Student adjusting to life after concussions

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COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — It started the summer before his sophomore year of high school.

That summer, Biddle, who is now an 18-year-old senior at Muriel Williams Battle High School, suffered three concussions from various sports injuries. After the third one — suffered during a football practice in August 2012 — Biddle had to sit out of athletics for a year.

It wasn't the first time Biddle was diagnosed with a concussion - it was his sixth, the Columbia Missourian ( ).

Around that time, the concussions started to affect the way Biddle speaks.

"I've p-picked up a stutter, but, I-I didn't have that at all until Hickman, and then after I had that, I stuttered for a long time," Biddle said.

But stuttering isn't the only side effect of those concussions.

Biddle said he had headaches and blurred vision and also felt nauseated. His doctor, Aaron Gray, assistant professor of Clinical Medicine in the departments of Family and Community Medicine and Orthopedic Surgery at MU, said those side effects were due to a chemical imbalance from a loss of blood to the brain.

Now, those concussions and the side effects that followed have forced Biddle to stop playing football entirely.

Biddle's story is just one of many in what has become a worrisome trend in football. In 2013, National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research found that 243 deaths from football were recorded between July 1990 and June 2010, or 12 a year on average. Of that total, 62 of the deaths were related to brain injuries.

Later in 2013, Tipton High School football player Chad Stover died of brain injuries suffered on the field of play. According to USA Today, he was one of eight high school players to die from an injury related to football.

This year, five high school players died from football injuries — three came in one week, according a report from ESPN. In the college ranks just last month, Ohio State walk-on defensive lineman Kosta Karageorge was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound after having been missing for five days. A teammate said Karageorge had a history of concussions, but never reported them.

Gray stressed that high schools need to have medical professionals on the sidelines during games.

"The tragic death of Chad Stover, hopefully that will bring to light the importance of having certified trainers and EMTs on the sideline for all high school football games," Gray said. "It can be too much to ask a coach or the referee that doesn't have medical training to spot concussions. We need to have the trained medical professionals that can diagnose them."

For the first few months after Biddle's sixth concussion, he spent much of his time sitting in his bedroom doing nothing. The dark, quiet room helped ease the "horrible" headaches.

Even six months after the hit, migraines kept him up at night. He was given Amitriptyline, an anti-depressant drug, and Tylenol to help him sleep. In school, though, Biddle found himself unable to stay awake — so much so that he was given a doctor's note allowing him to sleep in school.

"I just felt super tired when I had that concussion," Biddle said. "Just exhausted."

By the end of that school year and the ensuing summer, Biddle, then a junior, was symptom-free and about to attend the newly opened Battle High School.

He wanted to be part of the Spartans' new football program. The love of the game kept pulling him back.

"I've just never been a quitter; I hate quitting," he said. "I hate when people tell me I'm not gonna do anything, so that kind of made me want to come back more."

But before Biddle could play, he and his mother, Margie Biddle, made an agreement.

"When he sat out the full year, our agreement was one (concussion) and done for good," Margie Biddle said.

To avoid being tackled around the head, the 5-foot-11, 225-pound Biddle played offensive line.

He suffered a torn labrum his junior season, but did not suffer a concussion. He returned his senior year thinking the concussion problems were behind him.

That is, until Oct. 10 in a game against Jefferson City High School.

In the second half, the Spartans were lined up in their kick return formation, in which Biddle served as a blocker. As the kick sailed through the air, Biddle remembered running backward until the Spartan returner caught the kickoff. When Biddle turned to block for him, he was hit by a Jays defender.

"This one I literally don't remember what happened at all," Biddle said. "I remember backpedaling and then the Jeff City coach was like shaking me and that was when I woke up."

As teammates and coaches gathered around him, Biddle lied on the ground for at least 10 minutes before being carried off on a gurney and placed in an ambulance. It was the seventh time that he was diagnosed with a concussion.

Margie Biddle didn't need to see the hit to know that the injured player was her son.

"I was actually under the overhang underneath the end zone and couldn't tell who it was, but had a bad feeling," she said.

The concussion brought back familiar symptoms for Biddle. As he laid in the gurney waiting to be put in the ambulance, his stutter returned, this time worse than before.

"I couldn't really put sentences together at all," Biddle said.

According to Gray, it is normal for people with multiple concussions to see their symptoms worsen.

"Medical studies show that, with every concussion you get, you have a higher chance of getting a concussion and with a higher chance of a future concussion, your symptoms will get worse," Gray, the doctor, said. "For some reason, this person, in the makeup of their brain, is unable to absorb the blow. (Then) it starts to get worse and worse."

Gray said the best way for people to recover from concussions is to stay away from loud noises and bright lights.

At school, Biddle had to deal with both of those.

Battle uses iPads and Smart Boards in their classes. The light from those devices bothered Biddle's head, and he started getting headaches. In gym class, he would have to sit in the locker room to stay away from the loud noises in the gymnasium.

"It was just hor ... like I just, I had, my headache was horrible," Biddle said. "People were trying to talk to me to do assignments and it, it just didn't work."

One of Biddle's assignments was to read a book for English class, but his head hurt too much to complete it. He said he couldn't focus on the book for even a half an hour. He also had to drop his math class because he couldn't focus.

Despite the pain the concussions have caused her son, Margie Biddle said they haven't changed his personality.

"He's the same old Jacob," she said. "He's got the best heart and perseverance and will just not give up."

The week after suffering his seventh concussion, Biddle returned to the sideline when Battle traveled to Hannibal High School. This time, he was in jeans, cowboy boots and a gray Battle sweatshirt with a jersey over it. He dressed like this for the rest of his team's games — all the way through the state championship game.

During the playoffs, however, he didn't wear his usual No. 69 jersey. Instead, he wore No. 60, belonging to senior center Dalton Roberts, who wore Biddle's No. 69 for the rest of the season.

"He wanted to wear a piece of me when he went out there," Biddle said of his friend and teammate.

Instead of blocking defenders, Biddle helped his teammates by standing on the bench and cheering them on, encouraging those on the sideline to do the same.

"It's a complete different experience. It sucks not being able to be on the field and like blocking people and stuff," Biddle said.

On a Monday afternoon, coach Justin Conyers approached Biddle and told him it's best to quit playing.

"I mean, I knew it was coming but I didn't want to hear it," Biddle said. "I've not played a year of football without getting hurt in some way. It's crushing."

But Biddle's leadership helped carry Battle to a Class 5 state championship victory over Nixa. With tears of joy in his eyes, Biddle got to lift the championship trophy after hugging teammates.

He has no regrets playing at the start of this season, despite suffering that seventh concussion.

"Lifting the trophy at the dome with my brothers is what made it worth it," a smiling Biddle said as he recalled the scene in St. Louis' Edward Jones Dome.

During the playoff run Biddle passed out in school — and it wasn't the first time doing so since his first concussion.

"I was diagnosed with syncope last year, after football season," Biddle said. "They don't know why, but you just pass out. Last year, after football was done, I passed out three times at school for no apparent reason."

According to WebMD, syncope is caused by a decrease in blood flow to the brain, which can happen following a concussion.

"So the blood flow goes down after a concussion and there a lot of chemicals that are released from the brain cells," Gray, Biddle's doctor, said. "It may take some time for the blood flow and balance to return and that is why we see the symptoms that we do."

Biddle said that he wouldn't have returned to the field even if he was medically cleared to play. For him, his future is more important than football.

"I mean, there's a lot more after high school, and I don't want to be in a mental home or a retirement home with dementia or something," Biddle said. "That's what I'm really worried about."


Information from: Columbia Missourian,

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