16 months is a long time, right? Well since October 2020, Laurie Tennant has suffered from post-concussion syndrome. After being knocked out unconscious due to an accident on his Mountain Bike his life has not been the same. In this case study we will shed some light on what Laurie has endured, riding an emotional rollercoaster, and suffering serious bouts of depression and anxiety due to the traumatic brain injury (TBI) he sustained. TBI / Concussion has derailed life as he knew it. So, when Laurie’s brother Finn got in touch, we felt it was an opportunity to learn more about TBI’s in Mountain Biking from a first-hand account.
On Tuesday afternoon we caught up with Laurie, a young man in good spirits considering what he has gone through and continues to battle through to make a healthy recovery after suffering a TBI. We asked Laurie to tell us about what happened – Laurie went onto share the following description: “I was home from Uni, it was during reading week, and I had not been out on my bike for over a week, so I thought I would head down to the BMX track and have a play about on my bike, it was nothing out of the norm for me. I went for a jump and before I knew it a gust of wind caught me and I flew 20 feet onto my head, my helmet cracked from front to back, I fractured an eye socket and was knocked out cold”. I was on my own, but there was another rider there, who helped me and stayed with me for a good half hour, he then suggested I call a friend or my parents. I phoned my mum and she panicked and said she would be there soon, in my blurry mindset I also then went onto call my dad and he answered, panicked, and said he would come to collect me – it was then that I realised that I had called them both and before I knew it, they both arrived in separate cars to collect me and take me home.” It is safe to say it is not the phone call parents want to receive.
Laurie MTB – Concussion case study[/caption]
The day after:
The following morning, I woke up and went to A&E – when I went to the hospital, they did not do a brain scan as I had a scan the previous year (April 2019, which is when I suffered my first concussion), so they did not want to expose me to too much radiation. Laurie went onto add that it is worth noting that both concussions have been during training / down time. “I think it’s important that people understand that concussion doesn’t just happen in the big games, or races, they can happen during training or just playing about.” From a HIT perspective, we are keen to ensure that this aspect of Laurie’s journey is highlighted – understanding that being concussion aware during training is just equally as important as when it comes to games and races. You have one brain and without healthy brain functions life can be miserable.
“When I seen the doctor, I was advised that I had suffered a concussion as I was displaying classic symptoms and that I should take it easy. “The doctor who seen me in A&E organised for me to see my GP one month after the crash, which is when I was told it could last 6 months and if I hadn’t recovered by then they would refer me to a specialist”. Laurie then went onto describe several symptoms including terrible migraines, sickness, double vision, nausea, brain fatigue, poor spatial awareness, and diminished memory ability, – I kept walking into things and stubbing my toes on the coffee table. I remember waking up some mornings and being sick, due to terrible migraines, but at that stage I just normalised it. “It all just snow balled from there” physically and mentally I was extremely unwell, my concussion and head trauma then started to affect other areas of my life from my studies, relationships, and own general well-being. It was a very dark place.
Laurie then went onto say that “It was like the lights were on, but nobody was home”. I experienced white noise, people would try to have a conversation with me, but I did not have the capacity to hold a conversation, so I would respond with one or two words. In reflection I feel sorry for my parents, I just would go mute on them, my mum even said recently that there was a period in which she had not seen me smile for a six-month period – it was like life had withdrawn from me. “I would retreat and hide in my room, I just could not cope with any noise, not even others having a conversation”. It was very damaging to all relationships as people just thought I was grumpy, tired, and rude. Laurie added to this sharing: “It was in the initial period where I was very numb to everything before my post-concussion syndrome got bad that I started to withdraw myself from people and this is when me and my girlfriend broke up, around about one month after I hit my head” .It was all very scary, especially as I have always been a stable person who has never suffered any from any poor mental health bouts.
Wider Impact of Laurie’s head trauma:
Laurie had just started studying Sports and Exercise Science at the University of Exeter a couple of weeks before he had the accident and became severely unwell. When asked about the implications on his studies he went onto say “I pushed through, but by the time it got to Christmas I was so unwell,” I had to sit at least one of the four exams as my university requested this, so I did not have to re-sit all. “I studied hard for this one exam and after that I plummeted and was basically bed bound for a solid three months.” At this point things took a turn for the worse. From January 2021 – beginning March 2021 “I was in the darkest times as I was so unwell, I spent most of my time in bed or doing some gentle exercise like walking etc but would get very tired and have to go to bed again”. “I started to contemplate suicide; it was the worst place I have ever been in my life”. “I started to communicate less and less, which resulted in causing issues and friction with my parents” – All my relationships were damaged. I just did not know how to cope; I did not see how I was going to make a recovery or how things would go back to normal.
