Blake Whitsell

Blake Whitsell’s 9th concussion forced him to retire from football, and severely impacted his memory.

A talkative, social and funny guy, Blake Whitsell played defensive tackle for South Dakota State University. Then, the 20-year-old suffered a concussion during football camp. After that, Blake couldn’t even carry on a meaningful conversation.

The concussion was the third one Blake suffered during camp — and the 9th in his lifetime. The team doctor recommend he retire from football.

A history and political science major, Blake could no longer remember anything he studied. “I couldn’t read one line and remember it,” he said. Blake moved home and returned to college the following semester. But his troubles continued.

Blake and his parents continued to look for help. Eventually, a neurologist recommended Northern Colorado Rehabilitation Hospital, where he began receiving speech therapy on an outpatient basis.

“I had no idea what I was getting into,” Blake recalled. “I understood what physical and occupational therapy was, but not speech therapy. I just had to trust the process.”

Blake now realizes the importance of understanding concussions. “Looking back, I wish I would have known more about concussions,” he said. “Maybe I would have stopped football earlier. But, I have to say, my football training is what got me through my therapy. It was tough.”

Blake worked for three months with speech therapist, Callie Halstead. She provided him with meta-cognitive strategy training, which involves “thinking about your thinking” in context of attention, memory, and reasoning exercises.

“I also provided Blake with an extensive home exercise program to help him generalize what we did in our sessions so he could apply it to his daily life,” Callie noted. “He was a fantastic rehabilitation candidate. He did everything I asked him to do, and he quickly saw positive results.”

Six-to-eight weeks into therapy, friends started to notice Blake’s focus was much better. He was able to once again build relationships and connections with others. As he progressed, Blake began beating people with “normal” brain scores. He went from a self-proclaimed “C” student to an “A” student, even getting a 97% on his final spring paper.

“I know I wouldn’t have gotten better without therapy,” Blake said. “Therapy has given me my life back. It’s helped me in every aspect of my life. While at the hospital, I was treated like a friend, not like I was a patient. I was sad to see therapy end. I call Callie my brain teacher – she gave me a super brain! She’s my hero.”