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Junior Claire Long’s eyes slowly followed Dr. David Smith’s fingers back and forth. It hurt her head just trying to focus on his one index finger moving side to side. But these tests are nothing new for Long. She has had four concussions throughout high school, which has affected her academically and physically. Due to her setback with her concussions Long has had many opportunities that she wouldn’t have had otherwise. Recently at the Sept. 1 Chiefs football game Long was designated to be the honorary coin toss captain by calling if the coin was heads or tails to help raise awareness for concussions.
With each concussion Long has had, she has gone to see Dr. Smith at KU Medical Center who specializes in concussions. Every time Dr. Smith runs the same tests: walking in a straight line, reciting numbers back to him a certain order. Long was able to be the coin toss captain as a part of KU Medical Center and Dr. Smith’s work. She demonstrated all of the success that Dr. Smith wanted to see in her after her concussions.
Long’s first concussion was her freshman year when an elbow knocked her to the ground during a soccer game, causing her head to hit the ground and bounce right back up. As Long sat in the dark room at home with no TV, no phone, no books, she contemplated whether or not playing soccer was in her best interest. after sitting on the sidelines for three months.
“I didn’t want to miss any more activities,” Long said. “It was just hard having to sit and do nothing just because of my concussion.”
Long’s worst concussion was her second one during the Soccer State Cup Tournament, when she collided with another girl’s head and blacked out on the field. Long woke up riding on a golf cart unaware of what had just happened.
After each concussion Long had to sit out of all activities at least a month. She couldn’t go tubing at the lake, she couldn’t play soccer just for fun, she couldn’t do anything physical in order to help her brain heal. After Long’s second concussion, Smith realized that she was not healing in the right way. Long could not balance or use her eyes for long periods of time without getting a headache.
Due to four concussion she no longer plays basketball or club soccer. During Long’s sophomore year she had to go to vestibular therapy, rehabilitation for improving vestibular disorders such as balance.
As Long began going to therapy once of twice a week missing class took a toll on her. She tried to schedule her therapy sessions during her electives but missing math and chemistry once a week caused Long’s grades to fall. From her concussions, doing anything on the computer screen caused her head to throb uncontrollably. When state testing rolls around it becomes very difficult for her to even finish the test in the given hour and a half to complete it. Long and her parents, Jean and Paul, have made sure that these headaches are normal and her brain is healing properly.
Jean and Paul want Long to keep playing soccer, but they don’t want Long to put herself in a position where she could potentially injure her head for a fifth time around. Their main concern is safety. No sport is worth risking a serious brain injury for, according to Jean, but with the right amount of encouragement and positivity Long has not given up.
“It is hard to see your child experience a concussion and the long process of recovery,” Jean said. “We, as parents, listened to her when she was frustrated, we consoled her when she wasn’t feeling good and most importantly we assured her that she would recover because she was doing everything that was asked of her by her doctor.”
As she continues to play high school soccer, Long no longer goes up for headers and is careful to go in for slide tackles. She does not want to relive the pain of her head hitting a hard soccer ball. Long runs cross country as her fall sport and faces serious headaches as she runs down Mission road each day. Long continues to run to keep in shape for soccer season even when her head never stops aching.
“The movement, constantly hitting the ground hurts my head, moving like that,” Long said. “It’s like my brain is bouncing back and forth and I can’t ever get it to stop.”
Long will play high school soccer in the spring in hopes that she will not get hurt again. She has not given up contact sports yet and does not plan on it this year.
“I am more cautious of what moves I make and what things are risky, but I have a passion to play soccer and want to keep on doing it even when I know I risk getting another concussion,” Long said.