We asked Laurie what changed for him to start to feel better at the beginning of March 2021, as we recognise this a crucial turning point, Laurie went onto say: “My physical symptoms (apart from near sight and brain fatigue) were starting to go, and I was starting to feel better physically throughout March, which is when I started easing into riding again, but the psychological side of things was still bad”. In April 2021 I revisited the GP and they wanted to run more tests. The first test was to see if my hypothalamus was working normally and then secondly to run more blood tests. The blood work came back saying that I have several hormonal imbalances and an elevated level of cortisol, which I guess was a correct reflection on the levels of stress I had endured for a 7-month period. Laurie went on to share “From April I started riding more, training in the gym again properly, working on balance, reaction times, co-ordination, and general strength and endurance-based things, which really helped me. I then went onto to compete my first race of 2021 in the July, which was the national enduro championships, where I finished 28th in the elite category. Then I had some time off racing until Malvern’s classic at the end of August where I won the downhill race in expert (my time put me first in elite and second fastest time of the day). Before going to Europe for the last 3 rounds of EWS where I competed in the 100 race at Loudonville in early September 2021, Crans Montana Mid-September and then finally Tweed valley in October, going after points to race in the EWS pros category”. Not bad for someone who had limited time on the bike and had suffered a serious head trauma but unfortunately this joy and recovery sadly faded.
“Just as I thought things were finally getting better and back to normal, they took a turn for the worse. “I went back to university mid-September 2021 and my mental health started to take a turn for the worse, I became more fatigued again and started to suffer more from stress and anxiety along with headaches and trouble with focusing my eyes for extended periods of time. I pushed on but fell further and further behind which then meant I got increasingly stressed, trying harder to study as a result and getting less and less able to complete the work until I decided enough was enough.” Although it was not as simple as simply stopping. Laurie went onto state “I still had my January 2022 exams to do, I wasn’t able to defer this year as I had failed 3 out of 4 exams, this was hard as I have always been able to perform to a good standard academically”. Laurie then concluded that he needed to see a specialist and that he could not just sit back and wait.
Laurie’s current situation:
Initially my GP said that they could refer me to a specialist, but what with the NHS under a massive strain with covid, this did not happen. Therefore, Laurie and his mum decided to look at how they could privately access a specialist “it got to a stage in which I could not just wait to get better, I needed to do something, so me and my mum spent a lot of time researching, googling, and checking out the support available. We came across a specialist who happened to be based 45 minutes from where I stay, so we went with this choice, and it has been the best decision”. It was not until February 2022 that I got seen by a concussion specialist – I now have a treatment plan in place, I do daily exercises – in which I can see gradual improvements, which for the first time in 16 months is wonderful. There is finally “A lot of light at the end of the tunnel.” My concussion specialist has been of significant help not only in my brain health recovery but also positively changing my physical and mental recovery. Moreover, the specialist has helped by providing an extensive report, which I have used to help those important conversations with my university, specifically around what I have gone through and the trauma my brain has suffered.
It got to a stage in which my university where questioning my head trauma, as there understanding was that I would make a recovery after six months and be back to studying. “I guess it did not help that I was in 1st year of university, lockdown and no in person lectures, meaning the lecturers didn’t know me or have a relationship with me to understand that this was out of my norm, and I wasn’t trying to chance my luck or cheat the system”. “At the end of January, I got permission to take time off university.” Since supplying the university my report they have been much more supportive and understanding, allowing me to postpone my degree, reserving my space and being flexible around when I return to studying. This has helped alleviate a lot of stress, as I was getting stressed about Uni and then in turn this stress and anxiety was not aiding in my recovering, “it was a viscous cycle.”
What Laurie thinks of The HIT device and app:
“Head injuries are particularly good at making one feel isolated, so it is important to try and lose the stigma or grey area surrounding them and get people to talk more openly about their experiences. That is one of the reasons your product caught my attention as it adds a quantifiable measure to head impacts that cannot be ignored, helping to make it more clear cut whether you are safe to continue riding or not and get rid of some of this grey area surrounds concussion in dangerous sports” The stark reality is that “concussion management and awareness is fine at races, when there are marshals and people around, but everybody that takes the sport seriously spends a lot of time riding with one other person or alone and in remote places, so this product makes sense, it is an added layer of protection, it is a method to help bring concussion protocols to life. It could be the data that leads you to riding for another half hour or heading off home and call it quits for the day.”
Laurie went onto add “Even if it is not going to save you in that sort of situation, being able to see and think, okay I have hit my head here a little bit, even though it doesn’t feel that bad, I’m going to stop here and head home for the day.” Laurie is a proud owner of a HIT device, with him slowly easing himself back into sport and Mountain Biking we hope our product helps him regain that confidence as well as use the live time data to recognise, remove and assess – stay informed!
What was noticeably clear when speaking to Laurie is that this truly awful and life changing experience has not stopped him or curbed his passion for Mountain Biking. When we asked Laurie about what he missed most from his “normal” life (pre-TBI). Laurie went onto say “One of the issues was that Mountain biking was a safe space for me, it was a way I used to chill out, have fun and be social with others, but all of that was in the past. Ironically, it is what I missed most about my life, I missed just being out on my bike and riding, its where I am happiest.” Laurie has previously raced in the UK elite national series and in the EWS 100, amateur category with the aspirations to qualify for EWS pros, to see where and how far he can go within Mountain Biking. From everyone at HIT – we wish you all the best and cannot wait to see what the future has in store for you – certainly, an underdog with plenty of fire in his belly to push on and make some serious waves in Mountain Biking! It is also with thanks to Laurie for speaking so openly and honestly about his journey – your story is very impactful, and we think it is one worthy of sharing to our sporting community as we collectively aim to improve concussion awareness and head trauma management in sport.
Fern Mitchell – Head of Business Development, HIT.