HOLMDEL, N.J. - The Love of the Game.
“When Kevin called to tell us he got hurt at practice, we were frightened. We wanted to go get him and bring him home right away, but he insisted on staying and seeing the team doctor.” Kevin’s parents, Tami and Bob Brady.
Kevin Brady is tough, really tough.
He started playing tackle football at seven years old (flag at 5 and 6) and played every year since. “When you put your pads on Kevin,” his father Bob Brady would say, “you show them what you can do.”
Kevin Brady is an athlete. He was Captain of the Holmdel High School Football Team during his senior year. Brady was the 2014 Lombardi Award Winner and 2014 Holmdel Offensive Player of Year. He was elected to the Academic All Shore Conference Team in 2013/2014, and played in the All Shore All Star Game in 2014.
He is smart. In Holmdel High School, Kevin was in the Spanish Honor Society and The National Honor Society. In College, Kevin made The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) Dean’s List Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016 and Spring 2017. He was inducted into the PSI CHI Honors Society Spring 2016, Golden Key International Honor Society in Spring 2016 and Phi Kappa Phi Honors Society in 2017 (in the top 1% of his junior class).
On August 19, 2016, Kevin’s life changed. He received a concussion that would end his football career forever and challenge his academic path. It’s been nearly a year and Kevin has made an excellent recovery. This is his story and his message.
The Brady’s are a multi-generational Holmdel family. They are also well known as a football family. For the Brady’s, football isn’t just a sport. It’s a happening. It’s a family. Bob Brady and his wife Tami have invested years of dedication for the Holmdel football family. They have four children. Kevin just turned 21, Matt is 18, Rachel is 16 and Ryan is 15.
“It was difficult to know what the right thing to do was. We would drive to his house in Ewing to bring him back and forth to doctor appointments. He had constant pain, could not tolerate light or noise and he was living in a house with 5 of his teammates. He could not drive or be in loud crowded places.” Tami and Brady
Kevin was born on July 5th, 1996. He is both athletic and studious. This delicate balance requires focus and organization, something he practices every day. He credits his work effort to his mom and dad.
“I get everything from them. As little as a few years ago, my mom was substitute secretary at the Holmdel Schools and working hard at PNC Bank. She is now at Middletown Schools and we know the sacrifices she has made for all of us. My dad has always worked so hard and pushed me to be better all the time. I recall the countless times he would drop me off at the weight room and ask ‘what are you going to get better at today?’ - always encouraging us and pushing us to try harder and go farther.” So it was on August 19th that, like so many football players and their supportive families, he was simply doing what came naturally.
Kevin was training a double for TCNJ Varsity Football Team. “There was one play in particular where I remember banging my head into a linebacker’s chest.” said Kevin. “People said I went to block him and at the time I felt dizzy and dazed after the hit. However, I have had the same feeling in the past countless times while playing football over the years, so I thought nothing of it. I figured it will pass like all the past ones have done. After practice I still felt off, so I took some Advil and took a nap.”
“Kevin was always busy; in addition to being a full time student with an active social life, he volunteers at the local prison tutoring inmates to help them achieve their GED, he had an on campus job as a student tutor, a journalism position with an online site (www.insidethestar.com), and was in season for football. All of a sudden everything had to come to a complete and sudden stop.” Tami and Bob Brady
What Kevin didn’t realize at the time that by taking Advil ( or any over the counter anti-inflammatory), and going to sleep he may have never woken up. Advil works against the natural swelling of a concussion (a brain injury), which is a brain ‘bruise’.
“I thought I’ll be okay, so I practiced that night session as well. I did the double. After the night session it got terrible. I probably should have...if I said something after the first practice, I would have been out a week or two but I would have been back to normal within a short time.” said Kevin. “But the fact that I played through it and got more and more head contact…” Kevin paused. “It’s usually a big one that would put you out for the rest of your life. You would expect it to be that one powerful hit, where they bring out a stretcher. For me, it was hit after hit after hit. It built up in my brain and that hit that day (compiled with all of the previous years) made the equivalent of ‘that major hit’ and my brain just gave out.”
