ANCHORAGE - Awareness about traumatic brain injuries is building, both in the national spotlight and locally.
The family of star NFL linebacker Junior Seau, who committed suicide last May, filed a lawsuit against the league on Wednesday. The family says Seau's suicide was linked to brain disease, caused by the violent hits to the head he suffered while playing.
Closer to home, Anchorage high school student Lexi Stewart is recovering from a traumatic brain injury sustained during a flag football practice in September 2010.
"When you're playing you're not really focusing on where you are in the room so I just turned when I went to get the ball, I was tracking it, and I turned and just faced right into the pillar pretty much," said the Service High senior.
Stewart had a concussion, which is a form of traumatic brain injury, or TBI. The problem was she didn't know it at the time of her accident.
"I was kind of like, 'Whoa, what happened,' you know, and I was in shock and I went to talk and I felt something in my mouth like something gritty and I spit it out and it was my teeth," said Stewart.
It wasn't until two days after she'd hit her head that she realized something was wrong.
"I started feeling really, really tired and I would sleep and I was sleeping 20 hours a day and couldn't bathe myself and I couldn't eat," said Stewart.
Stewart said, at 15 years old, her main concern was losing her front teeth. She didn't think her brain was damaged by the impact of hitting the pillar because she was able to get up and walk straight away.
"I didn't get knocked out but I still got a brain injury. So there's a lot of misconceptions about what a concussion is and what a brain injury is," she said.
Stewart's TBI made it hard to be around lights and noise. It also took away her ability to process information.
With the help of her mom and other family, Stewart has spent the past two-and-a-half years recovering and is now working harder to catch up on her studies. She aims to graduate this school year.
Stewart said many student athletes are not as aware as they should be about the dangers of concussions and the damage one can do to the brain.
"I didn't know that playing sports could lead to me having a traumatic brain injury," said Stewart.
Doctors say there are common symptoms athletes, and anyone who bumps their head, should be aware of.
"What you really want to look out for is headaches, memory loss, visual disturbances, dizziness," said Dr. Tim Cohen, a neurosurgeon at Alaska Regional Hospital.
Dr. Cohen says, when it comes to impact sports, the risk of multiple concussions is a major concern because they can become more severe.
"When you have a concussion your response times are slowed, and you're decision making powers are not at 100 percent. So it puts you at risk for a second concussion which can lead to an exponential increase in the brain injury," said Cohen.
Lexi Stewart hopes her story will create awareness about concussions and encourage student athletes, their coaches, and parents, to research traumatic brain injuries more extensively so they are ready to spot the signs.
"If your kids are involved in sports then you really need to know the effects and everything that is included with concussions and TBIs and when you need to go and get help," said Stewart.