Just over a year after a debilitating concussion derailed her promising athletic career, North Toronto resident Allison Haggart is looking to do something about the growing problem of brain injuries.
Haggart was snowboarding with her Lawrence Park Collegiate Institute school team at Mount St. Louis Moonstone when she collided with a teammate. She ended up hitting her head on a patch of ice resulting in a concussion – despite wearing a helmet.
“When it happened, my first worry was ‘am I going to be late for school’ but then later, it was ‘oh my God, I can’t read anymore,’” she said.
Alarmingly, she was cleared to continue snowboarding after an inspection. Fortunately, however, as an athlete, she knew better.
“I had a headache and right away I knew something wasn’t right,” she said. “I had sound and light sensitivity, headaches and then the dizziness started to progress.”
Haggart’s symptoms worsened, prompting her mother to take her to the emergency room at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. A CAT scan showed no hemorrhaging or skull fractures, but such news does not preclude a concussion.
For months, Haggart had problems focusing and balancing, to the point where she needed help navigating stairs. As much as the concussion impacted her climb up the snowboarding ranks – she was a provincially-ranked boardercrosser and had won the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Association (OFSSA) giant slalom snowboarding championship – even more frightening was the fact that her symptoms put her school year in jeopardy.
“I wasn’t able to go back to school even part-time until April (the injury occurred on Jan. 11),” she said. “I missed quite a bit of my Grade 12 year, so it was a big deal.”
Haggart was able to see Dr. Charles Tator of Toronto Western Hospital’s neurosurgery division, who did what he could to help explain her condition.
“He answered all my questions as well as he could, so after a while I realized I should really give back and do something,” she said.
She started the Allison Project (www.allisonproject.com), a fundraising initiative that aims to establish a research fellowship at Toronto Western Hospital revolving around the issue of concussions. The researcher selected to fill the role will focus on the early stages of assessment and care, essentially within a week of the injury occurring.
“That was the time when I felt most vulnerable, when I needed answers and couldn’t get any,” Haggart said.
The Allison Project aims to raise $100,000 to establish the fellowship and must meet its target by the end of April. Donations will go to the Toronto General and Western Hospital Foundation and will be tax deductible.
The North Toronto teen is hoping the funds raised will help shed new light on concussions, their diagnosis and their treatment. As she knows all too well, there is not nearly enough known about the brain injuries.
“The only cure we know of right now is time,” she said.
While Haggart is mostly asymptomatic now, she still suffers from headaches as a result of her concussion. She managed to graduate from Lawrence Park on time and plans to study science in university next year. In the meantime, she is focusing much of her energy on spreading the word regarding the Allison Project.
“It seems like a lot of money to raise, but (the response) has been bigger than I thought it would be,” she said. “I hope we get to our goal.”