Concussion symptoms linger for teenage Guelph hockey player

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Long road to recovery Strapping defenceman Alex Remedios, then a 14-year-old, was hit from behind while killing a penalty. His head was rammed against the glass by a bigger opposing player’s shoulder. He hasn’t been the same since.

May 7, 2011

Greg Layson/Guelph Mercury

GUELPH — Alex Remedios is a poster child for post-concussion syndrome.

The fit 14-year-old was hit from behind while killing a penalty and pinning the puck against the boards in December of last year. A bigger opposing player used his shoulder to run Remedios’ his head against the glass.

Remedios, a strapping defenceman for the Guelph Jr. Storm bantam AAA team, doesn’t remember the hit and left the arena in an ambulance.

Remedios, his father, coaches, trainers and even some doctors thought he was healthy enough to play again in late January.

“I thought I felt fine. I didn’t know what a concussion even felt like,” Remedios said.

He was hit again, albeit not as violently, and he hasn’t been the same since.

“Looking back, I don’t think I was ready to play yet,” Remedios said.

Remedios was in uniform for a few playoff games, but did nothing more than take two or three token laps of the ice during the pre-game warm-up. Otherwise, he sat in the stands. His symptoms then — and even now, at times — included headaches, dizziness and sensitivity to light.

“It was like I was in a fog or not really in the moment,” Remedios said. “I was walking around in a dream. I kept wondering if I was going to have to live the rest of my life like this.”

The symptoms hampered the straight-A student so badly he couldn’t attend a full schedule of classes at Bishop Macdonell high school. After the hit in January, he missed two full weeks of school. Then, he went to school every other day for three weeks. For three weeks after that, he went only half days. During that time he would wake up, watch a little television and go back to bed.

“It was really hard,” said Remedios, now back at school full time. “How do you shut down your brain when you still have to learn?”

His mother, Debby, said she can recall Alex working on homework and reading questions eight times before fully comprehending them.

“It’s really concerning as a mom because you can’t see him getting better,” Debby said. “This isn’t like a broken ankle where the cast comes off in six weeks.”

Two weeks ago, doctors told Alex he could start skating again. No contact. Wednesday, he was firing pucks into a net in his driveway.

“I just try and stay positive,” Alex said.

That’s a little easier to do now that the Guelph Minor Hockey Association has pledged to baseline test every one its players — house league and rep — aged 10 and up, in order to prevent concussions.

Players take the test provided by Clinical Medicine Research Group Ltd. at the beginning of the season to establish their “baseline level.” The test would be administered again between 24 and 72 hours after a suspected concussion. Once scores of subsequent tests have returned to the baseline level and symptoms have been resolved, a player is cleared to resume playing.

“I think it’s great. There was nothing to use to gauge my recovery at all,” Alex said.

“We had nowhere to turn,” said Alex’s father Miguel Remedios, who was the one to stumble upon the baseline test while researching concussions as his son recovered.

The Clinical Medicine Research Group provides the test for all eight Canadian Football League teams and the Canadian ski teams. Guelph minor hockey will pick up the tab for the testing of its players.

“It’s so important,” Miguel said of the baseline testing. “Then we can determine how close he is to returning. We can say, ‘here’s normal and here’s where he’s at.’ ”

Alex, like so many Canadians, still has dreams of playing professional hockey.

“You have to stay positive. Be careful and keep your head up all the time,” he said. “Be honest to your parents and coaches when you tell them about how you’re feeling. It’s too early in life to get hurt again.”

glayson@guelphmercury.com