Voices of the Bay

The Scars to Prove It

After four concussions, Dylan Mello fights to keep other student athletes safe

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The thought of receiving a college degree, let alone attending law school, seemed like an impossible mountain to climb for Portsmouth High School graduate Dylan Mello (class of 2010). It wasn’t a question of aptitude for the accomplished student athlete. During his last two years of high school, Dylan suffered debilitating side effects from four concussions – three of them in less than a year – while playing sports. After daily migraines, ringing ears, fogginess, sensitivity to sunlight, lack of energy and concentration issues, Dylan received the devastating news in the winter of his junior year: no more contact sports. Neurologist Dr. Neal McGrath, a nationally recognized specialist in the evaluation and rehabilitation of traumatic brain injuries, recommended that Dylan postpone college for a year and simply rest. Dylan improved slightly and began a degree program at Providence College, graduating in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in history and a minor in political science. Last month he achieved another step in his climb when he completed his first year at Roger Williams University School of Law. Dylan and his mother, Donna Mello of Portsmouth, worked successfully for the passage in 2010 of the Rhode Island Concussion Law, which encourages schools to offer an ImPACT Baseline Concussion test before the season begins and mandates that any athlete with a possible concussion be removed immediately from games and practices. The Mellos continue their work to raise awareness of concussions and can be contacted at: hmmello445@cox.net

I wouldn’t wish what I went through on anyone. I got involved in concussion awareness because I didn’t want other kids to go through what I did. In seventh grade, I was diagnosed with a neck injury and mild concussion. Freshman year I made the varsity hockey and soccer teams. I was hit by an opponent who had a hard cast on his arm. He should not have been allowed to play with a hard cast. I had very bad symptoms, but I kept playing for two more games. I was starting to feel better and a few days later a huge migraine came over me and fogginess kicked in. My pediatrician said to take two weeks off and I should be all right to play. I was under the impression that I would wake up one morning and the headache and fogginess would be gone or get better. I looked at it like it was an ankle or knee injury. I didn’t really think about the consequences of playing when the symptoms continued. It was after the fourth concussion that I went to a neurologist in Boston.

The ImPACT baseline test (“ImPACT” stands for Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) is a computerized test for athletes, so if something happens, you can compare your brain to the baseline to see if anything has happened to it. If you think something has happened, even if it seems like nothing, go to a neurologist. Find an expert and let them decide. Don’t go to your pediatrician.

I tried everything – cranial acupuncture, neck therapy, massages, physical therapy, Vestibular rehabilitation therapy, controlled exercise training. I am pretty impressed that I have gotten this far in law school, because it is harder for me with my vision and energy issues to read, comprehend cases and handle the workload and a part-time job.

This experience has made me more aware of what is important. As a kid you only think about playing sports. I know it really stinks for a young athlete not to play. But you need to take the right steps to heal properly so you will be able to play in the future. A brain doesn’t heal like an ankle. I’m still close with my coaches who have been very supportive. I don’t put it on them. They weren’t those “tough it up” type of guys. At that time people weren’t as aware and educated as we are today.