Julia’s post about skiing and brain injuries reminded me of a Netflix documentary I watched on Kevin Pearce, a professional snowboarder who suffered severe brain damage after falling on a practice run and hitting his head a few years back. It is frightening to think of the consequences of brain injury and how life altering they can be and his story is a perfect example. He was considered one of the best in the sport in half pipe events during his time. He even beat Shaun White in a few competitions who would later go on to win multiple gold medals in X-game and Olympic events.
Kevin’s sustained the injury to his head above the left eye so it was likely his frontal lobe that took the worst of the damage. The accident left him in a comma for weeks and once out he began the long rehab process that would take years. The documentary tells about his rehabilitation process and interviews his friends and family who said the accident dramatically changed Kevin. He was faced with memory loss, lack of attention, changed personality, trouble with social interaction, difficulty speaking, emotional instability, loss of coordinated movement, inappropriate emotional response. He underwent extensive motor rehab relearning to walk, balance, use his arms, and use fine motor movements. He also received cognitive therapy as a process to help the brain heal and reform damaged pathways. The frontal lobe damage he had explains many of the symptoms during his recovery. The frontal lobe is essential in regulating emotions and cognitive functions. This relates to some of Susannah’s symptoms due to effects from her anit-NMDA encephalitis as well as symptoms of schizophrenia we are now discussing due to the brain areas affected by the disorder.
As Kevin began to recover talks began about him returning to snowboarding competition arose. However it became clear that his brain was still damaged. His neurologist showed him images of his brain showing the damaged areas and told him he would not have the same abilities as he did before the accident. He also emphasized the point that Kevin’s brain was damaged and as a result was much more susceptible to injury and more severe damage if it suffered anymore traumatic experiences. This can be linked to many sports related head injuries in the news today. There are many theories about people returning to quickly after concussions and other head injuries and the negative effects this can have. Studies are now being done on retired NFL players who received multiple concussions years before to see how it affects people later in life. Many of them have noticeable problems that are likely related to the repeated head trauma they suffered earlier in their life. This raises many questions about the best way to handle concussion in professional and amateur sports.
One snowboarder that the documentary mentions had severe brain damage and later came back and had another accident. The effects can clearly be seen in the film when the patient interacts with his family. He has no conception of appropriate emotional response. His parents try to help him and he can be seen making insulting jokes about his parents and laughing uncontrollably when inappropriate. When asked why he does this, he appears to have to emotional response of guilt about insulting the people caring for him showing his lack of empathy for others due to his injuries.
Although Kevin still has permanent brain damage he has regained most of his physical ability and much of his communication skills, social ability, and cognitive function. He does still suffer from some decrease memory ability and attention deficits. The strides he made from just after the accident to now show the incredible neuroplasticity of the brain to be able to regenerate neurons and form new pathways that can allow for a return of most everyday activities and thoughts.