Sharing her pain so others can avoid it

Ally Crich has had six concussions in her life and she just turned 19. Now, the second-year kinesiology student hopes to bring attention to concussions and post-concussion syndrome, so others do not go down the painful road she has been on. Six times.

Her first concussion occurred when she was just 13 and part of a provincial soccer league. Successive concussions occurred at 14 and 15 while part of that same team.

“I was younger and, at that time, the doctors weren’t educated enough with this,” Crich says. “I was being told take a week off and I’d be fine.”

At London Central Secondary School, two more concussions transpired as a member of the girl’s basketball team. She was pushed during a layup and hit her head on the wall behind the basket.

“I was out,” she says. “I don’t remember anything other than going up for the layup and that was it.” An elbow to the head triggered the next concussion, again knocking her out.

Things were beginning to get worse for Crich, as far as symptoms of headaches and pains. She took the last few months of Grade 12 off because of it.

It wasn’t until her last concussion Crich began to realize things were definitely going wrong. A water-skiing accident in the summer of 2010, when she got hit in the head by the ski, was again diagnosed with a ‘rest–and-get-better’ prescription. She was cleared only two weeks later.

With a job lined up as a sports camp counsellor (prior to the concussion), Crich felt she was prepared to take on her duties. But that didn’t last long.

“Half way through the summer I was getting headaches every day. I was so tired,” she says. “I couldn’t remember my campers names – and I only had nine names. So I knew there was something wrong.”

Crich came back early from camp to rest and prepare for her first year at Western. She moved into residence, enrolled in her five courses in bio-medical sciences and joined the track and field squad.

“I figured I was cleared, so I tried to make it through,” she says. “But in October, I knew there was something wrong. My roommate, also doing track and field, was not feeling like this and we had the exact same schedule. I just didn’t have the energy to get up for class. I would have ringing in my ears; constant headaches; and on prescribed medication to try and control the severe headache pain.”

Crich saw a doctor and was told to drop a course in an attempt to alleviate some of the stress. She did that, but nothing improved.

“I would study for hours a day and then the next day I would remember maybe a third of what I did,” Crich says. “When mid-terms came around, I’d go study, study, study and get 44 per cent. I’m a 90s student. I know your marks drop but not that much.”

In November, she was told to drop another course, bringing her load to three. Then in February, she was told to drop track and field and yet another course, bringing her to just two.

“I would come back from track and everyone would do their homework and I would have to sleep,” she says. “Honestly, it was hard to face it, because I want to compete, I want to be on the field.

“My room is full of medals and, right now, I can’t add any more to that and it’s frustrating.”

Crich was at her wits’ end. Then NHL star Sidney Crosby got a concussion and doors were suddenly opened – literally.

“I was told (in February) that I’d be on waiting list for a year and a half to see a neurologist,” she says. “Then Sidney gets hit and all of a sudden I get to see a neurologist in two months. It’s sad that it had to happen and I don’t wish anyone a concussion, obviously, but when he got hit everything was made easier for me. It’s only going to help me now.”

This year, Crich switched to kinesiology with a goal of medical school. She works with a cognitive tutor once a week to help with her lab work, and takes two online courses.

While Crich is coping with her circumstances as best she can, she knows post-concussion symptoms have no timeline. “I don’t know if I’m going to be like this for four months or four years. That’s the hardest part,” she admits. “I just turned 19 and I can’t go downtown. I can’t hang out with my friends. I can’t even go watch a movie because it’s so loud.

“People don’t see it. I don’t have a cast on my head. People look at me and see that I look fine. They don’t know the hours I just sit in my apartment not being able to do anything. It’s sleeping the majority of the day, waking up, doing my homework and back to sleep.”

Crich admits while she reported her early concussions, she didn’t adamantly report them. She doesn’t want others to have the ‘it’ll-go-away-and-I’ll-be-fine’ mentality. Speaking up is the only way.

“If you think there’s something wrong then there probably is. You know yourself the best,” Crich says.

The situation has been difficult for family and friends as well. “I call my mom probably twice a day and complain that my head hurts,” Crich says. “When I’m mad or sad I call and complain to them for no reason.

“It’s really hard on me, but it’s just as hard on them.”

Crich, who has since met with two other women with similar post-concussion symptoms, says talking about it helps her know she’s not alone. “Last summer, it was hard to be by myself,” she says. “It’s nice to be able to just talk it out.”

While taking physiotherapy at Western’s Fowler Kennedy Sport & Medicine Clinic once a week, Crich is not letting her difficulties define her. “I’ve come to accept it. It was hard to do, but I have,” she says. “You have to come to terms with it. Every day is a different day. I’m not defeated by it, but I’ve accepted it and I’m going to structure my life around it.

“Until you do that it will control everything.”