My Series: The Day My Vision Went Dark

Clinical Research Fastrack's own Zach Shaw tells his story about how clinical research has affected his life.

The End of My Career

When I was 14-years-old, I was a tall, scrawny, 130-pound high school freshman. But to better illustrate my frame back then, I had grown accustomed to the nicknames of “Mr. Lanky”, or “Beanpole.”

So naturally I played basketball, right? Well, little did I know that only two months into my high school playing career, my time as a competitive player was about to be up.

The reason wasn’t related to not being good enough.

No. It was the wood floor that ended my time on the court.

It was the middle of November, and we were having a joint practice with the sophomore squad. About halfway through, we started running 3-on-3 drills. A sophomore player, about 70-pounds heavier than me barreled down toward the hoop.

I set myself to take a charge. I took a breath in, and held it.

His chest plowed into mine at full-speed.

My body went horizontal to the ceiling, and then my head speared the floor.

It all happened so quickly. It was like a human flicking an ant off their hand.

When my head impacted the wood floor, my vision went dark. What seemed like four or five seconds of blackness was interrupted by the sounds of coaches yelling, “Get up, Zach!”

As I rose to my feet, wobbly and unsure of my steps, my vision began to fade from black to grey to white. I stumbled towards half court, and felt something warm falling from my nose.

Blood.

I was escorted to the training room where I was examined, and then released under orders to “take it easy.”

And you know what’s strange? In that moment, where my brain rattled inside my cranium, it didn’t hurt. I felt no pain anywhere. I felt peace.

The Fear of Not Knowing

Fast forward to a few days later, and I couldn’t focus in class. I felt like my head was being smashed against an anvil.

So it was off to the pediatrician with my parents. Then to a neurologist, where he ordered both a CT and MRI scan.

I remember laying down, and the nurse telling me to remain as still as possible. So I did. I laid there as lifeless as possible, as this giant machine rotated around my head searching for answers.

As I exited the room with the nurse, I met my mom in the hallway. Except she looked different from before I entered the scanning room.

She was in tears.

Tears were rolling down and over her cheek bones.

I felt sick to my stomach. No one understood what was going on inside my head, and because of that, it scared my mom more than she liked to admit. To see her child lay inside a machine that emits radiation into the patient, was the culmination of pain for my mom.

Ultimately, after weeks of doctors’ visits and tests, I was diagnosed with post-concussion tension headaches.

Closure. My mother could now breathe easier having an explanation and treatment plan for me. I continued to struggle with extreme headaches for months afterwards, but it wasn’t until my diagnosis my head and peace of mind could begin to heal.

Peace of Mind for Parents

In the middle of last month, a new testing method for concussions was approved by the FDA. Through clinical trials, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense, a blood test is now an alternative to CT’s for diagnosing concussions.

This blood test measures the levels of specific proteins released from the brain into the bloodstream within the first 12 hours of a head injury. This new form of diagnosis has proven to be 97.5 percent effective in predicting the presence of brain lesions.

This can lead to precise, faster head trauma diagnoses, as well as helping eliminate patient exposure to radiation through CT scanning.

Head injuries are now just beginning to receive their due, especially when related to sports. The short and long term effects of head injuries are now being thought about, talked about, and written about.

The stigma is dissolving, and brain health is starting to become a priority across the board. The landscape is completely different today.

Now, head related incidents are better identified.

Better supervised.

And better treated.

The road to protecting your most important organ is long and winding, but hopefully soon the biggest protector to your brain will no longer be your skull, but instead, society.

  • classroom learning
  • clinical experience
  • career opportunities