Persevering through the pain: Lone Grove student deals with traumatic brain injury
On September 24, 2016 Cassidy Baughman’s life changed forever after a freak accident on the softball field. While warming up before a game, a stray ball hit Baughman in the temple, knocking her unconscious. She was diagnosed with a concussion, but the complications stemming from her injury refused to go away. Eventually she learned that she had suffered a traumatic brain injury, and she continues to live with the issues caused by her condition to this day.
Baughman told the story of how it all began.
“I was the varsity pitcher for Lone Grove my freshman year, which is something that I had always wanted to do,” she said. “For me, that was something that I really worked hard to achieve. When I was in the 8th grade getting ready to be on the high school team I was getting up early every day before school to work out and playing softball on the weekends.”
Baughman said her injury occurred during a tournament in the Oklahoma City area that was taking place about a week and a half before Lone Grove was scheduled to begin the playoffs. They were about to face off against South Moore, an extremely competitive and talented team.
“I really wanted to do a good job for everyone, and I felt like I had a lot to prove,” Baughman said. “Unfortunately when I was warming up to pitch that game, they were taking ground balls and someone overthrew it, and it hit me in the temple. It was nobody’s fault, it was just one of those freak things.”
She said she was immediately knocked unconscious, and she does not remember much about the next few hours.
“I just remember waking up with dirt on my face and the paramedics around me, and I was very disoriented,” she said. “One thing I remember — and this is actually pretty funny — is that when they were taking me in the ambulance to the hospital they had to do an IV. I’ve always been scared to death of needles, and I begged them not to do it because it would hurt. The lady assured me it wasn’t going to hurt at all but it did. I was like, ‘that did hurt. You’re a liar. You lied to me!’ My parents got a kick out of that.”
At the hospital, she was diagnosed with a concussion and told to take a week off of school and softball. After taking the week to rest, she went to see her family physician to get a release to return to softball
“I was still experiencing lots of pain and different other symptoms, but I lied and told the doctor I was fine,” Baughman said. “I think that’s pretty common with a lot of athletes. It was just a couple days before the playoffs and I wanted to be out there on the field. I thought I could deal with the problems once the playoffs were over.”
Her first day back at practice did not go well. Her pitching was off and it was taking her longer for her brain to process things. Her coach benched her for the practice. He then decided to bench her again for the playoffs.
“My processing was slow, and I was in a lot of pain,” she said. “Coach Miller recognized that, and he benched me for the game. I’m thankful for that now.”
A couple weeks later, she was still experiencing terrible headaches, neck pain, and a host of other symptoms she now recognizes as a sign of her traumatic brain injury. After returning to her family physician and telling him about her neck pain, the doctor realized she had torn muscles in her neck.
She attended physical therapy because of the torn muscles for two months, and it was actually her physical therapist who suggested she see a neurologist.
“I was telling her that I was having trouble at school, and I was talking to her about my sensitivity to light and sound,” Baughman said. “I was also still dealing with pain in general along with vomiting and passing out.”
Baughman’s family scheduled an appointment with a neurologist in Texas, and he told her that though it had been a few months since her accident, all of her symptoms would likely be gone by the spring. But he urged her to return in a few months if she was still unwell.
However her symptoms did not go away. Baughman said they might have even got worse. She also continued to experience trouble in school.
“I was a 4.0 GPA student, and I was on track to be the valedictorian,” she said. “But I made my first C on a math test ever, and it wasn’t for a lack of trying, a lack of knowledge, or not studying enough. My brain just didn’t function the same way.”
When she returned to the neurologist in March, the doctor told her that she could no longer play any sort of contact sport. He also started talking about treatment plans and medications to help with her symptoms.
“I broke down in tears on the drive home, and as soon as I got back I went to the field house to clean all of the stuff out of my locker,” Baughman said. “Then we started trying out different migraine medications, and I couldn’t even tell you how many we tried. Pretty much none of them had any effect.”
By Christmas the year following her accident, Baughman and her family decided to enroll her into special education courses. She was still having difficulties learning and was unable to attend class regularly because she spent many days at home sick.
“The goal was for me to continue to try to be in regular classes, but we quickly realized that was not going to be realistic,” she said. “Thankfully Lone Grove was great about working we me, and that’s when I started on Acellus, a virtual learning program.”
Almost a year later — two years after her accident — she was still experiencing extreme pain and other symptoms, and she began to see a new neurologist. She still remembers what her first neurologist told her when he suggested she see a different doctor.
“The doctor looked me right in the eyes and he told me 'I’ve done everything I know, and unfortunately we don’t have the technology to understand what’s wrong with you. In 10, 20 years we might, but the truth is I can’t help you',” she said. “That was really hard to hear. The truth is there is no cure for traumatic brain injury, and all doctors can really do is treat the symptoms.”
The next doctor she saw is a concussion specialist who works with the University of Oklahoma football team and the Dallas Cowboys.
“We asked him if he had ever had any other patients with an experience like mine,” Baughman said. “He told us that it’s not common, but it’s also not rare. He said he’s had a handful of cases when people with ADD who are highly intelligent and receive a concussion end up with a traumatic brain injury and have a harder time with it.”
Baughman said for the first couple of years, she spent most of her time at home and chose not to go out very often, however that eventually changed.
“Once I realized this was not going to go away, I realized that I’ll be in pain whether I’m sitting at home or going out trying to have fun. So I might as well go out and try to enjoy life,” she said. “The pain level has stayed the same pretty much the entire time, the difference is that after four years of dealing with this you learn to adjust. People see me now not complaining, not crying, and not hiding at home, and they think I’m fine. I’m not fine. I’m just having to deal with it and succeed in spite of it.”
Later this month she will be visiting a new neurologist at the Mayo Clinic to find out if there are any other options for her treatment. She’s hopeful, but after years of getting her hopes up with little results, she’s trying to remain cautiously optimistic.
In the mean time she has continued to maintain her 4.0 GPA, and she now believes this has been part of God’s plan for her.
“Even though I loved softball and giving that up was a loss for me,I think I had started tying in my self worth with how good I was at softball. You feel like that’s all you have to offer the world, and you feel like that’s what makes you special,” she said. “Every time I threw a bad pitch or every time I struck out, it was a major disappointment to me because I felt like that’s all I was good at. My parents and the school always supported me, but in my own mind I felt like a failure. I think God knew that that was not good for me. I also think he knew that I would never walk away from it on my own. I question what would have happened if I continued playing all the way through high school, and then didn’t play in college. I would have felt like my life was over.”
Instead of softball she has focused her energy on FFA and raising and showing animals. She is also focusing on one day becoming a medical professional with a specialization in traumatic brain injury.
“After I graduate this spring, I’ll be going to OSU,” Baughman said. “Right now my plan is to major in biochemistry and molecular biology. The plan is to specialize in work in with traumatic brain injury and concussions. I feel like this is something where I could really make a difference and give others some answers that I have never got.”