Racing, concussions, and the road to recovery

I recently had the honor of moderating an important discussion about concussions with NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Jr and concussion specialist Dr. Micky Collins. The event was hosted by the University of Southern Maine (USM) Foundation.

Dale, 45, several concussions during his racing career, which began at the age of 17. Over the years, he dealt with multiple symptoms, which he mostly kept to himself. He finally saw Dr. Collins, who is Director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program, in 2012 and again in 2016.

Even though Dr. Collins helped him recover from his injuries, in 2017, Dale retired from professional racing. He said it wasn’t fun anymore and he was worried about taking more and more hits to his head. He has since written a book about his experience called Racing to the Finish.

There was a time when someone with a concussion, no matter whether it was sport-related or not, would be told to rest in a darkened room. No longer, says Dr. Collins, who, by the way, is from Maine and got his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern Maine. Bed rest can actually make things worse. He says treatment depends on what type of concussion you have. There are six different types.

In our discussion, Dale shared his personal story about his injuries, why he kept concussion symptoms to himself, what finally made him ask for help, how he was able to recover, and why he decided to retire.

Dr. Collins explained what we now know about what happens to the brain when you hit your head, the six different types of concussion and how they are treated, and how people are able to heal.

Together, they educated and inspired people in the audience. And even made them laugh. I got a few laughs too. When we were backstage at the beginning, we were told that we’d all go on stage together. Suddenly someone came running back — “Diane, Diane, President Cummings introduced you. You have to come out, everyone is waiting for you!” A little embarrassing, but thankfully, a very forgiving audience.

Watch this video of the event courtesy of the USM Foundation.

I also did a podcast with Dr. Collins in March of 2018. You can listen to it here: What you might not know about concussions.

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Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.