BUFFALO, N.Y. — This week's focus of "WNY's Great Kids" is a teen from Alden who is shining a light on concussions and brain injuries, and helping other young people who are suffering from them, through a generous donation.
"I love cheerleading. I've done it for so long, it's become a passion of mine," said 17-year-old Brooke Rinow.
But it was the cheerleading stunts that led to a series of devastating concussions over the past two years.
"I experienced headaches, nausea, difficulty thinking and remembering, balance problems," Brooke said. "After my second concussion I experienced difficulty speaking. I repeat myself."
Knowing her injuries were more serious than just a bump on the head, Brooke went to Oishei Children's Hospital's Pediatric Neurology Clinic to be checked out.
"All kids are going to fall and hit their head. Everybody who plays sports is going to have a bump of some kind. But if the symptoms are ongoing, and if they continue to have headaches days after the injury, or even if it's a significant impact at the time, it would be good to be checked out," said Brooke's doctor, Osman Farooq, a Pediatric Neurologist at OCH.
Dr. Farooq said Brooke suffered at least two concussions and while she is improving, the recovery is a long process.
"We can't have our kids live in bubbles, but it's good to take precautions," said Dr. Farooq. "With each successive head injury the potential for long term complications goes higher."
Dr. Farooq advised Brooke it was in her best interest to stop cheerleading, which to her may have been just as devastating as the injury itself.
"It hurt inside, but I know it was for the better now," said Brooke.
Brooke's mother said it was hard to see her daughter struggling.
"She realizes that her brain can't handle it and that she needs to give it up. Your child is struggling and you really can't help her except for be supportive and get her the tools she needs to get through the stress," said Val Rinow-Ess, Brooke's mom. "You don't ever want to see them hurt but she turned it around and wants to make a difference and give back."
Brooke is giving back by starting her own foundation called Brooke's Sunshine Foundation. Her purpose was simple—to collect a lot of the things that have helped her like throughout recovery like coloring books, stress balls, and puzzles and give them all to the OCH Pediatric Neurology Clinic.
"I'm so proud of Brooke for all of the effort she has put in. Not only in recovering from her concussion, but in collecting all of these items for other potential patients who have concussions," said Dr. Farooq. "I know that she's had a long recovery and I think she's learned a lot from this process and what things can help her to recover. So I'm very happy that she wants to help other young people with concussions."
The hope is that Brooke's Sunshine will shed a light on concussions and bring light and hope to others.
"There's always a light at the end of this dark tunnel, and I want to be one of those people to help people get through it," said Brooke.
Brooke knows she might not ever be back to 100% cognitively, so while competitive cheerleading is out of the question, she does help coach younger kids and tries to inspire them. And through Brooke's Sunshine Foundation, she certainly is inspiring a lot of kids who are trying to recover from brain injuries like her.