South Xtra: Peters athlete battles back from concussion

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When Peters Township High School midfielder Jenna Jaworski was on a breakaway during a regular-season field hockey game against Fox Chapel on Oct. 12, 2010, little did she know the next few moments would lead to some momentous decisions.

Accidentally tripped by a defender's stick, Jenna, a freshman at the time, remembers little about the incident.

"I was told I flipped and somersaulted out of bounds," said Jenna, a senior who earned all-section and All-WPIAL honors in the recently completed 2013 season. "That's all I remember."

What became abundantly clear occurred following the game in which Jenna had sustained a concussion.

"On the car ride home, [I had] headaches," said Jaworski, a 17-year-old resident of the Venetia section of Peters Township. "And, I was sensitive to the headlights [from cars driving in the opposite direction]."

What also became clear is that Jenna would miss out on a considerable amount of school as she would require months of therapy and at-home recovery.

"Ultimately, I missed around three months of school in my freshman year," she said. "In my sophomore year, when I had a relapse, I missed four more months. I got to finish my sophomore season, and then I started getting the symptoms afterward. The symptoms came back."

She wasn't the only Jaworski child experiencing concussion-related issues. Younger brother Adam was learning some wrestling moves while in eighth grade in November 2011, and a teammate dropped him on his head.

Their mother, Joanne Jaworski, oversaw a period of recovery along with her husband, Michael, that lasted the better part of two years.

"We'd take one step forward and two steps back constantly," she said of Jenna's recovery. "It was a lot of wait-and-see, and a lot of rest and heal. That's really hard. It's hard for anybody. It's hard for a teenager.

"The hardest part, for her, was not only the physical pain and the things she had to go through, but also the emotional and the social part of that. She wasn't allowed to go to movies. She wasn't allowed to go to basketball games. She wasn't allowed to go anywhere noisy. No school. That's just like ripping a kid right out of their life. That was the hardest part of this whole thing."

Recovering from a concussion has been an eye-opening experience, one deeply felt by Joanne Jaworski.

"What we've learned the most is that you go to the right people and you go to the right professional, but you also have to do a lot of work on your own," she said. "When Jenna got hurt, [Peters Township High School] was not really prepared for handling her. They did [make] accommodations for her eventually.

"They required a little less quantity, but the same quality of work from her. But I think it was a matter of being on top of it. I had to be her advocate and Adam's [advocate]. And I had to make sure they were getting treated fairly for what they were going through.

"Also, I was making sure that we were looking at every avenue of recovery. We didn't want to blindly look ahead. But it helped so much for us to get on the Internet, talk to other people and read articles and open up more avenues for getting better."

Jenna's recovery took much longer than Joanne had anticipated.

"I thought she was [recovered] the summer after her freshman year," Joanne Jaworski said. "And then, we could see her backsliding in the fall of her sophomore year. It wasn't until the spring of her sophomore year and she had gone through all of the various therapies that we tried that I could look at her and say 'This is finally the Jenna we know.'"

All told, Jenna underwent vestibular, vision and hyperbaric therapies. Some of her therapy sessions took place at UPMC's rehabilitative center on the South Side and her vestibular therapy took place at Wexford Academy Vision Therapy. The bulk of her physical therapy took place at UPMC's center in Bethel Park. She underwent hyperbaric therapy at the Pittsburgh Hyperbaric Institute in Bridgeville.

Still, she had to go to the South Side to consult with Dr. Michael "Micky" Collins, the director of UPMC's Sports Medicine Concussion Program. One of Dr. Collins' patients was Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins' superstar, who successfully recovered from an on-ice injury that left him with a concussion.

Jenna said sessions were initially twice a week.

"As I got better, it got narrowed down to one day a week, but it was months of therapy," she said. "Probably about six months."

Both Jenna and Adam had to make up their classwork while they were recuperating at home and undergoing therapy. It was worse for Jenna as her recuperation lasted longer.

"I still had to do all the work that my classmates were doing out of school and with a migraine [headache]," she said. "I was seeing a tutor probably two times a week and she would help me with work that I didn't understand.

"I was taking the chapter tests -- the same as my classmates -- at home. It would normally take me a couple of hours to take one test because I would have to take a break. One worksheet would take an hour [to complete]."

Just as frustrating as her slow progress with her schoolwork was the isolation she felt.

"I felt ignored, and I felt forgotten," she sad. "They say 'out of sight, out of mind,' and with a bunch of 16-year-olds it's true."

"Some of her classmates had thought she moved away," her mother added.

Jenna is on track to graduate with her classmates next spring. Meanwhile, she has attracted the attention of several colleges to play field hockey. Currently, Susquehanna University and Washington and Jefferson are at the top of her list, but she is considering several other schools.

The experience also has guided her post-college aspirations.

"I want to be a physical therapist," she said. "I cannot thank these people enough who have helped me. The best way I saw fit for me to contribute is to become one of these people who helped me and to possibly help someone who was in my situation.

"I know how it feels, and I would like to be the person who can help someone fix their life because that's what the [UPMC therapists] did for me."

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