Concussion: Sydney’s Story

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Sydney, 15, is an outgoing, friendly, and compassionate teenager. She’s also a competitor, who has loved sports since she was a little girl. But during her freshman year in high school, she was sidelined by a brain injury during a soccer game. Although she no longer plays contact sports, Sydney has clinically recovered from her injury and is excelling at school thanks to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). 

Sydney smiling outside As soon as she could walk, Sydney was interested in sports. When she was just 3 years old, she started playing soccer at a local YMCA near her home in Bensalem, PA. Sydney’s love of sports continued throughout her childhood, and she really started shining at soccer when she joined a travel team at 9.

“It was evident that she would dominate on the field because of her intense, no-fear attitude coupled with her smart playing skills,” says her mom, Liz.

Sydney quickly established her reputation as a force to be reckoned with at center-midfield. She became affectionately known by her coaches as “the Beast,” attacking whatever came into her path. Some minor broken bones kept her on the sidelines from time to time, but Sydney was thriving on the field.

That was until May 2015, during a Memorial Day tournament, when Sydney sustained her first concussion while playing soccer. After an evaluation by her local doctor, it was deemed only a minor concussion, and Sydney was back on the field in about four weeks. But suffering from a concussion makes it more likely for a child or teen to have another one, so that first injury put Sydney at risk.

A game-changing injury

Sydney playing soccer The next fall, Sydney had earned a spot on Bensalem High School’s Varsity Girls Soccer Team, even though she was only a freshman. “It was the start of her high school soccer career, and she couldn’t have been more excited,” remembers Liz. True to form, Sydney continued to play with confidence.

But that October, she had a nasty head-first collision with a player from the opposing team. The result was a second concussion.

Under the advice of her doctors, Sydney had a week of complete rest, both physically and mentally. Despite the rest, she continued to experience intense concussion-associated symptoms, such as constant headaches, dizziness, slowed reaction times and more. Sydney wasn’t getting better and was referred to Brian Vernau, MD, from the Minds Matter Concussion Program at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). 

Sydney’s concussion was severe, and she was at risk for falling behind in school, mood changes, sleeping problems and more. She would have a long road to recovery ahead of her, and started monthly visits to CHOP. Dr. Vernau recommended vestibular therapy, and six months into Sydney’s treatment, brought in Joyce Sapin, MD, from the Division of Neurology at CHOP to join Sydney’s’ medical team.

we can tell you now, it was the best decision we ever made for her healing. from our first visit and every visit thereafter, dr. vernau's compassion and expertise in this field truly guided sydney to her complete healing. and dr. sapin is equally as remarkable.

A little more than mid-way through her recovery, it was determined that Sydney’s injury was bad enough that she would need to give up contact sports. Although disappointed, Sydney was determined to stay optimistic and devote her energy towards healing. Over a year and a half after her second concussion, Sydney was finally cleared by Dr. Vernau in February 2017.

A new kind of “Beast”

Sydney as team manager on the soccer field Although Sydney can’t return to center-midfield, she’s found another way to stay involved in soccer. A sophomore in high school now, she has proudly returned to Bensalem High School’s Varsity Girls Soccer Team — as Team Manager. She remains fiercely competitive and enjoys staying involved with the sport she always loved.

A strategic “return to learn” plan was developed for Sydney’s recovery in the classroom, and her teachers and guidance counselor have worked together with Dr. Vernau. Thanks to these coordinated efforts and the same grit and determination she always showed on the field, Sydney has been able to maintain her “Distinguished Honors” status in school. Her future is brighter than ever. 

“CHOP has been the driving force behind Sydney’s recovery. Without their guidance, motivation, support and expertise, Sydney’s outcome would have been completely different. Coming to CHOP was the best decision we ever made, and we are forever grateful!”

Next Steps

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