Maddy Vincent looked around the UW pediatrics clinic at University Station and waited for her final doctor's appointment before she left for college this week. The lobby and the exam room the former Waunakee hockey player would go to looked extremely familiar.
"I was an aggressive player, so I was always the one who was going to get hit and I always seemed to be hurt," she said. "I always tried to play through it, but when I got my concussion, it was something different."
It was here in the early part of 2012, after suffering a significant concussion on the ice where afterward she didn't recognize her mother, that Maddy was told her focus going forward should be on healing and school, and not on sports.
"It's always difficult to tell an athlete they shouldn't play the sport they love," said Dr. Greg Landry, a UW pediatrician who specializes in youth primary care sports medicine. "Compared to 10 or 20 years ago, coaches are more knowledgeable. Athletes are more knowledgeable. Everybody's become more knowledgeable about concussions and the fact that it's not like another injury. When you get a concussion, you need to stop and rest and help that heal. It's not good to play when you're hurt with a concussion."
More than two and a half years after her injury, Maddy's symptoms (regular headaches, memory loss and difficulty with physical exercise) are getting better. She still struggles to complete a 30-minute run and is attending Butler University this fall, in part because its smaller class sizes allow her a better opportunity to focus. She's comfortable with her decision to give up hockey and sees what happened to her as an opportunity to help others.
"I didn't feel normal for six months after my concussion and that feeling just was awful. I hated feeling like that," she said. "If you get hit and you feel dizzy, if your coach tells you to go back in the game, tell them you don't feel normal. You have to stand up for yourself."
Maddy successfully performs the drills Dr. Landry has had her do since her injury. Her ability to walk in a straight line, touch her index finger to her nose and track his finger with her eyes has improved dramatically.
"She was pretty impaired. She's come a long way," he said. "I can see in her eyes, she's feeling better."
The tenacity she showed on the ice is now being directed toward educating others about the seriousness of concussions.
"I know how much it sucked for me to go through this without knowing anything," she said. "So, if I can share my story and someone can relate to it, then that's helping other people and that's what I like to do."