ARLINGTON — Grace Meno’s third day at Arlington High School, Sept. 11, 2012, started like the previous two: classes, lunch, then volleyball.
During the game, however, she tripped over a teammate’s shoe and fell, landing on both her hip and her head.
She played through the rest of the game, but then her coach suggested she go get checked out. She went to Cascade Valley Hospital that evening and spent the night.
“By the morning I woke up and I couldn’t remember anything,” Meno said. “I could remember some things, but not who my sister was, I couldn’t remember who my dad was.”
Meno, now 16, was ultimately diagnosed with a severe concussion and traumatic brain injury, a condition that affects 1.7 million people per year, according to the Brain Injury Association of America.
The next two years were a long period of recovery and recuperation. She suffers from severe headaches and migraines on an almost daily basis, as well as seizures, anxiety disorders and depression.
“I had to relearn how to read again and communicate with others,” Meno said. “I spent a long time in speech therapy.”
A year after her accident Meno returned to Arlington High School full-time (although now with an Individual Educational Program), and is now a sophomore.
She has also decided to take her personal experience as a mission, and is bringing attention to traumatic brain injuries by selling “concussion awareness” bracelets.
Since the start of the school year she has raised more than $1,800 to support the Brain Injury Association of America, an outreach and advocacy nonprofit organization based in Vienna, Va.
That amounts to 400 bracelets sold to friends, family and members of the larger community, with donors paying whatever they can. She’s done a fair amount of outreach on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, selling bracelets across the country. She’s recently set up a website to continue her fundraising program at through her website, youcaring.com/gracemeno.
“And a lot of this is word of mouth, too,” she said.
Meno’s constant companion these days is Abby, a 7-year-old black Labrador that she has had since Abby was 18 months old. Meno actually trained Abby as a therapy dog for hospitals, nursing homes and schools before her accident, never anticipating that she would become Abby’s “patient,” accompanying her everywhere and helping her deal with her anxiety disorders.
“She comes to school with me and she’s a great social buffer,” Meno said. She said that Abby can also tell when she is about to have a seizure and warn her or her parents.
Meno’s medical issues make school difficult, and she can’t play volleyball anymore, but she’s recently taken up golf as an alternative to contact sports.
“It’s definitely been hard, but it’s a journey,” she said.
Her experience also has made her decide to go study some aspect of medicine in college.
“Since my accident, it’s just been an eye-opener of how much I love the human body,” Meno said.
“Definitely my nurses and doctors made me realize how much I wanted to do that,” she said.
Chris Winters: 425-374-4165, firstname.lastname@example.org.