Local teen shares her concussion story to raise awareness

Local teen shares her concussion story to raise awareness

Emmilee Jordan of North Smithfield, wearing a blue graduation gown to signify concussion awareness, plans to share her concussion experience during the Miss Rhode Island Outstanding Teen competition this weekend. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)

NORTH SMITHFIELD – A local teenager is sharing her experience of overcoming a concussion in hopes that others will recognize the symptoms and understand the risks of the serious head injury.

Emmilee Jordan, 18, a homeschooled North Smithfield resident who graduated from high school in a backyard ceremony this week, spent much of her life as an avid soccer player. She played for 13 years in the North Smithfield Youth Soccer Association, often taking on larger and older players as her team moved up the competitive ranks.

At age 12, she took an elbow to the head during a game. Though she didn’t think much of it at the time, she was later diagnosed with a concussion and spent a month in recovery. She returned to the game soon after, continuing to go up against bigger players on defense.

Jordan thought her health was back to normal, but two years later, she said, she realized things weren’t quite right. She was getting ready to play in a concert with the North Smithfield Middle School Jazz Band at Moses Brown School in Providence when she began to overheat. She left the stage mid-performance and spent the rest of the evening sitting by a window as she struggled to recover.

“My body just shut down,” she said.

Soon, she said, she was experiencing round-the-clock symptoms. At night, she’d have insomnia or wake up exhausted after oversleeping, and during the day she had headaches and nausea. She developed a light sensitivity that kept her from going to class, and any crowded or noisy setting could trigger episodes of weakness from overstimulation.

“I was passing out six or seven times a day with how bad it was,” she said.

She visited doctors all over Rhode Island and Massachusetts, but since it had been over two years since her last diagnosed concussion, none of them thought of it as a solution. Finally, she visited a doctor who specialized in natural remedies who identified a concussion as the source of her symptoms.

She began going to a concussion clinic in Boston where a team of specialists put her on a regimen of therapy, lifestyle changes and a special diet. The journey to recovery, she said, was long and difficult. She withdrew from school altogether to give her mind a rest before gradually reintroducing a homeschooling program that relied on workbooks instead of digital screens. She lost touch with many of her friends as she focused on taking care of her own health.

“We really had to slow it down, which is really hard in this culture,” said her mom, Erin Jordan-Scott.

At home, her family, including her parents, Jordan-Scott and Michael Scott, kept the lights off as she continued to have difficulty with overstimulation. After a while, she began to reintroduce activities that brought her joy and allowed her to socialize. Though she never returned to the soccer field, she grew her other passion for musical theater and began taking leading roles at the Stadium Theatre and other local venues. While the school lights hurt her eyes, the LED lights common in the theater world did not trigger her concussion symptoms, she said, allowing her to find a home on stage.

“If anything, I’m more busy now than I was then,” she said.

As the years went on and her symptoms abated, Jordan began to embrace her role as a spokeswoman for teen concussion awareness. She has worked with the Concussion Legacy Foundation to raise awareness of the symptoms. She is also hoping to work with state Sen. Frank Lombardi to help pass legislation that would require more concussion training for adults at youth sporting events.

This Sunday, June 13, she will represent North Smithfield in the Miss Rhode Island Outstanding Teen competition at McVinney Auditorium. For her social initiative platform, she plans to speak about concussion awareness and share her own experience.

“I feel proud of myself, because it wasn’t easy to go through that publicly. As difficult as my situation was, I’m very grateful for my story and I’m proud that it’s mine,” she said.

Jordan hopes to continue her life on stage in musical theater, a path she might not have pursued if she had continued down an athletic track. After taking a gap year, she plans to attend musical theater school and is working with an agency to set up auditions in New York.

Though she’s been cleared of her own concussion symptoms, she now hopes to bring awareness to others. There are many stories like hers, she said, where people didn’t even know where their symptoms are coming from.

“If you have a head injury, don’t take it lightly like mine. Take it seriously,” she said.