Said Kevin, “It put me out for the rest of my life in football.” Just. like. that.
What exactly is a concussion?
According to the Mayo Clinic, A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that affects your brain function. Effects are usually temporary but can include headaches and problems with concentration, memory, balance and coordination.
Concussions are usually caused by a blow to the head. Some concussions cause you to lose consciousness, but most do not. It's possible to have a concussion and not realize it. Concussions are particularly common if you play a contact sport, such as football. Your brain has the consistency of gelatin, and is cushioned from everyday jolts and bumps by cerebrospinal fluid inside your skull.
A violent blow to your head and neck or upper body can cause your brain to slide back and forth forcefully against the inner walls of your skull. Sudden acceleration or deceleration of the head, caused by events such as a car crash or being violently shaken, also can cause brain injury. These injuries affect brain function, usually for a brief period, resulting in signs and symptoms of a concussion. This type of brain injury may lead to bleeding in or around your brain, causing symptoms such as prolonged drowsiness and confusion. These symptoms may develop immediately or later. Such bleeding in your brain can be fatal. That's why anyone who experiences a brain injury needs monitoring in the hours afterward and emergency care if symptoms worsen.
The Mayo Clinic emphasises that athletes should never return to play or vigorous activity while signs or symptoms of a concussion are present. (insert link for symptoms)
Kevin’s concussion occurred on August 19, 2016. He met with the team doctor, Dr. Peter C. Wegner. “The Doctor asked if I had any previous medical history of concussion. I told him that I didn’t. He was very confident that this was not my first time suffering from a concussion. There were games when I woke up feeling lousy the next day, so there probably were other times.” said Brady.
No CAT scans were done as the radiation from such tests are only used in certain situations due to the possible harmful effects of the radiation. After it was identified and diagnosed on the 20th, Kevin said, “I went back to my college home and spent most of the next two to three weeks in the dark, avoiding all screen time and most interaction. I was allotted accommodations in class, such as bigger font sizes, voice recordings of lectures, flexible deadlines if needed. I had serious conversations with my parents about whether or not I would need to take the semester off. I was also working as a tutor, and had to give that up. I had flashing in my eyes but the tests showed that the retinas were okay. I had trouble with convergence with my eyes. Holding a pen and bringing it in with focus was something I could not do.” said Brady.
“ We worried about him feeling lost, lonely, and depressed. We worried he would lose the semester, or the entire year. We tried to be a great support system for him and helped seek out the proper treatment. Kevin overcame so much and never gave up. As his parents, we are so proud of him for his perseverance and determination.” Tami and Bob Brady
“Something that I believe truly helped me more than anything were specialized glasses, occlusion foils to help refocus my eyes, and I went through eye rehab exercises. The challenge of the concussion is that it was focused on my eyes near the impact point. My vision was ‘snowy’ and my eyes had difficulty with convergence. This made study and concentration very difficult,” said Kevin.
This area of treatment was after he was referred to a unique specialist who manages visual aspects of concussion - Neuro Optometrist Dr. Errol Rummel.
Doctor Errol Rummel, OD, FAAO, FCOVD, FNORA, FIALVS, is an optometric physician with certification and expertise in a variety of special eye care fields of knowledge. Rummel is the Director of the Rummel Eye Care/Low Vision Care Center in Jackson, N.J. (www.rummeleyecare.com)and one of the few eye doctors in the United States to have achieved Clinical Skills Certification Level 3 in Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation (FNORA). Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation includes care of people with visual/ocular issues due to neurological issues like head injury, stroke, brain tumor and multiple sclerosis.
“Patients come to me with visual complaints about their glasses that their doctor can’t solve. I’m like the court of last resort when a person has a problem that is not being helped with regular eye care,” said Rummel.
