Back in the saddle: A young concussion victim rides to recovery

One year ago, 13-year-old Reese Silberman was competing in an equestrian competition. Despite suffering from a sinus infection, Reese was eager to compete. While warming up with a horse that was unfamiliar to her, Reese made a slight miscalculation that caused the horse to land in the middle of a jump and flip over itself, sending her flying. She walked away with a broken nose, bruised ribs and a concussion.

Reese was no stranger to concussions, having suffered one just two years prior. In that instance, Reese’s horse stumbled while taking a turn during a trial, which scared the horse and caused it to take off running. Only 11 years old at the time, Reese didn’t have the strength to stop the horse and instead flew off of it, hitting the ground hard enough to crack her helmet. Her concussion was so severe she feared she may not be able to ride again.

Reese’s year-long recovery from her first concussion was slow and arduous, but she was eventually able to get back in the saddle. After suffering her second concussion, Reese decided to seek help from a specialist, which led her to Dr. Summer Ott, Director of the Concussion Program at Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute and Assistant Professor in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.

Reese worked with Dr. Ott and Chris Shields, a physical therapist with Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute, three times a week for about six weeks.

“Dr. Ott’s protocol incorporated exercise into Reese’s recovery plan immediately,” said Kristi Silberman, Reese’s mother. “Each week there was huge progress, which was so encouraging. Everyone who Reese had contact with was wonderful and supportive.”

In the past, it was thought that strict rest was the best treatment for kids dealing with concussions and that physical activity should be avoided until symptoms disappear. However, a recent Canadian study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association says ongoing or worse symptoms of concussions were more common in children and teens who were inactive during the week following their injury, compared with those who engaged in physical activity during that first week.

“We are very involved in the education of athletes and parents on when to introduce activity into the recovery process, even if the patient is symptomatic,” said Dr. Ott. “The most important thing to do for those who have suffered a concussion is to see a specialist. Concussion treatment is individualized and what works for one patient might not apply to others.”

“I’m an athletic person,” said Reese, who is now 14 years old and a freshman at St. Agnes Academy in Houston. “It drives me crazy when I can’t move around or engage in the physical activities that I love. A concussion for me means overwhelming emotion and being active is the only thing that gives me relief. The incorporation of exercise allowed me to focus on something other than the concussion and created a sense of working towards my recovery rather than waiting around until I suddenly felt better. It was also helpful to be able to see my progress as the exercises would get more challenging and my brain could handle more vigorous tasks with ease.”

Reese is back to riding, but says she will advocate for concussion awareness to her peers.

“Being educated on this issue has helped me recognize what things may potentially put me at risk and establish a course of action for when I do injure myself,” she said. “My biggest hope is that I will be able to pass this knowledge on to others because concussions are a very real issue. We must be aware of the repercussions that can occur when we put ourselves at higher risk.”

If you or a loved one has suffered a concussion, contact the Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute to undergo an evaluation with a concussion specialist. To make an appointment, call 713.704.9647, or to learn more visit our IRONMAN concussion program page.

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Tashika Varma