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Fifteen-year-old Alessia feels like she’s living in a bubble – a bubble she can’t wait to burst. 

For almost two years now her life has revolved around managing the symptoms of a concussion she sustained back in March 2015. 

She has to be so careful. 

Before that, her life was about one thing: soccer. 

“Everything revolved around soccer, when I ate, when I slept,” she said. “It was soccer most nights. Homework was done quickly before or after.”

But that all changed in one instant. And she hasn’t been on a soccer field since. 

Treadmill trauma

Alessia was at a soccer training facility and began running hard on an elevated treadmill on a very steep incline.

Suddenly, Alessia fell “and I went flying,” she said.

Alessia’s head first hit the floor of the treadmill. Then her head slammed against the ground.

Her memory of the accident is hazy, but she remembers how awful she felt afterwards.  

“Everything hurt,” she said. “It was like a throbbing numbing pain throughout my whole body.” 

“She could barely walk,” said her mom, Carmelina. “My husband was with her and had to give her a lot of support getting out of his car.”

She napped that day and felt a little better. But then next day brought excruciating headaches and dizziness. She was also bumping into walls because she was losing her balance.

She became hypersensitive to light and sound. Her sleeping became erratic. 

Alessia had had a concussion before, and she recovered fully in a couple of weeks. But this was different

Medication misfortune

Initially she was given the medication amitriptyline, but it seemed to backfire. “It was having completely reverse effects,” said Carmelina, noting Alessia was passing out on a daily basis. 

Her reaction was so bad, she was taken to hospital. That’s where doctors recommended she go to Holland Bloorview. 

Thankfully, she was already connected to the hospital’s Concussion Centre through her soccer team. Every player, including Alessia, had participated in the Concussion Centre's early care program. This gave the Centre staff a solid starting point in her care.   

Alessia's new team

Since beginning treatment at the Concussion Centre last May, she has seen a pediatrician, a physiotherapist an occupational therapist, a neuropsychologist and a social worker. 

She loves the team approach. 

“Before Holland Bloorview I had different doctors in different offices…one doctor would tell me to do one thing and another would tell me to do the complete opposite,” she said. “It was really great to go to one place that had everything and worked together.”

Though she continues to make progress, there are days when Alessia gets frustrated, especially when she thinks about how her life has changed. 

Intense physical activity (including soccer) is still out. The most she is allowed to do are walks and short jogs.

Accommodations for education

Life at school is also very different. 

“I wanted to go to an athletic school for soccer but I transferred to another school because of my injury,” she said. 

Now in Grade 10, Holland Bloorview has worked with her teachers to provide accommodations for her classes. There’s no test writing. Her assignments are shorter, and she’s able to take breaks from class. 

Supportive school tools

Her occupational therapist has also given her some helpful tools, like a colour filter for reading.

Before, reading on white pages triggered headaches, but with this colour filter reading is much easier.  

She also sometimes uses a book mark that covers everything on the page except the line she is reading.

Alessia does her best to be optimistic but it’s hard. “Sometimes I think, ‘Look at me, another physio appointment two years later.’ It’s pretty discouraging.” 

“But my physiotherapist reminds me of the first time she saw me. Compared to now, it’s a big difference and she tells me to just keep going and that’s what I’m going to do.”