“I designed an advanced optical technology device which is essentially like glasses that have built in telescopes to enhance a persons vision that is not responding to regular glasses. I also developed something called a hemianopia lens system. When a person has had a stroke they often lose their side vision. I developed the first workable optical product to help a patient in that situation and it’s called Side Vision Awareness Glasses, which incorporate a special type of prism to move objects from the blind side where the person can’t see towards their seeing side.”
Dr. Rummel described a medical team process with concussion injuries, including a comprehensive eye examination; “You want to rule out eye injuries caused by the concussion. For example, a patient could have a retina detachment. You want to rule that out. You want to see if their vision has been affected in any way. Often the vision is affected in ways where glasses can certainly help. There is something called Post Traumatic Vision Syndrome, PTVS. When you have a concussion the fibers in the brain are twisted and stretched and sheared, and the brain kind of short circuits, especially in the visual system. We now know that there is a risk of symptoms and signs in brain injuries that are particularly relevant to having Post Traumatic Vision Syndrome.
According to Dr. Rummel, “In Kevin’s case - he had a concussion with a football injury. He came to me with a variety of symptoms and complaints including a ‘stop motion’ effect. This is like a regular film or video - instead of seeing a steady smooth motion, you see movements in a jerky way. He also felt that objects that were actually still, seemed to have motion. Also, in environments with a great deal of activity, this created visual issues for him.” sad Rummel.
“So Kevin had ‘stop motion effects,’ apparent movement where none existed and being visually overwhelmed in a busy environment. As an example, when you and I speak face to face, we could easily attend to each other because our peripheral awareness is tuned down as we are talking to each other. In Kevin’s injury, his peripheral movement doesn’t tune down and holds the same level of visual interest to the brain because it is injured.” said Rummel. “For a person who has had a concussion or a head injury, peripheral awareness or movement is just as ‘interesting’ to the brain as is the central task that we are trying to attend to.”
According to Dr Rummel, the thorough examination of Kevin showed a convergence weakness, which is the ability to move the eyes inward. As you hold something closer to your face the eyes begin to move inward and he had a weakness of convergence in that area. Rummel says, “ In patients that have had a head injury you want to test this by stressing the system. You test it several times and see if it gets worse and worse. With a head injury relatively small amounts of refraction and astigmatism issues must also be corrected because the brain is so confused by things. The slightest impairment can negatively affect normal day to day life and needs to be corrected”.
According to Rummel, “Brain healing depends on the level of the concussion, the patient’s general health and it depends on the medical support the patient gets from the neurologist. Remember, it is a team effort. No one doctor has all the answers as it relates to multiple issues at the same time. Gaps can exist in the treatment curve and there are things parents can do. Make sure your kids have eye exams. Opinions from providers can vary. For the first week you want to minimize the patient using too much brain energy to give the brain a chance to heal. Some doctors say take a week off and then slowly increase activity. Other doctors say weeks or a month. There is no generic response as the level of concussion and disability is so different.” Rummel said. He also indicated that you should be under the care of a quality neurologist.
“In Kevin’s case many of the basic treatments were helpful to him - he’s very lucky.” said Rummel. “I used occlusion on his glasses to minimize peripheral interference and put filters in the glasses to remove 40% of the blue violet wavelengths from the computer and mobile phone displays. Things worked out really well for him. He did very well” concluded Rummel.
Under normal circumstances, being in front of the computer and mobile phones like iphone and android devices causes strain. Rummel refernced the fact that many overuse electronic devices, “children are holding these devices 4-5 inches from their face. Not only are they getting eye strain from converging but they are also getting the maximum blue violet wavelengths. Rays from computers and smartphones cause eye damage.”
Said Rummel, “Everybody should use the 20-20 rule - you shouldn’t be reading for more than 20 minutes in a row without a 20 second break looking 20 feet away. By giving the eyes a break you are helping your eye health.”
