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Stephen Smith

About Stephen Smith

Stephen founded the Brain Injury Law Center to help brain injured victims, survivors and their families. Connect with Stephen on Google+

Teach Believe Inspire – Interview with Jessie Riley

Jessie-RileyConcussion and traumatic brain injury have always been a part of professional sports, but it’s only in recent years that awareness and activism has grown up around the issue. Jessie Riley, our Teach Believe Inspire award winner for January, has experience on both sides of history. Keep reading for her reflections on life as an athlete before TBI awareness, her excitement for the future of her company Kitanie, and the epiphany she experienced from a simple coloring book.

What do you remember about the aftermath of your first concussion? Did your family or coaches express any concern when you immediately got back on the ice? 

I don’t remember the accident, or hitting the wall. I just remember stepping on a block coming out of the turn at full speed and then waking up with my coach looking down at me lying on the ice. He helped me up, but it was all a blur because I was so dizzy. I went back to the Olympic Training Center, but when I saw the trainers, there was never any mention of concussion or even neck injury. They just told me to rest. I remember my coach had to drive me home because I was too dizzy to function. But that was it. No tests were done. No x-rays. I completed in the US Olympic Trials two weeks later and came in 12th place. The top 6 made the Olympic team. Continue reading

Teach Believe Inspire Award – Jessie Riley

Teach Believe Inspire Award – Jessie Riley In 1998, competitive ice skater Jessie Riley was coming out of a return, bent on improving her speed in hopes of qualifying for the Winter Olympics in Albertville, France. Maybe her focus was too strong; maybe her goal had given her tunnel vision. Whatever the reason, the skater’s next move—one she had made hundreds of times before during training—went awry. Moving at a speed of 30 mph, Jessie Riley skidded and slammed head-first into the wall of the rink.

Everything after that was blackness.

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Brain Injury in Soccer


It shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it was. Audiences at least year’s Women’s World Cup semifinals were paralyzed in shock as they watched medics rush to the rescue of Morgan Brian and Alexandra Popp. The two opposing players illustrated, in real time, the dangers of soccer head trauma.

Just seconds before, Germany’s women’s team had a free kick. Morgan Brian, a defender for the United States, jumped up to “head” the ball. Unfortunately, Alexandra Popp made the same move, only a split-second later. As the ball bounced effortlessly off Brian’s forehead, her skull descended backward, and cracked unexpectedly against Popp’s forehead. The force couldn’t have been any greater if they had actually been trying to assault one another.
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Teach Believe Inspire – Interview with Cavin Balaster


Cavin Balaster, our December Teach Believe Inspire award winner, is a true renaissance man who has devoted his talents to solving the puzzle of brain injury in new ways. We were able to speak in more depth with him this month about the details of his recovery from TBI, his current research into nutrition therapy, and his upcoming memoir (due out in 2017).

For more information about Cavin, you can subscribe to his podcast Adventures in Brain Injuryon iTunes, access his free eBook (available on his website) or visit his resources page.

Do you remember feeling any misgiving or fear when you climbed up the side of the water tower that night in 2011?

I actually have no recollection of climbing the water tower. In fact, I do not remember a single moment of this entire day, or about a month following my fall. I wish that I could tell you what thoughts went through my mind. Perhaps I was scared. Perhaps my life flashed before my eyes as I crashed from one steel beam to the next. But the truth is, I do not remember a thing.

The most defining moment of my life has been wiped away, and I am really only able to tell this part of my story based on information that has been relayed to me by others.

During your first months of therapy, what made the biggest difference in helping you toward recovery?

This is a great question, and one that I get a lot. There were several aspects of my recovery that I didnt expect would make such a positive impact. In fact, Im in the process of writing an eBook about this very subject.

I had incredible social support, which makes a world of difference no matter what were going through. And of course, I am very thankful that I was fortunate enough to receive the initial treatments and surgeries that saved my life.

Honestly, nutrition probably played the biggest role in my recovery. I had been in a brain fog throughout much of my recovery and was very emaciated and underweight. Not only was I relearning to talk, walk, and eat again, I was also healing and rewiring my brain. I was putting serious work into repairing my body and learning to adapt, and I couldnt progress without making sure I was adequately fueling all that work.

