High School Athlete Battling Effects Of Multiple Concussions

June 11, 2013 / Volleyball
Sports Illustrated


Sammy Barish doesn’t remember hearing a sound when she hit the floor, but the smack of her skull meeting the linoleum reverberated throughout the gymnasium. It wasn’t an important match and her junior varsity volleyball team was already behind. Still, it wasn’t surprising when the teenager stood back up and prepared for the next point. Sammy — a part time volleyball blocker; part time soccer goalie — always played without fear. What was worrisome was that Sammy couldn’t stop shaking her head and that, with her team down at the end of the first game, the fiercely competitive teenager asked to be taken out.

The headaches didn’t really kick in until the next morning. By the time Sammy left her San Francisco home for Marin Academy, an exclusive private high school in San Rafael, Calif., her head was pounding and she squinted as she walked out into the glare of the daylight. At lunchtime, when she visited Marin Academy athletic trainer Aaron Gill to retake the ImPACT test, a neuro-cognitive assessment used to determine whether an athlete has suffered a concussion, everything felt hazy. After examining her results, Gill was certain that Sammy had a concussion.

But because Sammy didn’t quite understand what it meant to have a concussion, the 15-year-old went about her day as usual. As she sat at a friend’s house that afternoon watching television, Sammy felt the din from the TV ringing inside her head. She tried to play a board game, but Sammy felt herself falling into a deeper and deeper haze. She called her mother, who arrived at 8:30 p.m. to see Sammy standing at the front door in tears. In the car, she sat in the back seat with her head between her legs, screaming every time they drove over a bump. She begged her mother to help, to take her to the hospital, to do something. Sammy’s mother, Kathy, didn’t know what to do.

“We couldn’t understand how Samantha had such an intense concussion experience when it was her first concussion and she didn’t pass out,” said Sammy’s mother. “That’s when we started thinking that this was not her first concussion.”

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