Emilie's concussion story 

"I just want to warn people they shouldn’t underestimate it," says 17-year-old Emilie. "Concussion can be really serious. I would urge people to get checked out as soon as possible, not just to 'wait and see'."

A champion skier and avid student at the Apex2100 International Ski Academy, Emilie is no stranger to suffering for her passions. She has suffered several bumps and scrapes and seriously injured her knee.

None of those, though, compare to the approximately six months she was suffering with a concussion that was so serious she had to stay back a year in school because of the symptoms.

How the injury occured

Emilie woke up at 5.30am on the day of her injury and, much like every other day, was looking forward to spending several hours on the slopes skiing before school. 

"I’m still not sure how, but I crashed into one of the gates at about 60 – 80km per hour (about 40mph)," she remembers, "and I hit my head on the gate, then fell and hit it on the ice. I don’t remember much for a while after that, but my friends helped me to safety and I remember sitting there for about half an hour, waiting to see if I was okay."

Emilie called her mum while she was waiting, who told her she sounded like she was in shock. Emilie realised she wouldn't be finishing up her ski session and started to make her way down off the mountain. Loaded up with all her gear, carrying her skis and escorted by friends, the journey took her close to an hour. When she was back on the ground, she went to go see a local doctor who advised her she likely had concussion and told her just to rest and wait it out.

"I lay in bed for two full days," she says. "I couldn't focus, and light hurt my eyes, even light from screens. I felt sick and my head hurt."

After two weeks, when she hadn’t got better, she went home to her parents in Geneva and saw a doctor there who specialised in sports medicine. “He also told me to wait and see. It’s hard to articulate now how poorly I was functioning, and how much I had to slow down to accommodate this injury. I saw it most clearly in my inability to focus and think coherently. If I was getting a shower, I would have to think through all the steps of something that was previously automatic, like shampooing my hair. I would have to think of reaching for the shampoo bottle, think of squeezing the shampoo into my hand, then remember to put that into my hair. If my attention wandered, I’d forget what I was doing, or what I’d already done and have to start over.

"I couldn’t have conversations in rooms where other people were talking, which made Christmas 2022 horrible – we had family over and I found it very overwhelming. If someone laughed at the other end of the table, I’d lose my train of thought or forget what the person I was talking to had just said."

Investigations and diagnosis

Emilie found comfort in repetitive tasks, though she could only do them sparingly. Previously active and constantly on the go, she only had the ability to read books she’d read before – and therefore didn’t have to focus on – or perform something highly repetitive, like crochet.

Eventually, when her friends and family realised that ‘wait and see’ wasn’t working and was drastically impacting her future – Emilie missed so much school she had to drop back a year whilst studying for her International Baccalaureate – they decided to take matters into their own hands and started to ask around for additional opinions. Sir Clive Woodward, founder and leader of Apex2100, recommended Emilie get an appointment with HCA Healthcare UK’s Dr Richard Sylvester. A doctor he had worked with during his time in sports, Sir Clive spoke highly about him, which was enough of a recommendation for Emilie and her parents.

When she saw him around the end of February, she saw him virtually. She’d had MRI tests, vision tests, had had a SCAT5 (a special test for sports concussion), and seen a neuropsychologist, yet she was still experiencing severe cognitive impairment and was having problems with her balance. She was seeing a vestibular physiotherapist, but still felt like a shadow of her former self.

"I didn't recognise myself. I'm used to being active. But when I read the activity journal the neuropsychologist asked me to keep, I can't believe how small my life had become. I could barely socialise for a few minutes and could manage almost no activity, just these small daily walks and short periods on my bike."

Dr Sylvester was familiar with sports-related neurological injuries, especially concussion. "He clearly explained why I was still struggling four months after my concussion," Emilie remembers. "When he mentioned prescribing medication, I felt relieved. It felt like progress."

Emilies concussion skiing story IMG_0959 2.JPG

How the concussion was managed

Dr Sylvester prescribed a migraine medication for her and slowly upped her dosage. Although the medication made her drowsy, eventually she felt bursts of clarity through the fog, until finally the fog lifted altogether. Emilie is currently on the maximum allowed dosage of that medication, which she'll be on for a while before Dr Sylvester supervises her weaning off it.

"My parents are so relieved, and so am I. I’m back at school," she says, "and I've been able to gradually get back to sports. I'm going to try reducing the dosage over the summer, when the slopes aren’t as good for skiing and I won't miss as much. If any symptoms come back, we’ll have to up it again for a while, but I'm optimistic.

I just want other people to make sure they don't suffer like I did. If you feel like something's wrong, it probably is. There's nothing wrong with getting more than one opinion. Concussion is serious, and the impact can be devastating."

Dr Richard Sylvester 1022_07

About Dr Richard Sylvester

Dr Richard Sylvester is a highly qualified and experienced consultant neurologist who specialises in cognitive neurology and neurorehabilitation following traumatic brain injuries. He is also a member of the expert concussion advisory panel for the English Football Association and has worked as an independent concussion expert for the Rugby World Cup.

Dr Sylvester works at HCA UK’s The Princess Grace Hospital and at the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health, a collaboration between HCA UK, UCLH, The English Institute of Sport and the British Olympic Association.

Read more about Dr Sylvester

More about The Concussion Clinic at ISEH

This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.

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