After dealing with the effects of a serious head injury for nearly two years, former Yale women’s hockey player Paige Decker ’14 has launched a blog about concussions to raise awareness about the topic.
In a game during her senior year, Decker was hit hard from behind — an illegal hit in the sport — and fell face-first onto the ice. After being diagnosed with a concussion, Decker did not expect to be away from the sport for long. However, her concussion failed to heal after the expected seven to 10 days, and the former Eli continued to have concussion-like symptoms, including blurred vision, difficulty focusing and sensitivity to light, in the months afterward. After still dealing with many symptoms 22 months later, Decker started a blog over the summer to publicize information about the complexity of concussions and create a community for those suffering from them.
“I want people to know they’re not alone in what they’re going through and that there’s help out there,” Decker said. “The hardest part for me was not knowing how to get healthy.”
In three posts on her blog, entitled “The Invisible Injury,” Decker has introduced the purpose behind the blog, told the story of her concussion and, in a post this past Monday, encouraged athletes suffering from concussion-like symptoms to report their injuries. She said she hopes the blog will serve as a resource for athletes to understand their own concussions and the best way to recover from them.
Katherine Holmes, nurse practitioner in pediatric neurosurgery and primary clinician in the Pediatric Concussion Clinic at Yale-New Haven Hospital, also emphasized the isolation experienced by concussed athletes. She added that, because of this, a blog like Decker’s can help bring a positive message to sufferers.
“Particularly for those that have prolonged symptoms after a concussion, it can be very reassuring to know that other people have this,” Holmes said.
Decker said that during the summer, she realized she had much to write about, and that she could use her story as a platform to bring about change in the seriousness with which athletes view concussions.
She added that she has learned much throughout the past two years, and that she feels she has a unique perspective not only on concussions, but also on how they are treated.
Although diagnosed in November 2013, Decker only found an effective treatment for her concussion a year and a half later. She explained that she sought treatment from several different professionals, but her pain and symptoms remained despite these visits.
This summer, Decker sought treatment with Michigan NeuroSport, a program made up of neurological experts with “a special emphasis on concussions,” according to its website. In this approach, after a first appointment, neurologist and founder Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher refers each patient to a doctor whose specific expertise, in his view, will be able to treat each individual case.
“There’s a team from various specialties which uses their expertise to figure out the big drivers of the problems and generator of symptoms,” Decker said. “There are so many different things that can feed into the concussion; concussions are not ‘one size fits all,’ and they need to be treated as such.”
She added that in her case, the major cause of her symptoms stemmed from her neck and the base of her skull. The actual trauma to her brain had already healed, but the structural damage to her neck continued to perpetuate concussion-like symptoms.
Even though Decker found this treatment to be more effective for her, she added that she had no complaints about the treatment she received during her time at Yale.
“Yale did everything they could to help me with the resources they had, and everyone was supportive,” Decker said. “I definitely feel there can be improvement in the way concussions are evaluated and treated, but that’s across the board, not specific to Yale.”
And Decker is not alone in commending Yale’s medical services; other student-athletes interviewed shared similar sentiments about the quality of the University’s concussion treatments.
However, not all student-athletes reach out for help after an injury — an issue that Decker has highlighted in her blog posts. Holmes spoke of the stigma that athletes can experience with regard to reporting concussions. One reason for this, she said, is the mentality of not wanting to fail one’s team.
Former Yale football player John Barton ’18, whose concussions ended his football career, said that although he has been formally diagnosed with four concussions, he has also experienced many others that he kept quiet about. He added that hiding concussions has become a common practice in football.
“I absolutely felt like I had to downplay my injury,” Barton said. “I didn’t want to let my teammates and coaches down, I wanted to get playing time, I wanted to prove my toughness.”
But with increased awareness, both coaches and players alike have become much more understanding and accepting of this sort of injury, Barton said.
Current Yale women’s hockey forward Krista Yip-Chuck ’17 echoed that notion, adding that the blog can advance the ongoing national conversation about concussions in sports.
“I think the most important thing which is being addressed now is the awareness surrounding concussions and the cultural shift in sports to accept the severity of this type of injury, which is why things like Paige’s blog are so important,” Yip-Chuck said.
So far, Decker has been advertising her blog through social media to family and friends. Since her first publication on Sept. 19, the blog has received nearly 8,000 views, Decker said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1.6 to 3.8 million concussions occur each year in the United States.