HARTFORD, Conn. – Katherine Snedaker says she has had 20 concussions, the first three decades ago from a car accident when she was 16. But it wasn’t until her son suffered a series of concussions in the sixth grade, around 2008, that she felt compelled to learn all she could about head injuries to help him recover.
During her journey of learning, she has become a nationally known advocate for better research, medical care, and support for girls and women with brain injuries, including concussions.
She founded her nonprofit advocacy group PINK Concussions in 2013 in response to what she discovered was a lack of information and research on female concussions. She formed the group during a yearlong medical leave to treat breast cancer and while rebuilding her home, damaged by Superstorm Sandy.
Some studies show females suffer more concussions than males when playing similar sports. Doctors agree more research is needed on any gender differences and whether women experience more severe symptoms or take longer to recover.
Most research has focused on men, especially dozens of former football players who died from a degenerative brain disease that has been linked to concussions.
“There’s a lot we don’t know,” said Snedaker, 49, a licensed clinical social worker who gave up her regular job to advocate full-time at her own expense. “What I wanted to do was educate the public.”
Snedaker has sought to keep a light shining on the need for more research, better medical care, and more community support for girls and women with concussions and other brain injuries suffered through sports, military service, domestic violence and accidents. She has organized several conferences that have brought together medical experts and military leaders she has met, done dozens of media interviews, and launched a website – Pink Concussions – to share information.
In March, Pink Concussions will hold its second annual international summit on female concussions and traumatic brain injuries; it will be hosted by the National Institutes of Health.
“Katherine has done a lot of great work as an activist,” said Dr. Zachary Kerr, an assistant professor in exercise and sport science at the University of North Carolina and former director of the NCAA’s injury surveillance program.
“There are all these different theories out there about why concussions are higher in women than in men, but we really don’t know why,” he said. “We need more data collection. We need more surveillance at all levels. We need to get more information out there.”