Baltimore teen battles back from multiple concussions

BALTIMORE - Soccer and baseball are Andy Yakim's favorite sports.

On a cold November Saturday morning, with his dad, Phil, as head coach and his mom, Liz, and sister, Marley, on the sidelines, Andy and the White Knights are focused on the Timonium/Lutherville soccer playoffs.

The game is tight with players and parents both shouting their support. However, for Andy, simply being in the game is a win in itself after suffering two concussions in the last year and a half.

The first happened while at school.

"I was hustling down the steps, hit the landing, tripped and just rolled over," he remembers. "All my friends were around me saying, ‘You just fell down the steps.' They thought it was crazy. They were scared."

Neither his friends nor Andy were as frightened as his mom, Liz, who immediately knew something was wrong when her son got home.

"He looked slow. He looked like he was in pain," she said. "When he told me what it happened, I had him take his shirt off in the front yard he was black from shoulder to shoulder."

Andy's parents took him to multiple pediatricians, looking for help for the concussion but never feeling comfortable with advice they were given.

"We felt pretty helpless and pretty frustrated," she said. "We did the tour de Baltimore, I like to call it."

After close to a month, the Yakims came to the Kennedy Krieger Institute where they were introduced to the Neurorehabilitation Concussion Clinic and immediately began receiving help from Dr. Stacy Suskauer regarding Andy's brain injury, along with physical therapy from the clinic's Janice Laux.

"This is a total body system, and we need to consider that everything is linked. That's what we're looking to fix," Laux said.

Dr. Suskauer worked with Andy's neurological ability by testing his balance and speed recognition.

At the same time, she and fellow specialists are gaining valuable data for advancement on a condition that's still seen as relatively new.

"Some of the research we currently have going on with regard to concussion is to try and understand how to measure and assess the brain basis of concussions and children," she said. "If we could know upfront which of those children are going to be affected, then we can help provide better information to families, to schools, and we could study more aggressive intervention."

While Dr. Suskauer credits media coverage of brain injuries within the National Football League and also the state Maryland for helping regulate athlete participation in games after suffering a concussion,  she says parents need to be in the game, too.

"We know that teenagers tend to believe they are invincible. It's part of normal development. So we also need parents to help us and pass along the recommendations, even if it's hard for the child understand."

Andy's treatment lasted eight months before he was cleared to return to activities. In his first game back, a soccer match, it happened again.

"This guy and I were going for the ball," Andy said. "He beat me there, and as I turned, the ball hit me in the back of the head."

Another concussion and back to his Kennedy Krieger team, once again. This time, though, not for nearly as long.

"I wanted to get back to that season for baseball," he said. "That was the goal."

It was a goal Andy accomplished but not without the watchful eye of his mom Liz close by, trying to be both cautious and realistic. "(We want to) Put him in a bubble and not let him play any sports again, but you can't do that, not with a teenager."

A teenager who's recovered, back at school, back with friends and back to sports. But Andy knows if a third concussion happens, things might be different. "I know if I get hit again I'm done. They'll put me in a bubble for real this time."

It may not be that extreme. If so, they'd miss out on moments like Andy's championship winning goal just a few nights ago, giving the White Knights the playoff title.

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