Our Patients. Their Stories. Alex Annutto
Dr. Storo took away our fear and opened up pathways of care for Alex.Meg Annutto, Alex's mother
As starting goalie for the Merrimack High School varsity lacrosse team, Alex Annutto expected the hits, even ones to the head. It could be a collision with an opponent, or more often it was the ball launched at him at high speed.
“I’ve broken three helmets from the impact of the ball,” he says, which didn’t make him feel any less at home in the goal. “I loved being my team’s communicator, and being able to make the big save and to rally the team around it.”
In August 2016, Alex was entering his senior year and being recruited by several colleges, including Division I schools to play lacrosse.
The blow to his head that changed all those plans came not on the field, but in the backseat of a friend’s car heading home from a day at Six Flags New England in Agawam, MA. A car in front of theirs hit a deer causing a high-speed collision with the rear of that car. “I was wearing a seatbelt,” Alex recalls, “but I believe I hit the back of the seat in front of me. I remember just before impact and when I got out of the car, but not much in between.”
Alex’s mother, Meg Annutto, remembers how her stomach sank when Alex called her on his cell. “He told me, ‘Mom, I was in a car accident. I’m okay, but I think my nose is broken and I’m spitting out teeth,’” she says. Meg kept him on the phone until emergency responders arrived and transported him to UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, MA, not far from the accident.
Doctors in the Emergency Room examined the swelling in Alex’s nose, stitched up a cut on his forehead and took computed tomography (CT) scans of his head, revealing an area of bleeding on his brain. Apart from the residual headache and pain from the bruise across his chest, Alex began to worry if he had a serious brain injury. “That’s what I was most panicked about,” he says.
After two days, he was sent home with pain medications and, according to Meg, very little guidance on what to do other than to lie down and rest. Alex would undergo oral surgeries over the next two months to repair his teeth, but he says the pain medication he received to target the constant headaches was not helping.
Soon after Alex began to have auditory hallucinations—hearing whispers or dogs barking in the middle of the night, none of which were there.
Easily fatigued and having difficulty concentrating, too, he struggled to keep up with the demands of classes and school work, and opted out of most social outings with friends, even Homecoming. Lacrosse was out of the question. “My senior year was kind of a downer year.”
Meg describes the months following the accident, like “treading water in a dark ocean with high waves.”
Hearing her frustrations, a family friend suggested Meg reach out to William Storo, MD, a pediatrician and director of the Concussion Clinic in the Sports Medicine Department at D-H Concord.
“Dr. Storo came in like the coast guard when we felt like we were drowning. Walking into his office changed our whole outlook on life,” Meg says.
“While there is no single treatment for concussion or an easy fix,” Storo says, “I wanted Alex to know that there are a variety of therapies and treatments for many of his symptoms, and that we can work toward improvement in healing if he is motivated to do so.”
“Dr. Storo took away our fear and opened up pathways of care for Alex,” Meg says. “He connected us with a physical therapist and then with a speech pathologist, both from St. Joseph Hospital in Nashua, NH, to work on his mobility, strength and memory-building strategies. He understood all of Alex’s needs and really helped us navigate the system.”
Crucial to Alex graduating high school the following spring, Storo authorized a 504 Plan, part of a federal law to ensure that children with a disability receive accommodations to aid in their academic success. Because of the 504 Plan, Alex was able to lighten his workload. “If it wasn’t for Dr. Storo,” Alex says, “I don’t think I would have graduated.”
For his part, Storo says, “It is a privilege and honor to be in the fortunate position of partnering with patients and families in their care, helping guide their journey to health and wholeness.”
Headaches, brain cramps and fatigue still affect him, but Alex is learning how to manage the symptoms and pursue revised future plans. Although his lacrosse-playing days are over, he has discovered a love for coaching younger kids who want to play goalie.
As a freshman at the University of New Hampshire in Manchester, Alex carries gratitude especially for his parents who he calls his “backbone,” and for Storo, who, he says, “helped me realize I’m more resilient than I thought I was.”