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Graduate returns to teach Bedford school staff about concussions

BEDFORD - One local athlete hopes that sharing her concussion experiences will ease the road for others in similar situations.

Hayley Barnard, 19, played soccer and basketball all four years at Bedford High School. She recently returned to the district to give a first-hand view of the academic and social difficulties faced by students with concussions. She said would like her story to help educators accommodate students coming back to school with concussions.

"I think it's important to let people know what happened to me and share my experience," said Barnard. "I don't want anyone to deal with what I had to deal with."

Awareness of the problem is growing. A 2011 study conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention showed a 60 percent increase in emergency room visits by children and adolescents for sports- and recreation-related related traumatic brain injury, including concussions, over the last decade. CDC experts believe much of the increase occurred because more adults realized the youngsters needed to be seen by health care providers.

The data was collected from 2001-09. Most injuries in males from 10 to 19 years old reportedly most often occurred while playing football or bicycling. Females in the same age group most often reported injures from playing soccer, basketball or bicycling.

Barnard's first concussion was the result of a car accident that ejected her from the back window of her car in October 2010. Within two days, symptoms including dizziness, constant headache and nausea began.

The accident occurred between soccer and basketball seasons, causing Barnard to miss the end of one and the beginning of another in her junior year at Bedford High School. Sports were put on the back burner as she focused on getting back to school and regular life. It proved difficult.

"I didn't feel right," Barnard said. "I didn't feel like myself."

An aversion to light and noise kept her away from activities like movies and sporting events. As she became less active and more isolated, her social life suffered.

Symptoms also caused academic problems.

"I think struggling with school is the biggest issue that I had," Barnard said.

Her eyesight was affected and she was bothered by lights and noise. Note-taking was difficult because looking up from her notebook made her dizzy. Test-taking became difficult and her grades slipped.

The school nurse assisted Barnard by sending updates to her teachers and arranging for a note-taker.

"She was really good in communicating and making all the accommodations that I needed made in the classroom," Barnard said.

Months after returning to school, Barnard returned to winter soccer. She took a header off a corner kick during practice. The headache returned immediately. She sat out the rest of practice, but the symptoms returned. A visit to her doctor the next day confirmed that Hayley had another concussion.

She was able to return to sports the following fall during her senior year in high school and chose to wear headgear.

In all, Barnard suffered from concussion for eight months.

"I don't think there was a day when I didn't wake up with a headache," Hayley said.

Looking back on how it affected her academically and socially, Hayley decided to try and educate administrators about accommodating students recovering from concussions.

Hayley did her senior project at Bedford High School on the topic of concussions. She brought a concussion-trained doctor to Ross Lurgio Middle School to educate the staff, school nurse and administrators on helping their students with concussions. She also attended Ross Lurgio Middle School parent night to distribute educational material she created. The school adopted ImPACT testing the following year.

In May 2013 Barnard and her mother, Sue, returned to the school to give a concussion presentation for seventh-grade students and parents at "Stand by Me."

Barnard is now a freshman at Southern New Hampshire University. She's enjoyed a successful return to the field, helping bring her team a NE10 conference championship in her first year playing soccer at the college level.

Despite her disposition for additional concussions, Barnard doesn't regret her decision to pursue college soccer.

"I was glad I ended up doing it," Barnard said. "There's not a lot of people who can say they played college sports. I was glad I accomplished that."

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