Hanna’s Story: How One High School Basketball Player Made a Comeback After Physical and Mental Challenges

Hanna DeJidas, 18, is a senior student and basketball player at Shaler Area High School. In winter 2023, during an away game in her junior season, Hanna went up for a three-pointer and had her feet taken out from under her by a defensive player.

She landed hard on the court, getting whiplash from her head flying back as she fell. Since Hanna is a player who usually bounces right back up after a fall, the team was concerned when she stayed down. The home team athletic trainer conducted a quick sideline concussion evaluation and called an ambulance.

The EMTs spine-boarded Hanna to protect her head and neck and took her to the hospital. There, she was diagnosed with a concussion, given a neck brace, and advised to see a concussion specialist.

Finding Follow-up Care

Hanna and her mom, Chris, first saw a doctor outside of UPMC for her concussion symptoms of light sensitivity, mild noise sensitivity, dizziness, and a constant headache.

The doctor advised Hanna to lay low, stay in dim rooms, wear sunglasses, and avoid technology. She was told she’d have to be away from basketball for months.

“I did not want to be hurt and sit out,” Hanna says. “We were going into the second half of the season. If we won all of our games, we were going to playoffs. Donna really helped us there.”

Donna Rife, LAT, ATC, is a UPMC athletic trainer at Shaler and has worked for UPMC Sports Medicine since 1995. After Hanna’s frustration with the initial concussion evaluation, she spoke to Donna who recommended she see Michael “Micky” Collins, PhD, at the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program. Donna guided Hanna and her mom through the process, and they were able to see Dr. Collins a few days after the injury.

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Active Concussion Treatment

“Getting in with Dr. Collins was the best thing that could have happened for us because he was fantastic,” says Hanna’s mom, Chris. “What he prescribed was not even remotely close to the same treatment as the first doctor we saw. It blew my mind and made so much sense to me.”

“I walked in with sunglasses on, and the first thing Dr. Collins said was ‘get those things off right now,'” Hanna chuckles.

Dr. Collins diagnosed Hanna with a vestibular concussion and prescribed an active treatment plan to push against the symptoms, forcing the brain to readapt to light, noise, and surroundings. He suggested she attend the basketball team’s next home game to watch and cheer on the team for as long as she could tolerate it.

And she immediately got back to shooting baskets and practicing several other no-contact drills with help from Donna.

Getting Back on the Court

Hanna needed to be cleared from her concussion before returning to the court. Just 10 days after her injury, she went to the UPMC Freddie Fu Sports Medicine Center for concussion exit testing. In addition to successfully performing several tasks to ensure that her concussion had healed, she took a computer-based neurocognitive test.

The post-concussion test data was compared to data from the baseline concussion test she’d taken before the season started, when her brain was in a normal, healthy state. ImPACT® (immediate post-concussion assessment and cognitive testing) is the most effective tool for comparing a person’s neurocognitive state before and after a concussion occurs.

Hanna met with Dr. Collins immediately following her exit test and was cleared to return to play that day. Donna, the athletic trainer, continued to help Hanna before and after practices and games, working on some lingering pain from the injury in her neck and shoulders.

A Dedicated Athletic Trainer

Hanna shares that she had known of her since middle school through basketball and volleyball but that she really got to know Donna during her junior year.

Ahead of her junior year, Hanna’s grandfather unexpectedly took his own life. She was extremely close to her “Pap,” and they shared a special bond through basketball — a sport they both loved.

The impact of this tragedy, coupled with challenges from her injury which came soon after, led Hanna to feel overwhelmed and frustrated. She put a lot of pressure on herself to perform.

Donna was there for Hanna, providing a mind exercise to help her relax during every shot. She would take a deep breath and think “faith” each time she shot the basketball. And things started to fall into place.

“Now there’s that routine and comfort. So that helped me a lot. That helped me get over all my mental blocks,” Hanna says.

Since then, Donna has assisted Hanna with other injuries and continued to encourage her. For an ankle sprain that Hanna sustained during travel ball in the summer, Donna connected her with a physical therapist at UPMC Rehabilitation Institute. And she helps Hanna carry those exercises over into pre- and post-game routines during the school year.

Comeback Player of the Year

Due to Hanna’s resilience after the many physical and mental challenges of her junior year, she earned a Comeback Player of the Year award.

She’s ready to uphold that name during her senior year for the 2023-24 basketball season. A semicolon tattoo on her wrist, which she had done after her Pap’s passing, affirms her determination to continue pushing forward in the face of adversity. “It’s a reminder to keep going and stay positive,” Hanna says.

Related resources:

For immediate help with a mental health crisis, call or text 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. To learn more, visit 988lifeline.org.

To learn more about UPMC Sports Medicine or schedule an appointment, visit our website or call 1-855-937-7678.

About Sports Medicine

An athletic lifestyle carries the potential for injury. Whether you’re an elite athlete or a weekend warrior, UPMC Sports Medicine can help. If you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury, our multidisciplinary team of experts can help you get back into the game. If you are seeking to improve your athletic performance, we can work with you to meet your goals. We serve athletes and active people of all ages and experience levels. Our goal is to help you keep doing what you love. Visit our website to find a specialist near you.