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Coming back from concussions

Morgan Craig is pictured with Dr. Ted Carrick, chief of clinical neurology at the Carrick Brain Center in Marietta, Georgia. The center has been influential in Craig’s ongoing recovery from her concussions. (Contributed)

Heading into a junior varsity soccer game in the fall of 2012, Morgan Craig had no idea that a couple accidental shots to the left side of her head would forever change her life.

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Those hits to the head would later be diagnosed as a double concussion, the effects of which still follow her to this day.

Craig was a sophomore at Jefferson High School in 2012 and played for the Cardinals junior varsity soccer team.

During a Fergus Falls away game in September, Craig took a shot to her left eye as she and another player both tried to play a ball. The eyebrow visibly started to swell and turn black, and she made the decision to check out of the game. There was no athletic trainer at the game, and her symptoms were not immediately recognized as those of a concussion.

Craig went back into the game, and 20 minutes later she again smacked heads with another player. She still finished the rest of the game, and Craig returned to school on Friday not knowing that she had suffered two concussions only minutes apart. Later that day she even participated in a team practice.

“I just felt kind of weird all day, and my head hurt,” Craig said. “Since I got hit so hard twice, I thought it was normal.”

Throughout the weekend she continued to feel the symptoms of a concussion. After going to school on Monday and not feeling well at a soccer practice, Craig finally sought out the school athletic trainer for advice. He informed her that she likely suffered a concussion and advised her to get a further medical evaluation.

At a local clinic, a doctor diagnosed the concussion, but she still had plenty of unanswered questions.

“They just gave me some pain medicine and told me to lay off electronics and sleep as much as possible,” Craig said.

Her symptoms continued through 2012 and into 2013, eventually causing her to miss a number of days at school.

Craig went to a concussion clinic in the Twin Cities and the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital, but tests revealed no explanation to her symptoms.

Aside from feeling strange, she suffered from severe headaches and uncontrollable shaking. One of her pupils was dilated and the right side of her face appeared to sit higher than the left, which neurologists later would inform her was caused by nerve damage.

“I went to neurologists, but they kept giving me more medicine,” Craig said. “They couldn’t really explain my symptoms and why I was having them, just that eventually they would go away.”

Progress was made when she saw a functional neurologist in Fergus Falls, who referred her to one of the most respected brain centers in the country.

Craig finally received answers to her questions about her concussion symptoms from a neurologist at the Carrick Brain Center in Marietta, Georgia, which is a suburb of Atlanta. The Carrick Brain Center is a referral-only brain health institution that works with people ranging from professional athletes to children.

When she arrived on the center’s campus last fall on November 18, Dr. Ted Carrick, the chief of clinical neurology, informed her about what was really happening. She discovered that the concussions, along with a newly diagnosed neck injury, were causing her to suffer small seizures.

“They came up with the conclusion that I was having mini seizures, and those seizures were creating my headaches,” Craig said. “They also noticed that my eyes were off centered, and that they weren’t working together because of how I got hit on my left side.”

Finally having answers about the concussions was a relief to Craig, but this new understanding was also unsettling after living with those symptoms for a year.

“It felt good to know what was wrong, but also kind of scary,” she said. “Seizure is kind of a big word to be thrown at.”

Jefferson High School friend and classmate Gretchen Watkins has seen Craig’s entire journey of recovery from the concussions. Both have joined the school’s golf team this spring, helping Craig return to an athletic setting alongside her classmates.

“As a friend, it’s been really hard to see Morgan at such all-time lows,” Watkins said. “There’s been so much good out of this, too, getting the opportunity to go down to Georgia and see the best doctors. That’s been really happy.”

Today the concussion symptoms sometimes cause Craig to be overwhelmed if too many people are talking to her at once. Bright lights can be too much for her to handle, and a room filled with commotion can leave her overstimulated. Her mother, Sarah Craig, said often it is difficult for people to fully understand these difficulties.

“Things like that, people don’t realize what that person is going through,” Sarah said.

What Craig hopes today is that other people do not have to fight through the same concussion problems that she has. Craig has struggled through the low points after pondering the avoidable situation of suffering concussions only minutes apart. She is glad to see the increased concussion awareness in athletics today, but also struggles with the “what ifs.”

“It’s kind of hard though, it should have been here like two years ago,” Craig said.

She continues to recover from the concussions symptoms and is still on track to graduate after missing many days of school. Today, Craig usually attends four of the seven JHS class periods, but she is hopeful to return to full days this fall for her senior year.

Currently, she spends three hours a day working on brain and rehabilitation exercises designed by Carrick. The exercises are designed to help the left and right side of the brain work together and rehabilitate damage caused by seizures to Craig’s left side.

Doctors hope to someday have her return to an almost normal life, like the one she had before two accidental bumps changed her life in 2012.

“They said I won’t ever be 100 percent, but they are like, ‘you’ll be 99 percent,’” Craig said. “Hopefully in the future I won’t have headaches, but I still will have bad days.”

Craig will never be able to play soccer again due to the risks of suffering another concussion. This has been a disappointment after she played soccer for almost nine years.

“As a mom, I would do anything to be patching up the walls from Morgan kicking around her soccer ball,” Sarah Craig said. “Never did we realize what all this concussion has taken away from her. My advice to any parent would be that if their student ends up with one concussion, to be done with the season for the year. The risks are just not worth it.”

Blaze Fugina

Blaze Fugina is the sports editor of the Woodbury and South Washington County Bulletin newspapers. Previously, Blaze worked as a sports editor for the Pierce County Herald and a sports reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in May of 2011. You can follow Blaze on Twitter at @BlazeFugina.

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