Hello, my name is Isabella DeAngelo and my life changed on January 25th in 2015 (three years ago) during my freshman year of high school, I suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury. Competitive cheerleading had been my passion since I was 9 years old, but it all stopped with one tragic fall. As a flyer on my team, I was accustomed to minor injuries to arms and legs but never had an injury to my head. Who knew that this one blow would set so many problems into motion!
The weeks following were miserable. I started concussion rehab therapy roughly a week after the injury, 3x a week for twelve weeks. I missed three full weeks of school, and was experiencing all the extreme symptoms of a concussed person. My outlook was bright though as I thought this would quickly pass. Upon my return to school, I was put on a very limited schedule to attend core curriculum classes but not partake in anything academically. I was instructed by my doctors to refrain from any classwork, notes or testing during those nine weeks as my brain continued to heal.
Their idea was to help me stay socially engaged and not fall into depression. Unfortunately, this only made me stand out amongst classmates. Socially and emotionally, this was devastating. Many students and teachers didn’t understand the severity of my injury, as I outwardly looked completely normal.
This is the point when this invisible injury began to rock my world. Sitting in class with the room spinning, not being able to focus, feeling like your going to throw up at any moment takes its toll. I felt like an alien, where just weeks before I was a normal happy student. Depression started setting in; I felt alienated and alone. Prior to this, I had always been a good student, taking pride in school and activities. That person had disappeared. I felt completely lost and isolated.
Fortunately, I had the support of my family who wouldn’t let me slip into the hole of doom. My mom spent weeks being my best friend, loving me, crying with me, identifying what I was going through but always encouraging me that my world would go back to normal soon. That soon never came.
Somewhere around twelve weeks post concussion, I was cleared to return to school full time and resume my regular academic load. It took a lot of work and hours of tutoring but I managed to get though the last two months of the semester. Thinking back, that last semester of my freshman year was somewhat of a blur.
The summer following my injury, I welcomed the break from academics. My post concussion problems seemed a bit easier to manage when I didn’t have to be a student. A few weeks into my sophomore year at my new school, I again was struggling academically. Nothing seemed to connect. I went back to see my neurologist and also my concussion rehab doctor. I then started another round of two days a week concussion therapy and tried to keep things together. Sometime there after, I was referred to a neuro vision specialist; he suspected I had some damage to my vision from the injury.
I was diagnosed with visual midline shift syndrome, body bio balance problems, and visual space mismatch. I began vision therapy 3 times a week and continued for roughly 9 months. This was grueling; the visual exercises would increase my fatigue and make me have more headaches. I was completely exhausted most of my sophomore year.
Once again, the doctors suggested I take a break again for the summer. When I didn’t have to study or read, I managed to deal with my post concussion and vision problems. I simply adapted to having a headache and feeling nauseous and dizzy every day. It became part of me.
I felt like my world was a constant flow of doctors and treatments, trying to find relief. Over the last three years, I’ve seen more doctors than I care to count, been in concussion and vision therapy, done brain scans with SPECT imaging, seen a nutritionist, had at least 7 different prism lenses and found relief from Osteopathic manipulation. I continue to battle vision tracking problems, frontal lobe damage, and memory retention issues just to name a few. All this greatly affects my daily life through learning and education. Outwardly I look normal, but don't let this fool you, it's an ongoing battle.
My journey over the last three years has not been easy and has not yet come to an end. I had to find a balance between treatments, school, and life. It’s a bit of a juggling act. The many struggles physically, socially and academically were at times more than I could bear. Honestly, the number one factor in overcoming these challenges is utilizing the resources around me; keeping an open line of communication with teachers, doctors, councilors, family, friends and therapists. I feel I finally have turned a corner and understood how to deal with my disability. I will not let this define me, only enrich me and make me a stronger and more compassionate individual.
Although my story may not be of a typical high school student, I am blessed to be alive. I have been fortunate to find some amazing resources specializing in teens with post concussion syndrome or PCS. Teens and young adults are affected by concussions and brain injuries differently than adults. I started Concussion Girl to help other teens suffering from the long-term effects of brain injury’s and concussions.
We need awareness and support for students as they struggle through school. There are so many unknowns and I am advocating for more research specifically for teens and female teens with PCS. Not one concussion or TBI is the same and everyone's journey of recovery is different.
Thank you for letting me join this helpful family!