By TIM SCHWARTZ
Capital News Service
FULTON – When 15-year-old Callan Weith hit his head on the floor at an Amateur Athletic Union basketball tournament in March, he was dazed and confused.
The Reservoir High School 10th grader stayed down on the floor holding his head, he recalls, as some teammates and opponents surrounded him. His coach, Ray Hardy, rushed onto the floor and asked him if he was OK.
Callan wasn’t OK. He asked to sit out the rest of the game and then went home to rest. The next morning, his father took him to his pediatrician, who diagnosed him with a concussion — his first. The diagnosis marked the beginning of a months-long struggle to return to the sports and activities he loves.
Callan said he knew immediately when he hit his head that he was concussed.
“I was dizzy and confused,” he said. “The light and the sound hurt my head. Just concentrating was hard.”
He was diagnosed with a concussion after his doctor gave him a baseline test to assess his cognitive abilities — the same test given to him before the start of his junior varsity basketball season this winter.
“[The test] was a lot harder” after the concussion, he said.
He also did some balancing tests and a smelling test. “They had me walk down a line, and I was like, that,” he said, demonstrating a stumble to one side.
Callan’s mother, Beth Weith, said she was worried “because he seemed so tired and generally ‘out of it’ for several days. … We just watched TV together all day, as he had to stay on brain rest, which means no video games, no reading, no cell phone, no computer, no physical activity. That is way harder than it sounds.”
Callan missed the next four days of school, and since returning in late March he has been given extra time to take exams and do his schoolwork. While it’s not mandatory for teachers in Howard County to grant concussed students extra time, most requests are granted, according to Reservoir teacher and assistant JV lacrosse coach Andy McIntyre.
“[The concussion] is bearable, but when I try to concentrate, like on schoolwork, that gives me a headache,” Weith said.
“I just felt for him because he was and still is so limited, and there’s nothing his dad or I can do,” Beth Weith said. “We just have to wait for that brain to heal.”
Callan was not cleared to return to basketball or lacrosse this season; he only played a half of a lacrosse game for his school before his injury.
Because his concussion has taken longer than most to heal, his pediatrician advised Callan to see a neurologist. A 2012 study by The American Journal of Sports Medicine, which looked at high school athletes from 2008 to 2010, found students commonly returned to play after a concussion in one to three weeks (55.3 percent), with 22.8 percent returning in less than one week and 2.0 percent returning in less than one day. Small percentages of athletes take a month or more to return to play.
Beth Weith said her son did see a neurologist, at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, who specializes in post-concussion issues. The neurologist told her he believes Callan’s concussion is healing normally, she said. But an X-ray taken May 7 revealed a sprained ligament in Callan’s neck, Beth Weith said.
“His first two vertebrae [C1 and C2] are not being supported like they should be,” she said. The doctor said that is what is causing Callan’s persistent headaches.
He is now required to wear a cervical collar until his neck properly heals, which the doctor said should be in late May or early June. He will then have physical therapy to strengthen his neck. He will be cleared to play sports again after his neck is healed, his mother said.
“I think lesson learned,” she said. “He does need some strength training. He’s at a different level of play now — there are some big guys out there.”
She said she now realizes first-hand what a long, arduous process recovery from head and neck injuries can be.
“[Those with concussions] really do have trouble with cognition and light sensitivity, and they get tired or they’re not quite all there some days,” she said. “So the whole brain rest thing to me was a mystery before we had experience with this concussion. And now I get it. I totally get it.”