Young cheerleader shares story, warns others about concussions

Co-director of Michigan NeuroSport says injury risk can be high in other sports

Emma Collins will never forget getting hurt during a practice for her competitive cheer team last October.

"We were doing twist baskets, which is where the flyer goes up and does a 360 rotation and then comes down, and my flyer elbowed me in my left temple and I immediately felt dizzy and got a headache," Collins said.

Collins, 14, is still being treated for the concussion she suffered that day. But she didn't realize right away that she had suffered a concussion. She finished practice and went home.

"I rested my head and I went to sleep that night and then the next morning I still had a headache and I was still dizzy so we went to the emergency room," Collins said.

Collins' mom, Diane, said her daughter had to stay home for several days after that and be on brain rest.

"It was called brain rest where you absolutely do nothing -- not even listen to music. So there is no electronics of any kind. There's no movie watching. It's not even just 'keep it quiet.' It's brain rest," Diane Collins said.

Emma tried returning to school, but complained of headaches and dizziness.

"I took her to her pediatrician. Of course, she looked at me and said, 'Why were you not here sooner?' and I said, 'I didn't realize,' and she really educated us with this is a concussion and this is what we need to do," Collins said.

She needed more time away from school she needed and therapy. 

"I had a really bad headache and I was really dizzy all the time. I was just tired. It was really hard to concentrate," Emma said.

She slowly returned to school, but had to put off taking tests for a couple of months. She also had to leave the lunchroom occasionally, when it became too noisy. She found it difficult to do activities with friends, such as going to the movies.

Collins really remembers the initial changes in her daughter's personality after she was first hurt.

"I think the scary part for me was the personality change that you don't realize and I do remember kind of looking at her, thinking, 'This isn't my child,' because it was just that flat affect," Collins said. "The conversations weren't normal. She didn't really joke around."

Emma began receiving treatment at Michigan NeuroSport in Ann Arbor and continues to get treatment a year after the injury.

"I do vision therapy, which helps with bringing my eyes together so that I only see one and I did the vestibular therapy to help with my dizziness," she said.

"It really takes all of her concentration and by the end of that maybe 10 minutes, it's about all she can do. (It would) probably be like an hour workout for us but she is exhausted, and she pushes herself in that aspect," Collins said.

Dr. Matthew Lorincz, co-director of Michigan NeuroSport, said concussions are a pretty serious injury. Michigan NeuroSport is with the University of Michigan Health System and has a team of experts in the neurological care of athletes, focusing especially on concussions.

"It's uncommon. Most people get better in about 14 days, but there's a significant percentage, 10 to 15 percent, that go on to have symptoms that are much longer than 10 to 14 days," said Lorincz.

Emma is a freshman at South Lyon East High School and made the varsity cheer team this year. She has chosen not to return to competitive cheer until next year to give herself more time to heal. It was a difficult decision for her.

"I just miss cheerleading. I love the people I get to meet and the competitions that I get to go through, and the practicing just makes me a better athlete," Emma said.

She wants other young athletes to learn from her experience.

"I would tell other kids that if you get hit in the head and you're feeling at all dizzy or if you have a headache, definitely tell your coach or a parent that you're feeling these things because if I would have told my coach I might not be in this situation I am now," Emma said.

Emma said she will always have double vision unless she gets eye surgery, and the headaches will be a part of her life despite her medicine.

Lorincz said it's really important that people know that there is a risk to their sport and he thinks part of the education process is teaching people about sports they might not consider to be high risk.

"I think people do think of the high-risk sports like football and hockey and wrestling, but there is a group of under-recognized sports. Cheerleading is one of them. Other sports include things like water polo, equestrian athletes or dance athletes, and the risk is pretty high," Lorincz said.

For more information on the Michigan NeuroSport Clinic, click here.

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