By Ann Liguori
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Kevin Pearce, the snowboarder who was critically injured in December 2009 while training for the Vancouver Olympic trials, sat next to me at the Head Injury Association Building Dedication on Long Island on Tuesday. He had flown out from Carlsbad, California to be the Special Guest Speaker. Football legend Harry Carson was to his right. Former Yankees pitcher Tommy John and former NY Jet, Rich Caster, also joined the dais.
Dr. Max Gomez, Medical Science Correspondent, WCBS-TV, Tenor Michael Amante, United States Marine Corps, Rabbi Marc Gellman and Deborah O’Shea, a traumatic brain injury survivor, were also involved with the program, concluding with musical legend Debbie Gibson singing “Lean on Me” and the Head Injury Association Choir singing back-up.
Liz Giordano, the CEO of the Head Injury Association (HIA), pulled out all the stops, to dedicate the beautiful, state-of-the-art, 50,000 square foot contemporary building, complete with hand-painted, blue cement floors and special fabricated, molded hangings, both resembling ocean waves, in order to create a peaceful, relaxation affect. The new building, located in Happauge, New York, is the headquarters for HIA’s day-programs and offers programs that include arts therapy, horticulture, computer science, music, cognitive skill building and recreation.
A Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) occurs every 12 seconds and there are more than 5 million TBI survivors in the US. The month of March is designated ‘Head Injury Awareness Month’ and every year, Giordano and her team at the Head Injury Association, organize a program to discuss traumatic brain injuries and ways to prevent TBI in sports. Liz asked me to speak about keeping school-age athletes safe and the progress that has been made in the last several years to educate coaches, administrators, parents and athletes about concussions. More and more states are passing legislation that requires school coaches to receive education about concussions; to remove a student-athlete from the field of play if a concussion is suspected; and the student has to be signed off by a healthcare professional before returning to play.
Harry Carson, who works tirelessly to educate the sports world on post-concussion syndrome, explained that the reason he wrote his latest book, “Captain for Life,” and shared the details of his suffering from post-concussion syndrome from years of playing in the NFL, is because “there are no voices out there, especially ‘Hall of Fame’ voices, discussing this issue.” Carson continued: “If I had to do it all over again, I would not have played football. I already told my daughter that my two-year-old grandson will not play football! I’ve already played the game. I’ve seen the damage…The brain is the most complex body part that we have and we really have to protect it because in a blink of an eye, everything can change…”
Everything did change for Kevin Pearce, who during the height of his snowboarding career, lay critically injured for a month at the University of Utah Medical Center after striking his head on the edge of the pipe during a half pipe training run in Park City, Utah. Pearce’s story is much more positive than most, as a month later, he was transferred out of critical care and was moved to a rehab center in Denver. “Herculean levels of family support,” as Kevin describes it, helped him recover to the point where 712 days after suffering his TBI, Kevin snowboarded again in Breckenridge, Colorado.
“I have the opportunity to start this dream over,” Pearce said. “It’s not going to be the same…it’s not going to be the Olympics.” But Pearce, who admits to being forgetful, continues a full schedule of public speaking, appearances and is the Sports Ambassador for the National Down Syndrome Society. One of Kevin’s brothers, David, has Down Syndrome. “We call it ‘up syndrome,’” says Kevin. “My entire family chooses to look at it in a very positive way.”
Kevin’s story and attitude reflects the many TBI survivors who attended Tuesday’s Head Injury Association building dedication. Many approached me during the program to say hello. They, like Kevin Pearce, continually amaze and inspire with their own stories and how far they’ve come after suffering a TBI, thanks to the incredible work within the medical community and the Head Injury Association, a bridge to hope and healing.
For more information on Ann, visit her web site at www.annliguori.com.