Like most young men, Kevin wanted to move the recovery forward as fast as he could. “I wanted to fight through it on my own. To be honest, that determination backfired a bit and probably lengthened my recovery process. Finally, nearly a full year later, I feel just about normal. I still have minor visual symptoms that I deal with but overall I am good now.” Good and lucky.
Rummel also emphasized the use of the King -Devick Test. This test can be administered in two minutes or less, it’s simple and it screens athletes after suspected head trauma to determine if athletes should be removed from play. According to WebMD, “ Eye movement is strongly linked to neurological function. the King-Devick test (http://www.kingdevicktest.com) shows whether eye movement has been impaired. If so, it’s likely that the athlete has suffered a concussion. “ According to the Journal of the Neurological Sciences, “The K-D test was not only useful in identifying changes in players with witnessed head trauma, but in identifying changes in players with an un-witnessed suspected concussion.”
Schools and Communities have Stepped Up
According to Kevin, local high schools and colleges have increased their focus on the problem. “I think it is much more on the radar in schools, in football, on every level. From the youth level teaching proper tackling, such as keeping your head up. I know on the first day when we would report to camp, the trainer would do a presentation on head injuries and signs and symptoms and to be overly cautious. The trainers would say if you are hurt, speak up and report it to the coaches, and take the test and compare it to the baseline. Individual players have responsibility and they need to take it. They don’t want to give up but you have to take the responsibility. I thought staying in and sticking through it was the right thing to do. It isn’t. You can tough out a shoulder injury or knee injury but you cannot take chances with a head injury.”
To a family that grew up with football and love sports like the Brady’s do, Kevin has only known football and especially tackle football from an early age. He contemplated - when a child should play tackle football?
“It’s a tough decision and I can’t blame any parent if they say the don’t want their son or daughter to play it because there’s no question that it comes at a great risk. However, football has done so many good things for me and I love the sport. It has provided countless life experiences such as leadership and teamwork. You develop these traits on and around the football field. You learn determination and the drive to be better and compete. This impacts you both on and off the field. For me, so many of these important attributes were fostered through the sport of football.” We simply need to be smarter. My doctor said to me if you are going to go professional it will be in something else and not football.” said Brady.
“Maybe not playing tackle until a certain age...what is that age I don’t know. Does it become an arbitrary starting point? Does it become high school or middle school? I don’t know but there’s gotta be some type of point… I was playing tackle football at 7 years old and while there were some great experiences, is it that necessary or should it maybe be flag at that point? These are all questions that are being answered now and there’s tons of people who will scream and yell ‘no no no no football is football either play or don’t’ and I think there are also more reasonable responses. All love the game and they will need to work it out.”
Kevin is a Psychology Major at TCNJ now and focused on Industrial Organization. He plans to go on to Graduate school or Doctorate for Human Resource Management. Staying close to the game, he now joined the staff as an offensive line coach. TCNJ has a significant resource in Kevin for students, having experienced first hand the impact of concussive brain injury on the field of play. In addition to his busy schedule, he is a freelance sports writer for Dallas Cowboys https://insidethestar.com/monday-moment-dak-prescott-downs-philly-overtime/ and was recently appointed a substitute teacher in the Holmdel Public School System.
Academics were always a strong suit for Kevin Brady He is proud of his athletic accomplishments but the academic awards shine through to him. “I think the most recent academic award - Phi Kappa Phi Honor and NJAC Academic All Star - having coaches recognize me for keeping up my GPA meant a lot to me. The fact that I was able to get through everything that happened, persevere and succeed academically, means the world to me.”
He may never get to snap the football ever again in a game, but he has so much more to look forward to in life. We are so very grateful to Dr. Rummel and Dr. Wegner for their specialized care, and to his housemates for helping take care of him. - Bob and Tami Brady
Kevin wants all athletes, their peers and their families to understand the risk, prevention, signs and treatment of concussions. “Be smart about it” concludes Brady.
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