Off Balance: Special Report, Part I
Jeff Teglia and a Goaltender’s Concussion Recovery
by Kevin Moore/Special to CHN
I was a teammate of Jeff Teglia’s for two seasons at the University of Massachusetts. I interviewed Jeff three separate times over the course of his recovery from a concussion suffered on February 9, 2012. The first interview was on February 15, six days after being diagnosed. The second interview was on April 1, six days after Teglia returned from spring break, which coincided with the start of spring workouts. The last interview occurred April 30, four days after the completion of spring workouts.
Jeff Teglia, 21, a former goaltender for the University of Massachusetts, is used to being in control of every detail of his life. He has been successful both on the ice and in classroom due to the thoroughness of his preparation. As a student-athlete he was twice named to the Hockey East All-Academic team. During the 2011-12 season he was the top academic goaltender in the league, registering a 3.88 grade point average for the year.
Prior to enrolling at UMass Teglia was the top-rated goaltender in the USHL for the Omaha Lancers. His intensity and focus on the ice separated Jeff from his peers and landed him an athletic scholarship one year before his junior eligibility expired.
Observing Jeff prepare for a game is like watching an obsessive-compulsive housekeeper. Every mundane detail needs to be perfect before he steps between the glass. His steely-eyed glare is like a man possessed. Repetition of his routine each and everyday is a must.
On Thursday, February 9, 2012, Jeff’s daily routine went off course.
“In practice I made a save with my left pad and the puck went up head high. While I was still down Joel Hanley came in trying to bat the puck out of the air and into the net and hit me in the head with his stick right on top of the helmet,” said Teglia.
Upon receiving the blow, Jeff pulled himself out of the net to regain his composure, but did not remove himself from practice that lasted another 25 minutes.
“I guess I’m sort of a competitive person, I didn’t really think anything was wrong immediately,” said Teglia. “I didn’t have trouble when I kept exerting myself. I had a slight headache. I’ve obviously had injuries and headaches before, and didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary and was able to fight through everything and just kept playing.”
Upon the completion of practice, Jeff knew something was wrong and went to the team’s athletic trainers who sent him to the team doctors. He had a concussion, the first of his career.
The previous Sunday, Jeff had received stitches on his cheek from an undisclosed blow to the face that occurred in the late morning. The doctors questioned Teglia if he had any concussion-like symptoms from the blow, and it was eventually ruled out that he had not been concussed from that injury, thus ruling out a potential disastrous chance of second impact syndrome. Second impact syndrome can occur if someone who has a concussion receives a second blow before their first concussion has healed completely, leading to life threatening brain swelling.
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that can be caused by a blow to the head, or a blow to the body that causes the head to move rapidly back and forth. The human brain is surrounded by spinal fluid, which acts as a cushion preventing your brain from banging into your skull. If a person is hit hard enough the impact can cause the brain to hit the skull causing a TBI.
Prior to the 2011-12 season Teglia, like all of UMass’ student athletes, took a baseline test; a cognitive twenty-minute test taken on the computer to assess things such as the student-athlete’s verbal and visual memory. UMass’ baseline test is administered through a program from the Pittsburgh based company ImPACT.
Sections of the test include having the athlete repeat a series of random numbers forward and backward, recall words that are on the screen, and say the months in order backwards. The baseline test gives the trainers a standard to compare test results to if you receive a concussion.
During Teglia’s recovery, his main interactions throughout the day were with the University’s medical staff and athletic trainers who monitored him daily. If any of his symptoms changed he was instructed to contact the team’s athletic trainers.
Jeff received a doctor’s note excusing him from class. He also was now relegated to the sidelines. The four-hour block during the day that he would normally spend at the rink was now filled with nothingness.
“I definitely feel pretty lonely I rest most of the day. I don’t really do anything; the lights are off all the time. I get really excited when I see people because I don’t see them at all during the day,” said Teglia, six days after receiving his head injury.
He had shown little improvement during that time and his symptoms, which included trouble concentrating, being off balance, and fatigue had not subsided.
“I have most of the same symptoms and it’s hard to tell if they’re really worse or better,” said Teglia. “When I got outside I feel like I’m in sort of a fog, I feel slowed down, I just have the feeling of not being right.”
As Jeff answered each question that day there were long pauses between words. I could see the strain to concentrate in his face as he tried to answer my questions in the way that he wanted to. His eyes had a vacant look in them, and his overall demeanor lacked energy. This was not the same Jeff Teglia who led the Minutemen to an overtime win against rival University of Vermont at Fenway Park on January 7.
A half hour into our first interview Jeff sighed and said, “I got like so tired so fast.” I asked him to describe what he was feeling, “I feel really tired and fatigued, mentally and physically I guess. Physically my eyes feel really heavy and tired. Mentally I sort of feel worn out in a sense, and I just I don’t seem like I can think as well.”
At times in the middle of answering my questions he would lose track of what he was answering and have me re-ask the question.
“I feel a lot of different emotions, more than I normally do and most of them are towards things that I can’t understand. I just have feelings like sadness or loneliness for no real reason,” explained Teglia. “I definitely feel out of control I feel weird and out of it and I don’t feel like I can control my feelings at all. They just sort of happen and I just have to deal with it.”
That night Jeff got behind the wheel of his light green Ford Focus and drove roughly three miles home. He said he felt like the headlights of oncoming cars were blinding him, and things were made worse when a light suddenly changed from green to yellow.
“I had this sensation that I didn’t know what to do, I almost like freaked out,” said Teglia.
Teglia drove through the light but had a hard time doing so. “I was worried and I sort of really tightened up on the steering wheel, my heart was pumping. It was a very dangerous ride home.”
At the time of my first interview with Jeff, UMass had not secured a playoff spot in the Hockey East tournament. “You know I’m trying not to worry about that but I’m sure obviously I’m gonna want to play. I’ve always wanted to play, I’m not gonna not want to play. I want to make sure that I want to contribute to the team and help them down the stretch and hopefully get in the playoffs and make a run.”
Coming Up: Part II: Same Sport, Different Position, Different Standards