Heather Hackney says her son is a different person since he suffered a concussion playing football eight months ago.
Heather Hackney has been desperately searching for her son for the past eight months.
Even when he’s standing right in front of her, Hackney stares into those beautiful blue eyes looking for the happy young man she used to know.
Larry Blocker is lost, mentally and emotionally.
He’s waging an exhausting battle with post-concussion syndrome ever since he took a helmet-to-helmet hit in a football game on Sept. 24, 2017.
Blocker, a Windsor native, was playing defence for the London Beefeaters in a Canadian Junior Football League game in Calgary.
We have to walk on eggshells every day. He doesn’t want to talk about it. He doesn’t want to go anywhere. He can’t work out. He can’t have a regular conversation
He says he told the team trainer he didn’t feel right after taking the hit but stayed in the game. He then flew home with the team and went to bed.
“I had a headache and a weird ring in my head,” Blocker said. “I woke up and I knew I wasn’t OK. I was all kinds of messed up.”
The next day was his 22nd birthday and his mom sent him a text.
“I got gibberish back,” Hackney said.
When they spoke on the phone, Larry was slurring his words and not making a lot of sense.
“He started playing football when he was six years old,” Hackney said. “And the day before his 22nd birthday I lost him.”
Hackney and Blocker’s close friend Daisha Wilson got in a car and headed for London.
They’ve all been living a nightmare ever since.
“He’s not my happy kid any more,” Hackney said. “We have to walk on eggshells every day. He doesn’t want to talk about it. He doesn’t want to go anywhere. He can’t work out. He can’t have a regular conversation.”
The emotional outbursts can come out of nowhere. The depressive thoughts are crippling.
“The battle between his heart and his head is overwhelming,” Hackney said. “It’s a struggle for him and us. We’re all having a hard time.”
Initially, Blocker wanted to stay in London and continue his studies in culinary arts at Fanshawe College.
He sought treatment at a concussion clinic at the college and at a program his mother learned about at St. Joseph’s Hospital.
Recovery has been excruciatingly slow.
“He spent four hours looking for his classroom one day,” Hackney said. “His short term memory is gone.”
She overheard him tell a friend he contemplated stabbing himself in the throat.
Blocker is not keen to share his story.
He is not interested in anyone’s pity and doesn’t want to be considered a charity case.
Soft spoken and reserved the day a reporter and a photographer visited the family’s home, he didn’t want his picture taken but he did offer a few dark insights into his current daily life.
“I think bad, weird stuff,” he said. “I have emotional outbursts and thoughts that I can’t stop. I have trouble sleeping and I struggle with depression, and I’ve never had an issue with that before. The hardest thing is feeling trapped in your body and you can’t think for yourself. My body and mind aren’t connected.”
He had to drop out of school.
Hackney brought him home in May.
Ever since that day in September she’s been on a mission to learn everything she can about concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
CTE is a neurodegenerative disease found in people who have had multiple head injuries such as concussions. Symptoms include behavioural problems, mood problems and processing problems.
The family fears Blocker may have suffered several concussions through the years.
“He’s been getting hit since he was six,” Hackney said.
Blocker was a high school all-star during his time at W.F. Herman Secondary School, playing on two OFSAA championship teams.
Hackney now second-guesses herself for introducing her son to the game.
As a single mom, she wanted something fun for him and a way to make friends.
The whole extended family embraced the game and even travelled to see him play out of town.
“Now, we don’t even watch football on TV,” Hackney said.
She’s been struggling with the London Beefeaters and the Ontario Football Alliance to get a copy of Blocker’s league-mandated insurance policy to see if any of the treatment options could be covered.
Hackney said it took more than six months for London’s team trainer to file a report on Blocker’s injury before anything else could proceed.
She’s been told an insurance claim was finally filed in May and an adjuster should call within a couple of weeks.
I’m searching for treatment and help. These treatments with Dr. Lemmo are going to cost me thousands of dollars but I need my son back
According to an OFA official, it is standard policy not to give out insurance policy numbers to players.
“Because Ontario Football is the policy holder, we retain that number,” said Joshua Prior, the director of marketing and promotions. “We’ve had incidents in the past where players have submitted claims that were not approved.”
Prior said standard procedure calls for the submission of three reports to Ontario Football when there’s an injury claim.
The three reports are a standard claim form, an incident report and a declaration form. The standard claim and declaration forms are fairly basic. The incident report is a more detailed account of the injury completed by either the team trainer or physician.
Prior said this report would typically be filed shortly after the game in which the player was injured.
He wouldn’t speculate as to why it took London’s trainer months to file a report.
London Beefeaters president Rob Annen wouldn’t discuss the incident.
“I’m sorry but I am unable to speak on this because I am waiting to get all the details from our trainer,” Annen wrote in an email.
All teams follow mandated concussion protocols under the direction of Football Canada.
A player with a suspected concussion should be pulled from the game and not allowed to return until cleared by a physician.
Blocker’s family fears his concussion was exacerbated by continuing to play in that game and by the flight back to London.
Windsor native Darren Cocchetto is president of the Ontario Football Conference, the league the Beefeaters play in.
Cocchetto spoke with Annen about Blocker after being contacted by the Windsor Star.
He said the importance of follow-up care is something he’ll bring up at the OFC’s annual spring meeting this Saturday.
“It’s definitely something I’m going to address with the teams,” Cocchetto said.
After speaking with Annen, Cocchetto said it’s his understanding the trainer gave Blocker some concussion recovery protocols and exercises and held him out of a subsequent practice. The trainer told Blocker to call him if he needed anything. Blocker stopped going to practice because of his continued symptoms. Annen told Cocchetto he messaged Blocker twice on Facebook to see how he was doing.
As for the delay in filing an incident report, Cocchetto said the trainer first received an email from Hackney in March asking for the report. A few weeks after returning from a vacation, the trainer emailed a copy. Cocchetto said an incident report is not filled out for every injury, only ones that may result in insurance claims.
In the meantime, Hackney has taken on a second job to help pay for treatment by Windsor chiropractor Anthony Lemmo, who specializes in chiropractic neurology as a treatment for concussions.
On the upside, I’m super emotional. I know exactly how I feel about things
Blocker goes for an initial assessment next week.
Lemmo uses a method developed by Ted Carrick, a well-known Canadian who is considered the founding father of chiropractic neurology. He incorporates stimulation exercises in order to “rebuild the brain.”
Carrick has worked with a number of high-profile athletes from the NFL and the NHL, including Pittsburgh Penguins’ star Sidney Crosby.
Hackney will continue to seek any and all help for her son.
“He wants me to accept that this is it,” she said of his limited progress. “I’m not. I’m searching for treatment and help. These treatments with Dr. Lemmo are going to cost me thousands of dollars but I need my son back.”
There is just a hint of an ironic smile on Blocker’s face as he points out a few of the positive changes since his injury.
“On the upside, I’m super emotional. I know exactly how I feel about things,” he said. “And I like way more types of music because it sounds different. “
The trauma to his brain also seems to have unlocked some creative juices. Blocker has taken to writing poems and rap songs, something he never did before.
The rap lyrics he shares on this day hit harder than any tackle he ever laid on an opponent.
“I try to tell these hoes I ain’t got time for games,” he wrote. “I got CTE, bitch, I might not remember your name. They be like why you acting strange. I be chasing demons in my brain.”
As the lyrics are read to him out loud, any trace of a smile quickly fades away.
This article originally appeared in the Windsor Star and was reprinted with the permission of the writer Mary Caton.
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