AUSTIN - Some call it an epidemic: concussions in sports. While we often hear about football and soccer athletes as those who suffer from concussions, a former University of Texas cheerleader shows us the injury is a concern for other athletes as well.
Kaitlyn Behnke has been cheering since she was 6 years old. She cheered for a competitive team, for West Lake High School, and then at UT.
"Everything about it makes you a stronger person,” said Behnke.
While learning to do her double full tumbling pass, she also had to learn how to cope with concussions. She's suffered six concussions: three in high school and three in college. Her first happened during her freshman year of high school.
"I didn't black out, but I lost sight for a little while,” said Behnke.
At the time Behnke was base, and while catching a flyer, she was knocked to the gym floor.
"People think you get them when you're being thrown in the air, but a lot of times it happens when you're getting elbowed or kicked or kneed,” said Behnke.
Doctors told her to just sit out for the weekend, and “chill.” She got her second one a few weeks later. This time she was a flyer and her head hit another teammates’ shoulder.
"Probably the reason I got the second one a month later was because I didn't sit out long enough and I didn't recover,” said Behnke.
While Behnke feels her experience was a lack of knowledge, experts now say it’s a problem. Often times athletes don't want to miss a practice or game, and don't report the hit, now allowing long enough for their concussion to heal.
"If we let you go back too soon, you barely get hit on the head and you're out for weeks and weeks and weeks,” said Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Meredith Phipps.
“Concussions are a manageable injury, but the more you have and the longer you stay involved in activity, the likelihood of that recovery is much longer," said Bridgett Wallace, a physical therapist and President of 360 Balance.
"In the moment it feels like such a big deal, now it’s not,” said Behnke.
Behnke got her third concussion in high school when she was a base and a girl hit her head.
"I think I took it easy for a couple weeks, but I didn't go to the doctor, because I didn't want to have to sit out,” said Behnke.
She suffered her fourth while in college at UT when she got a kick to the head. Behnke said she went to the trainers who told her to sit out for a few weeks. After examination they cleared her, saying she had healed well.
When she got her fifth concussion she didn’t realize it at first. It was during cheer camp when a teammate’s elbow hit Behnke’s temple. Behnke said UT now has a rule that athletes are required to tell a trainer if they’re hit. She said teammates are required to tell if their teammate suffers a hit.
Just three weeks later she backed into a wall while moving furniture.
"Because I had just taken that hit, and because my head is susceptible at this point, that gave me number six," said Behnke.
She went to a specialist and decided she couldn’t continue to cheer. But more than a year after the last head injury, she still has effects.
"That was August 19th of last year, and I still to this day have headaches every day,” said Behnke.
Behnke now has headaches 60 to 70 percent of her day. She has difficulty finding words, and can only go to school part time. It’s difficult for her to be in loud places, and too much light can increase the headache.
She wants to warn other athletes.
"I don't think I played it smart and that's why I had to give it up, but if you play it smart you can do what you love,” said Behnke.
Behnke is teaming up with Hope4Minds, a non-profit that helps those with brain injuries. She wants to encourage athletes to get checked by a medical professional if they take a hit.
"We are trying to offer concussion education to families in the community and also base line screenings,” said Executive Director Rhonda Johnson.
"Getting a base line shows us a great picture of how the athlete’s brain works when they're healthy, so it gives us a lot more confidence to clear them when we know they've returned to that point," said Phipps.
Wallace said that's important in this day and age.
"I think some people would consider it an epidemic, concussions are very prevalent,” said Wallace.
"Concussions are an epidemic now, there's just so many concussions going on in sports,” said Johnson.
While concussions may remain prevalent, Behnke hopes to prevent others from having lasting effects.
She’s also created a list of a few tips she’s found helpful during her struggle with concussions. She reiterates she’s not a medical professional, but found a few things to ease the pain, like driving with an airplane neck pillow.
If you would like Behnke to speak to your team or group, you can contact her through Hope4Minds.
If you want to go to a base line screening here is a list of upcoming spots. You can find more information at Hope4Minds.
NeuroChaos Testing - $75/test
4300 Westbank Dr, West Lake Hills, TX 78746
Wednesday, Oct 5th: 5pm-7pm
NeuroChaos Testing - $75/test
5608 Parkcrest Dr #100, Austin, TX 78731
Monday, Oct 10th: 9am-4pm
*Balance Testing at 360 Balance is by appointment only, please visit www.v2fitelite.com for details. Cost: $50
Concussion Baseline Packages (call for prices)
October 22, 2016
9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Select Physical Therapy
2000 SOUTH IH35
Round Rock, TX 78681
Call (512) 238-6200 to make an appointment.
Phipps said it should take about 3 to 4 weeks to heal from a concussion. She said it’s important for people to sleep so their brain can heal, and limit time in front of screens like computers, TVs, and cell phones.
Wallace uses the phrase “Remove, Report, Recover” when it comes to concussions. After a hit to the heat, Wallace said athletes should remove themselves from the sport, report it to a medical professional, and take time to recover.
Wallace said she treats athletes different than other patients since they’re used to a team atmosphere. She tries to come up with a recovery plan that keeps them social and active.
(© 2016 KVUE)