BY JEFF FALK
LEBANON – Concussions and brain injuries might be the single most compelling issue that high school sports are currently facing. And if it is, then Tommy Black is the poster child for the injury locally.
Black, a 2014 graduate of Cedar Crest, still has serious lingering effects from head injuries sustained while competing for the Falcons in soccer and basketball during his high school years. He may have suffered more than three serious blows to his head during his playing days.
The injuries and their lasting effects not only cut short Black’s time on the Cedar Crest playing fields, they precluded him from pursuing his first athletic love – soccer – in college. But right now, all the 20-year-old Black wants is his life back, or at least some semblance of it.
“I feel like I don’t remember my whole senior year,” said Black, a former goalkeeper in soccer and a tenacious ‘stopper’ in basketball. “There’s things I’d like to do, but there’s things I know I can’t do. I was healthy before it happened.
“It’s kind of put things in a bigger perspective,” Black continued. “It hit me real hard. I thought maybe I shouldn’t take life for granted, because you never know when it’s going to end. At first, I wondered why it happened to me. But I realized it was just an accident.”
Black’s scariest accident occurred two-and-a-half years ago, on October 8th, 2013, in the fall of his senior year, in a soccer game against Conestoga Valley.
A ball was played into the goal mouth, and Black went into the air with a teammate and an opponent to play it. But while up there he lost his balance, he hit his head when he fell and apparently one of the other players landed on his head while he was down.
Black was taken to Hershey Medical Center, and was in a coma there for ten hours. He was in the hospital for several days, before being released.
“I really don’t know what happened,” said Black. “People have told me I dove for a ball and someone landed on me, and my head hit the ground. I just have to be more careful.
“The doctors said I shouldn’t be able to walk,” continued Black. “They weren’t expecting the best. They asked my parents if I had a living will. They said I was pretty lucky. Being in a coma, not too many people wake up and are able to be normal.”
Two months later, in the Falcons’ third basketball game of the year, Black again suffered a blow to the head and re-aggravated his condition. He did not play another game for Cedar Crest the rest of the winter.
“If you’ve never had a concussion, it’s hard to explain,” said Black. “I had multiple ones. I wasn’t truthful at the beginning, because I wanted to play basketball. I had one during basketball, and then a couple more from me falling. I’d say I probably had around three or four of them.
“It feels pretty much like your head is very painful,” added Black. “I have very painful headaches and blurred vision. And it’s really hard to sleep with all the headaches.”
After graduation, Black had plans to play soccer at Penn State-Altoona. But he never even attended a single class there.
“I was going to play soccer at Penn State-Altoona,” said Black, “but I hit my head on a desk on move-in day, and we agreed I should take some time off. I was fixing wires under my desk. I went up and hit my head on the desk.
“I just remember waking up in a hospital in Altoona,” added Black. “I’ve been in the hospital multiple times. I don’t know how many. I was at Altoona for a day, and came back home.”
This past fall, Black attended Millersville University, made the men’s soccer squad but did not see action.
“I made it halfway through the first semester, but I had to take a medical leave,” said Black. “I was sleepwalking and I couldn’t take classes because of the headaches. I wasn’t able to focus or sleep.
“I tried to go back this semester (winter) and everything was the same,” Black continued. “I want to go back to school, but I have to get healthy and figure out what’s going on. I started working, and taking my time getting healthy again. I have no idea what’s going on. The doctors haven’t been able to figure it out. It’s a slow process, but we’ll figure it out eventually.”
During the face-to-face interview for this piece, Black seemed alert and focused, and was able to answer every question with thought and intelligence. But at times, he seemed distant and had difficulty remembering specifics of past events, and his eyes seemed glazed over.
“I have good days and bad days,” said Black. “On good days, the headaches are sevens out of ten. On bad days, they’re ten out of ten. But I’m starting to get used to it.
“The doctors have classified me with PTSD (post-traumatic stress syndrome),” continued Black. “Pretty much with all the ambulance rides, when I hear sirens, I get scared. I’m terrified of hospitals. I have night terrors. And I’m on a bunch of medications.”
Black’s prognosis is a cloudy one. Until he can get a handle on what’s going on inside of his head, his future remains unclear.
“I’d like the headaches to go away,” said Black. “That’s the main goal. It’s annoying having them everyday. I just try to keep busy. It gets my mind off the headaches, but the headaches are still there.
“I was on the team at Millersville, and made it through the season, but then all the symptoms came back,” Black concluded. “I would like to play again, but at this point I’m putting it aside. Every time they cleared me. I think I realized I’m not going to be doing that the rest of my life.”
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