Chris Coyne is striving to be an agent of change in concussion education for youth sports thru sharing his concussion story with kids, parents and coaches.

Chris first spoke at a Sports CAPP in June 2012, as one of the speaker at our All County Football Event. Over the following months, Chris has helped to shape SportsCAPPs message of Concussion Education to reach many children from 5th grade to high school in the Fairfield Country area. His message of love of sports and a desire to help football become a safer sport has inspired everyone who has heard him speak.  As Chris returns to college in the fall of 2012, he plans to continue his important role in reaching out to student athletes in a number of ways.

A Concussion Story: Former local star whose career was derailed by concussions is on mission to help prevent them.

As a football player, Chris Coyne had it all. He stood 6’4″ and was a well-sculpted 225 pounds. He rarely came off the field and accomplished great things while on it. As a defensive end for Staples High School, Coyne dominated opponents and recorded an incredible 16 sacks during his junior season. But when he arrived on campus of Yale University in the summer of 2011 to start his career with the Bulldogs, Coyne also had something else: an alarming history of concussions.

“I had five concussions in high school and four of them were on my medical record,” said Coyne, who was a co-captain at Staples High School and a first team All-FCIAC selection in 2010. “Even before I started playing at Yale, the team doctor took me aside to discuss my record of concussions.” Football was Coyne’s passion. It didn’t define him, but it was a big part of who he was. He wanted to live out his dream of playing college football despite the warnings from the medical staff at Yale.

Two weeks into preseason practice of his freshman year, Coyne’s dream went dark. “The drill was for defensive ends to take on a fullback block,” Coyne said. “I had partaken in that drill almost every week at Staples. Unfortunately, our helmets were too low and they collided. I knew pretty quickly that I had sustained another concussion.” Before he turned 19-years old, Coyne had suffered his sixth concussion playing football. That’s an alarming number for an NFL veteran, much less an athlete who had yet to play a single game in college.

The effects from this concussion were unlike anything he had ever experienced before. “In the weeks following my final concussion, I dealt with headaches, light headedness, difficulty concentrating and memory issues,” he said. “My memory was at a point where I would get up off the couch to get a Gatorade only to forget why I got up. I had memory issues associated with previous concussions, [but] this was the most severe instance and first indicator that this concussion was possibly more severe than the others.” After tests and examinations to measure Coyne’s cognitive functions revealed numbers that were well below normal, doctors at Yale Univeristy would not clear his return to the football field and strongly advised Coyne to quit the game.

“I did not agree with the doctor’s decision and I was unfazed by my symptoms and mulled over transferring to other programs that had recruited me that would possibly let me play regardless of the injury,” Coyne said. “It wasn’t until three months after the concussion when my congitive functions had yet to improve that I began to worry about the effects of my head injuries on my future. At this point, I accepted the doctor’s advice and gave up on trying to play.” Coyne has read the chilling reports about the mental health problems hundreds of former NFL players deal with after their playing days are over. He knows the recent suicide of former All-Pro linebacker Junior Seau may have had something to do with numerous concussions he suffered during his career.

“Seeing players that had experienced as many or even fewer concussions than I had and having their lives plagued by cognitive issues and depression has caused me much anxiety and still worries me to this day,” he said. Concussion prevention and care have become the most talked about issue in the NFL. Nearly 1,500 players have filed a lawsuit against the league for what they felt was negligence when it came to dealing with concussions. Former players Andre Waters and Dave Duerson committed suicide after the effects from concussions became too much to bear.

“Concussions are a huge problem, but progress is being made,” Coyne said. “The biggest obstacle in preventing long-term damage from these injuries is the current football culture in which it is frowned upon to miss time for a concussion. As long as toughness is glorified and players feel pressured to play through head injuries, these problems will continue.” Coyne is on mission to make sure they don’t. He is speaking to coaches, parents, and children about concussion awareness and prevention. …

“I try to stress the importance of reporting them and treating them immediately. I continued to play through all except two of my concussions, and once even received a second concussion only weeks following the original one,” he said. “I truly believe that continuing to play with concussions is the cause of the majority of my lingering cognitive issues. I try to stress to people that concussions can be treated if recognized and reported right away, whereas a failure to do so can cause longstanding health issues.”

Luke

I got my first concussion at my own 6th grade birthday party. It was an ice-skating party, and I somehow managed to fall backwards while just standing there. I wasn’t wearing a helmet, so I got a bump on my head, but besides that, nothing seemed off.

A couple of days later, I started experiencing some confusion. Playing basketball, I lost track of which way my team was going, and ended up running to the wrong side of the court. A couple of days later, when finally diagnosed with a concussion, I had already played basketball, tennis, and taken standardized tests, all bad things for my head.

My symptoms grew in severity and number, resulting in post concussion syndrome. I had a constant, intense headache, “foggy feeling”, couldn’t sleep, had light and noise sensitivity and memory problems. I was generally a pretty good student, so when I took the ImPACT test and got below the first percentile for almost all of the categories, I knew something was up.

Turns out, it was, and I missed the next 3 months of school. During that time, I felt very isolated, down and generally listless. Weeks would go by with no improvement. It was a challenge to keep myself somewhat occupied while limiting the electronics or anything else that made me feel badly – reading, television, noise, light, etc. I visited specialists and tried different medications, none of which seemed to have an impact.

My parents had never heard of a concussion that lasted several months, so they were fearful that the “fog”, slow processing, and constant headache would never go away. They were really worried, but did their best to keep it from me. Through my doctor, they got names of other parents whose kids went through something similar. My family and I made a pact that when I was better, we would help educate others on concussions.

Finally, after three long months, I woke up without the piercing headache and “foggy” feeling.  It was like the snap of a finger – I was better. That day I took an ImPACT test and my scores were normal. It took a while, but healthiness had finally been achieved.

One year later during soccer practice, I was knocked down and inadvertently kicked in the head.  Even though I had classic concussion symptoms, my coach asked me after a few minutes of rest if I wanted to get back out on the field. I declined, and my mom arrived shortly thereafter to take me to the emergency room. I couldn’t walk without help, let alone remember my own phone number or read.

I was scared; I thought that there was no chance of this ever happening again.

Having an early diagnosis and abiding by strict guidelines for cognitive and physical rest prescribed by my doctor, in other words, “cocoon-ing,” I recovered in 2 ½ weeks.  I was concerned about long-term consequences of multiple head injuries, so my family and I made the difficult decision for me to stop playing soccer and basketball, sports I had loved and played successfully my whole childhood. It was hard, and there are always moments where I wish I had kept playing.

However, the decision enabled me to develop another passion of mine, tennis. I’m now a competitive tennis player and play on my school’s varsity team.  It is my hope that through education, sports can be made safer and athletes can heal quicker and with fewer complications.

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