Had you written much before your injury?

I had not done a tremendous amount of writing before my injury, but Ive been a songwriter and musician all of my life. I was a bartender in NYC for years, and storytelling is a forte of any good bartender. The craft of songwriting and storytelling is about conveying a feeling, and that is what I try to do in my writing.

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Teach Believe Inspire Award – Cavin Balaster

Teach Believe Inspire Award – Cavin BalasterThere are a lot of words and phrases that can describe the experience of undergoing a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Over the years of interviewing TBI survivors for this blog and working with many, many more on their litigation cases, we thought we had heard them all.

But after encountering Cavin Balaster, we heard a new description of TBI. One that challenges perceptions of what TBI really means, and encourages everyone to rethink their presumptions of what is possible for survivors. For his clever, courageous reassessment of the nature of TBI, we are pleased to present Cavin Balaster as our Teach Believe Inspire award winner for this month.

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Win Tickets to See “Concussion”

On Christmas Day, Columbia Pictures will bring Dr. Omalu’s story to the silver screen in a movie starring Will Smith. “Concussion” tells the journey of Dr. Omalu’s fight against the NFL to have his research be heard; the research that revealed the specific kind of brain damage that professional football players suffer and how it affects their lives even after they are done playing the sport.

Over a decade ago, forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu became the first person to identify chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in American football players.

As advocates for opening the door for discussion about these serious issues, we are hosting a giveaway! On Friday, December 18th, we will be randomly selecting a winner for two (2) movie tickets to see “Concussion” opening on Christmas Day.

Gain entry by tweeting to @BrainInjuryVA and letting us know why you want to see @ConcussionMovie. Make sure you use the hashtag #BILCCares. Contest begins Friday, December 4 and ends Thursday, December 17 at 11:59 p.m. EST. Good luck!

Concussion Movie Tickets

Tracy Morgan’s SNL Return Draws Attention to TBI Myths

Last month, superstar comedian Tracy Morgan returned to the stage of NBC Studio 8H to appear on Saturday Night Live. His initial entrance, marked by clumsy movements, garbled speech and a blank-eyed stare, cut short the audience’s instinctive laughter into a fringe of nervous chuckles. From the sound of it, everyone was asking themselves: “Is this real? Is he okay? Is he…really not okay? Why did they let him on the show if he’s not okay?”
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Teach Believe Inspire Award – Ben Utecht

Teach Believe Inspire Award – Ben UtechtAs a child, Ben Utecht dreamed of being a professional football player. Against the most daunting odds, he not only achieved his goal, he went on to win Super Bowl XLI. Instantly cementing his name in the annals of the most watched sport in the U.S. But as athletes, coaches and even the public are now finding out, there can be a very serious price to pay for NFL glory.

For showing that the death of one dream can lead to the birth of many more, and for providing a voice for those who have sustained a traumatic brain injury, Ben Utecht is this month’s Teach Believe Inspire award winner.
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The Acquired Savant

Acquired Savant Syndrome

Traumatic Brain injuries carry significant long-term social and cognitive effects for those afflicted. Often victims’ lives are completely upended to the degree that they can barely recognize themselves. Other times, the brain responds to trauma in spectacular ways, resulting in talents the injured person never before expressed. This is called acquired savant syndrome.
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Teach Believe Inspire Award – Kimberly Archie

Teach Believe InspireAmerica is a country that loves its sports. From baseball to basketball, we cheer for our favorite teams and plan our weekends, grocery lists and parties around “the big game.”

Once upon a time, baseball was the top sport in the U.S., earning the moniker of “America’s pastime.” But over the past two decades, football has emerged as the top-grossing sport in the country. We love the competition, the drama and excitement so much that Super Bowl Sunday is now practically a national holiday.

Lately, however, one of the hot-button topics surrounding football is head injuries and concussions. Rightly, steps are being taken to protect football players in an attempt to minimize the long-term injuries associated with the aggressive sport.

But an underrepresented group of athletes — who play nearly as much a part in the sport as the players — is being overlooked. Continue reading

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