Kalley's Challenge: Concussions cut short career
Editor's note: This is part one of a two-part series on how two concussions suffered in hockey have altered the life of Jefferson High School junior Kalley Kragenbring
More than 14 months have passed and Alexandria's Kalley Kragenbring can finally live her life again.
Not the way it once was. Not as the hockey star that some people knew her as before two concussions altered her life in ways that she never thought possible. But for the past month, Kragenbring has woken up in the morning without the physical and emotional exhaustion that drained her for the better part of a year.
"There were days when I thought that's how I was going to feel for the rest of my life," she said. "But now I know that I can feel better, and other kids should be able to know that too. It will eventually get better. It's so hard going through it, but it's worth sticking it out."
There was a time when getting better for Kragenbring wasn't complete unless it meant getting back on the ice. She joined hockey as a 3rd-grader and by the time she reached high school she was drawing hockey sticks after every one of her signatures.
Kragenbring, now 17 years old and a junior at Jefferson High School, seemed well on her way to being one of the next big names in a proud Alexandria varsity program. Her teammates respected her enough to name her the team MVP as just a freshman in 2011. More than even the numbers she put up, it was the way she affected those around her that helped make her stand out.
"One thing that makes teams competitive is having players that play with intensity and a fire and a passion," Alexandria head coach Andy Shriver said of Kragenbring's style. "Partly because it makes them very effective in games, but it's contagious having players that play like that. When you have that, it filters into everyone else's game, too."
Kragenbring admits today that playing with that kind of fire sometimes meant playing rough. Her mother, Chris Kragenbring, says she worried about that from the time she was little. Chris always left her with the same message before every game - "Play like a crazy lady but don't get hurt."
THE INITIAL HIT
Kalley had heeded that advice leading up to a game against River Lakes on January 17, 2012. Alexandria was on its way to a third straight win that night when Kragenbring was checked by an opposing player and knocked to the ground. Her head hit the ice, but she didn't notice any immediate consequences and ended up finishing the game.
It wasn't until the next morning that the common concussion symptoms hit her hard. Kragenbring awoke feeling fatigued and with a severe headache. She slept almost constantly for the next three days. Almost a month passed before she was given the OK to play again in the playoff opener after passing her baseline ImPACT test and getting cleared by a doctor.
Kragenbring was thrilled to be back as her team played in the Section 6A title game on February 17 against Detroit Lakes. Alexandria was down 1-0 with almost 10 minutes left as she shot down the ice along the benches. Kragenbring didn't see anything coming before she collided with a Lakers player who was coming into the game on a line change.
"It was just a bizarre thing in the natural flow of the game," Shriver said. "It was on a change so the play was going north-south and the player was going east-west. It just made for a bad-chance collision."
Kragenbring was lying unconscious on the ice as a trainer kneeled over her. Minutes passed before she was finally helped to her feet and taken to the locker room where she was diagnosed with another concussion. She still doesn't remember much of what happened next, other than being brought to the emergency room after hugging her teammates after the game.
"Even in the state of mind she was in, she was begging to go back out and play," Chris said. "She just said, 'My team needs me.' She was just adamant about getting back out on the ice, so it was very emotional and difficult."
Kalley was still begging her parents to let her back on the ice as a new season approached almost nine months later. Even then, she wasn't quite ready to admit that she would never play another hockey game.
FACTS ABOUT CONCUSSIONS*
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that can change the way the brain normally works.
Every year, at least 1.7 million TBIs occur either as an isolated
injury or along with other injuries.
Overall, the activities associated with the greatest number
of TBI-related emergency visits included bicycling, football,
playground activities, basketball and soccer.
Headache and dizziness are the most commonly reported
symptoms immediately following concussions for athletes.
The severity of a TBI range from "mild" to "severe" and should
all be treated seriously. TBIs can cause a wide range of
functional short or long-term changes affecting thinking,
sensation, language or emotions.
*Center for Disease Control and Prevention