By Keysha Drexel
Up until a few years ago, Sharyne Wallace said, she was like most people–unaware of the long-term consequences of concussions.
But after seeing how head injuries have affected both her husband and her son-in-law, Wallace said she’s determined to make sure the public is more informed.
“Concussions and brain injuries are part of a silent epidemic in this country,” Wallace said. “Unfortunately, the education about these invisible injuries is lacking, not just in the sports world but across the community.”
To remedy that situation, the Al and Sharyn Wallace Family Foundation has launched the Wise Up initiative to raise awareness about concussions and traumatic brain injuries.
Wallace’s education on the subject started about two and a half years ago when her husband, who was 70 at the time, had a motorcycle accident while she was out of town.
“He fell and knocked himself out, and later that night, a friend found him and took him to the hospital,” she said. “My husband is a hemophiliac and they were concerned because he was unconscious for a while, so they did a scan of his brain to check for bleeding.”
But no bleeding was detected, and Wallace’s husband was sent home.
“He had pain in his neck and shoulders and then started getting headaches all of the time,” Wallace said. “He just wanted to sleep, and he had no energy at all. This went on for about six months and all that time, not one person, not the doctors, not the emergency room personnel, no one even thought about him having a concussion.”
Wallace discussed her husband’s symptoms with her daughter, Kimberly Drake, and son-in-law Kevin Drake, a former star quarterback at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and NFL player.
“Kevin had at least seven concussions that he can remember. He has lingering symptoms, headaches and some short-term memory loss,” she said.
Wallace said few people know the signs and symptoms of concussions and brain injuries, and that’s where the Wise Up Initiative can help.
“We can provide free information to parents, schools, caregivers, coaches, sports teams, daycare centers and eldercare facilities,” Wallace said. “This can happen to anyone at any age.”
Wallace said she wants to help people understand that concussions and brain injuries can happen even if a person doesn’t take a blow to the head or show any immediate symptoms.
“It can be a blow to your neck or to your shoulder. These brain injuries can result from everything from a fall to an automobile accident. You don’t have to play football to get a concussion,” she said. “Sometimes, the symptoms can take up to a week to present themselves.”
Wallace said more research on concussions and brain injuries needs to be done.
“We went to a concussion forum in New York City and found out that the government research on brain injuries is not really getting anywhere because a lot of the determinations can’t be made until post-mortem,” she said.
Wallace said she would also like to see better tests and screening methods to detect brain injuries earlier.
“We don’t have good tests because they are all based on subjective information that is supplied by someone who just got dinged in the head,” she said.
Wallace said Wise Up is partnering with the UAB Sports Medicine Concussion Clinic at Children’s of Alabama for a public awareness event in June.
“This whole issue is very personal to me, and I know there are so many other people out there who are dealing with the after-effects of concussions and brain injuries, so somebody’s got to speak up for those people and do something to help,” she said.
For more information on the Wise Up initiative of the Al and Sharyne Wallace Family Foundation, visit www.wiseupinitiative.org.