into things. She plans on going back to school for three-hour days starting on Monday. She is still on pace to graduate next spring through summer courses and with the help of teachers who the family says have been instrumental in helping her stay on track.

Kragenbring recently passed a placement test at the Alexandria Technical College with a score of 92. The test is needed for high school students to take dual-credit college courses at JHS. A 78 is passing, and Kragenbring had scored in the low 60s a couple months after her second concussion. She took it again this past fall and got a 74 before passing with ease on March 19.

"We were pretty giddy leaving the technical college," Chris said. "High fives and phone calls to dad and grandma. Again, that's something that a lot of people take for granted. It's huge. When there's something concrete, it's really nice to see that and say, 'Yep, it is healing.' "

Things are starting to feel normal. It's not exactly the life Kalley had before the injuries, but Chris smiles when she says she finally has her daughter back. That's more important than anything she could have ever accomplished by getting back on the ice.

"I feel like now I'm at the point where I can give back with my experience and help younger kids or other kids who have been through this," Kalley said. "I can talk to them and tell them that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It might be really small, but it's there."

HERE'S WHAT TO LOOK FOR*

Signs observed by coaching staff:

Appears dazed or stunned

Is confused about

assignment or position

Forgets an instruction

Is unsure of game, score, or

opponent

Moves clumsily

Answers questions slowly

Loses consciousness (even briefly)

Shows mood, behavior, or

personality changes

Can't recall events prior to hit or fall

Can't recall events after hit or fall

Symptoms reported by athlete:

Headache or "pressure" in head

Nausea or vomiting

Balance problems or dizziness

Double or blurry vision

Sensitivity to light

Sensitivity to noise

Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy, or groggy

Concentration or memory

problems

Confusion

Does not "feel right" or is

"feeling down"

*Information provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention

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Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.
(320) 763-1229
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