I don’t know about you, but lately my refrigerator has been covered with graduation announcements, party invitations and senior pictures. Graduation season is upon us. It’s always fun to celebrate the accomplishments of friends and family and encourage our graduates to push to their full potential.
A few weeks ago a work assignment lead me to the GED graduation ceremony at Gwinnett Technical College. I was charged to interview some of the students to capture their stories. I met some amazing people that had faced big challenges and great hardships that took them down a different path to earn their high school credentials. Their stories were awe-inspiring. After completing my interviews I was so moved that I tucked quietly in the back of the auditorium to witness them cross the finish line.
There were the traditional speeches that you expect to hear at every graduation, but then graduate Lauren Beavin stepped to the podium. Her story brought me to tears.
Lauren bravely told how she had suffered a concussion while cheerleading at Norcross High School her freshman year. That concussion left her with symptoms that became debilitating. She struggled with foggy memory, headaches, and severe anxiety. The school tried to make accommodations but her symptoms became so intense that she had to drop out. The idea of school paralyzed her. I flashed back to all of the experiences my own daughter had faced as she too struggled to stay in the traditional school setting while suffering from post-concussion syndrome.
Lauren and I walked into that auditorium that night strangers, but came out allies committed to championing together greater concussion awareness and resources for those that need extra support.
Unfortunately, there are many students like Lauren that struggle every day to cope with their concussion symptoms at school. There are many adults that struggle to function at work. Not everyone is lucky enough to heal from a concussion in just a few weeks and jump back into life as if nothing happened. Every brain is different and every concussion is different. Signs and symptoms, necessary treatments, and accommodations are unique to each individual person. Because concussions are invisible injuries, you look OK to everyone on the outside so they think you are OK on the inside. But Lauren and others will tell you that just isn’t so. People don’t realize just how sick you are and how hard it is to function through an average day.
The reality is the science of concussion is still very much in its infancy stage. We are learning more and more each day as new research unfolds, but there is still so much we have to learn about these serious brain injuries. We are blessed to have one of the most innovative, comprehensive concussion care centers in the country right here in our community. The Concussion Institute at Gwinnett Medical Center has a become a destination concussion treatment facility that works with patients and their families every day to cope with debilitating symptoms, seek new treatments and find accommodations that help them function. If you know of someone that has had a concussion and struggles with lingering symptoms, please encourage them to seek help.
Lauren teaches us to never stop trying. She was determined to not let her brain injury rule her life. We owe it to her to provide hope, help, and support for all who walk this path. There may not always be clear answers when it comes to concussions, but we must never ever give up trying to rally more resources for those who struggle.