Patrick Reusse: Koskie confronts injury, ignorance

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 30, 2007 - 9:25 PM

The ex-Twin is reeling from postconcussion syndrome, a little-understood ailment.

Corey Koskie injures his head

Corey Koskie's life took an awful turn on this play while with the Milwaukee Brewers last July. He fell backward trying to catch a ball, injuring his head. The ball popped out of his glove and was caught by teammate Bill Hall.

Photo: Morry Gash, Associated Press

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Corey Koskie's circle of acquaintances has increased substantially since he took a fall chasing a fly ball last July 5 in Milwaukee's Miller Park and wound up with postconcussion syndrome. Two more people were added to the group when he went through the mail forwarded to him by his team, the Milwaukee Brewers.

Koskie, a former Twins third baseman who left as a free agent after the 2004 season, said: "The letter was from a woman in Wisconsin with a teenage daughter who has postconcussion syndrome. I could sense the emotion, almost desperation, in the letter."

Koskie contacted the woman and heard of the daughter's year of anguish -- of mystery -- since she was kicked in the head in a soccer game.

"When she told me what her daughter had experienced, it was like I was hearing my own story," he said.

Koskie didn't want to use names because the mother and daughter already have gone through more than enough skepticism in their hometown. What he did relay was his most recent conversation with the mother.

"She called me and was crying," Koskie said.

"She had been listening to a sports talk show out of Milwaukee," Koskie continued. "They were talking about the Brewers and one of the people on the show -- I don't know who -- said, 'Who do you want at third base -- Craig Counsell or the guy who's home with a headache?' "

To mom, this was more evidence of the public's flippant attitude toward concussions and their impact on athletes, professional or youthful.

"The daughter has had teachers suggesting the concussion is an excuse not to do homework," Koskie said. "The amazing thing about this injury is the public's knowledge is so limited. There's no surgery, no cast. You look fine. People see you and say, 'You look good. You look ready to go.' "

Koskie returned to his Plymouth home this week after spending a futile month in Arizona in the Brewers' spring training camp.

"You get to the ballpark early, you're one of the guys, in on the conversation, the joking," he said. "Everything seems normal. Then, your teammates go to the field, and you go to the next room and ride the [stationary] bike. And you hope to get through 15, 20 minutes without having the symptoms come back.

"We finally agreed that being down there wasn't helping me or the Brewers. I came home with orders to rest. ...

"The good news is my brain injury is starting to heal. We know that."

Koskie was chasing a looping fly ball that day in Miller Park. "My only chance to catch it was to put my head down and run to the spot," he said. "When I got there and looked, the ball was behind me. So, I bent back and reached, caught the ball, and hit the ground."

Koskie crashed onto his back. His head didn't clearly slam to the ground, but his neck whiplashed. The ball popped from his glove and Bill Hall caught it for the half-inning's final out.

"I thought I was OK, but when I went up to hit, the pitcher was out there somewhere ... like he was behind a TV screen," Koskie said. "I felt nauseous. I was woozy. I slapped at a couple of pitches and fouled them. I got to a 3-2 count and remember thinking, 'What happens if I draw a walk here and have to run the bases? I won't be able to do it.'

"As it turned out, I struck out. And when I got the dugout, I told the trainer, 'This isn't going to work,' and left the game. I assumed I would be back in the lineup the next day."

It has been 289 days and Koskie has not played an inning of baseball. A few days after the injury, the Brewers flew him to Phoenix to play against the Diamondbacks. He didn't make it through the pregame session before all the symptoms returned:

Nausea, fatigue, a feeling of pressure in his head and a disconnect from what was happening around him. "When I'm having a bad day, it's like everyone is behind a window," he said.

A month after the injury, Koskie visited Dr. Michael Collins, a neuropsychologist in Pittsburgh. Collins has been deeply involved with the ImPACT program, a test that can provide solid information on the damage done to the brain by concussions and the recovery process from post-concussion syndrome.

"Once I saw Dr. Collins, I started to understand what I was going through," Koskie said. "He told me then, is still telling me, 'What you're feeling is real, Corey.' "

Koskie has recommended contacting Collins to the many people who have reached him with stories of their postconcussion cases. He arranged for the mother and teenage daughter from Wisconsin to talk with Collins and to take the test.

Collins and his partners have given the computerized test to enough people to develop baselines for age groups. Koskie's first test for males in their 30s had these disturbing results:

He was in the second percentile for intelligence, third percentile for cognitive ability, 14th percentile for reaction time.

"I said to Dr. Collins, 'Maybe I'm just that stupid ... that 98 percent of the people taking the test are smarter than me,' " Koskie said. "He said, 'Corey, you're a high school graduate. Believe me, you're not in the bottom 2 percent. And you're a pro athlete. Eighty-six percent of the people taking the test aren't supposed to have better reactions than someone who has played third base for eight years in the big leagues.' "

Collins and Koskie know his brain is healing, because he's in the 60-70 percentiles for intelligence and cognitive ability now, and in the high 80s in reaction.

"I've talked to [San Francisco Giants catcher] Mike Matheny quite a few times," Koskie said. "He couldn't come back from his latest concussion last year and decided to retire. The reason is that his ImPACT test scores haven't been getting any better."

The Koskies (Corey and Shannon) have three sons from 18 months to 6 years old. He hasn't been able to do the usual rolling around the floor with his sons since last July. He even had to leave a couple of oldest son Bradley's hockey games this winter because the bright lights of the arena would trigger some of his symptoms.

"There are good days and bad days," Koskie said. "When people see you and say, 'You look great,' they don't realize they are seeing you on a good day. They don't know that you might spend most of the next three, four days, lying down, holding your head, wondering when you're going to feel normal again.

"I'm going to play again, though. I'm sure of that. If I wasn't, I would have a lot more depression to deal with."

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Corey Koskie injures his head