Aug 5, 2014
09:22 AMHealth & Science
Former NY Ranger Mike Richter Among Those Affected by Concussions
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In the immediate aftermath of his concussion Mike Richter’s first concern was getting back on the ice and helping his team win, but that changed as the severity of the injury set in.
“At first the question was ‘Can I play Thursday?’” he says. “Then the question was ‘When can I work out again?’ Then the question was ‘When will I Just have my life back?’”
Soon, doctors told him he was out for the season.
“I was absolutely devastated—I didn’t really see it coming,” he says. But as he endured the serious symptoms of the concussion he was better prepared when his neurologist told him he should retire at the end of that season.
“It’s a bigger concept to swallow but that point I had been shown the severity of this thing and really just wanted to get my life back more than anything else,” he says. “I had a wife and two young kids.”
Though a concussion can occur as a result of contact sports, the injury is by no means limited to athletics.
“Only one of every four concussions actually occur in organized sports,” says Katherine Price Snedaker, a Norwalk mother and founder of a variety of concussion-related organizations including Pink Concussions, which seeks to provide information about female concussions. “Yes, there are a lot of sports concussions and that’s where the focus is but that’s not the majority of it.”
Katherine Snedaker learned this the hard way when her son Charlie, who was in sixth grade at the time, got a concussion during recess from being hit by a stray ball from a soccer game he was not involved in. In the aftermath of that injury Charlie was slow to recover and ended up getting additional concussions. Snedaker says that she realized she did not handle the initial concussion recovery properly and has started lecturing about concussions to help other parents avoid the same mistakes.
For his part, Charlie Snedaker, now 17 and a senior at Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk, said he had difficulty describing his conditions. “There’s no way to measure, at least not yet, how bad a concussion you have—it’s basically just the person with the concussion telling their doctors or parents how bad it is,” he says. “It’s really hard when people don’t believe you and say you’re just trying to get out of going to school and you have a really bad headache and the lights are affecting you and the noise is affecting you.”
However, properly recognizing and responding to the symptoms of a concussion are key to limiting its adverse side effects.
“If a concussion is managed properly, kids are generally completely better in 30 days,” says Katherine Snedaker. “If the concussion is mismanaged, kids take about 100 days to get better.”
For Richter, sleep was key to recovery but it was hard to come by. “When I first was hit I couldn’t stay awake in the day and I couldn’t get to sleep at night,” he recalls. “It was like I was eternally jet lagged.
However, that gradually changed. After about six months he recovered almost fully and began regrouping and adjusting to life after hockey. “You feel so old as an athlete when you’re in your late 30s, but you’re still young as a person, you’ve got a lot of living to do,” he says. During his career he had taken summer courses at Ivy League schools including Columbia. Once his professional playing career was over he decided to focus full time on academics and attended Yale, where he ultimately graduated with a degree in ethics, politics and economics.
After graduating, Richter, a longtime environmentalist, founded Healthy Planet Partners, a Greenwich-based firm that helps companies and building owners make buildings more energy efficient through a variety of technologies and strategies. “Most buildings out there can use an energy upgrade, there’s very few buildings that are running at peak efficiency,” he says.
His experience with concussions has not soured his opinion of organized sports. He points to the increase in research that is now underway that will provide a better understanding of concussions, and that on the whole, youth and professional sports are moving in the right direction.
“We don’t have it all right but we’re identifying a very, very serious problem and one that will have a solution, and we’re marching toward it,” he says. “I’m a big fan of kids participating in sports at all levels but I think you need to do it wisely and right now we know enough to be concerned and so you have to err on the side of caution.”
If you do get a concussion, Richter says its imperative that you allow yourself time to recover.
“You better respect that your body needs to heal and the beautiful thing is that it does,” he says.