Concussion Leaves 14-Year-Old Basketball Player Amnesic, Left-Handed

Mikayla Wilson Lost Memory, Hand Dominance After Injury

By KATIE MOISSE, ABC News Medical Unit

Feb. 24, 2011—

After hitting her head during a high school basketball game, Mikayla Wilson lost her memory and became a leftie.

The 14-year-old from Spangle, Wash., was shoved to the ground after snatching a rebound during a high school basketball game.

"She didn't black out, she didn't grab her head in obvious injury," Wilson's dad, Michael, told ABC News affiliate KXLY 4. "She just got up and noticed her head hurt a little bit on the back. But basketball these days is a very physical game, and there's lots of contact."

After a fouled Wilson shot her free throws, she played two more quarters for the Liberty High Lancers. It wasn't until the team gathered after the game when Wilson asked her mom, Lorie, "Who are those girls dressed just like I am and why are they looking at me?" that anyone noticed anything wrong.

Wilson was taken to a hospital in nearby Colfax, where a CT scan ruled out skull fractures and bleeding inside the brain. The amnesia, doctors said, was a lingering symptom of a mild traumatic brain injury, better known as concussion.

"The brain has consistency of Jell-O and sits inside the skull, which is nature's helmet. When you hit your head, the brain can shift back and forth, causing injury at the site of impact and distant from it," said Dr. Alan Cohen, chief of pediatric neurosurgery and surgeon in chief at UH Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland.

Concussions are a growing cause of worry in both childhood and professional sports. In December 2009, the National Football League cracked down on when players could return to a game after suffering a blow to the head.

"More and more, we're realizing that there are biochemical changes that go on in the brain during concussion, and that symptoms of post-concussion syndrome, like amnesia, can last for weeks or even months."

Slow Recovery

It has been nearly three weeks since the injury, and Wilson still can't remember the names of her friends and teammates. She has also switched from writing with her right hand to using her left -- a tweak that even her doctor had never seen.

"She had to sign something, and she grabbed the pen with her left hand," her father said, adding that she didn't notice until he pointed it out. "She said it felt more natural to use her left."

Wilson was ambidextrous as a young child, according to her dad. And although her new left-handed scrawl is imperfect, it's impressive. She has also used chopsticks with her left hand since the injury.

"It's unusual that someone should switch hands after a mild traumatic brain injury," Cohen said, adding that usually people switch hands after developing weakness in the dominant one. "Maybe there's something causing her to be weaker in her right hand. But the fact that she switched without realizing is interesting."

In addition to her love of sports, Wilson also has a passion for music and plays saxophone and flute. After the injury, she couldn't remember how to play, or even assemble the instruments. But some memories are starting to return.

"On Saturday, she played a scale out of nowhere. Before that she couldn't even get a squeak out," her father said.

Wilson will go for a check-up Friday, where doctors will a computerized concussion evaluation system called ImPact (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) to see if her symptoms are improving. Her ImPact score has to be in the normal range before she can return to sports -- a prerequisite that has her impatient, but which she understands.

"She realizes that things aren't working quite right yet," her dad said.

Wilson is also eager to regain the memory of her friends and teammates.

"It's frustrating for her," her dad said. "She said it would almost be easier to go to new school where she didn't know anyone than to not remember."