Tragic story of former Brick star athlete will be able to save lives
Jared Crippen was full of energy, he was the life of any party, loved sunrises, sports, family, friends, and those who many people ignored or overlooked, they were special to him, they were all his friends and yours too.
He was a promising young athlete filled with abilities on the Lacrosse field at Brick Memorial or playing football or wrestling, but being human was his greatest feat.
The 18-year old now plays for the Lacrosse team in Heaven where he also wrestles, plays football, surfs, watches the most majestic sunrises, and becomes friends with everyone that he meets.
His mom, Laura Lowney, is Jared's voice here on earth hoping to help educate all of us and make everyone aware of what comes with a concussion as well as pushing for annual baseline concussion testing, which Ocean County Assemblyman John Catalano has introduced legislation to help in the effort.
It's all to help ensure an athlete isn't allowed back on the field until he or she is better physically, mentally, and emotionally and that there is healthy brain activity as well.
Jared was a natural-born athlete and growing up, any sport he played, he succeeded at giving him the confidence to dream of competing at a D1 level.
"When he was a child, he always had a ball in his hand," Lowney said.
Lacrosse was his most passionate fit as an athlete and something that didn't take him long to learn.
"He started in 6th grade and he excelled pretty quickly," Lowney said. "He was a great Lacrosse player and great in wrestling, which takes time, but he was pretty fast in learning those things and he was dedicated. If he wasn't at practice, he was bouncing the ball against the house or with his friends on their own practicing."
He had dreams and aspirations for playing D1 Lacrosse at schools such as Johns Hopkins which was at the top of his list.
"He loved Johns Hopkins, 'Mom, I'm going to Johns Hopkins', I said 'okay Jared, your grades have to be really good'," Lowney said. "His goal in sports was to go to a D1 college, either through wrestling or lacrosse. He put forth just as much effort in one sport as he did the other."
When he wasn't playing sports, one thing he loved to do most was watch the sunrise.
"I probably starting taking him to the beach around 4-years old for sunrise and we kept that going throughout his life," Lowney said. "As he got older, he and his friends started riding their bikes to Point Pleasant to see the sunrise, which was really cute."
In addition to being a natural-born athlete, Jared was a natural-born friend and often went out of his way to make sure someone who looked or felt lonely didn't have those thoughts for very long, he was always looking out for others.
"He made friends with other teams too, he made friends everywhere he went on the field and off the field," Lowney said. "In school, he had all kinds of friends, it wasn't just his clique, he was friends with the big athletes, he was friends with all different kinds of kids...everybody loved Jared and he loved everybody. He was friends with kids that nobody else was friends with, he was just that kind of kid, he was a sweet, sweet soul."
March 14, 2019, was a day that changed him and everyone around him, forever.
In a pre-season scrimmage, Jared was in a huddle and had an accidental collision with one of his teammates leading to him suffering a concussion.
While the physical healing came within a couple of weeks, the concussion took an emotional and mental toll on Jared becoming a daily battle he tried to keep within.
Suddenly, this lovable and all-around good guy passed away on April 23, 2019, five weeks after his concussion.
"He would never want to hurt anybody and if his mind was working the way it should have been, he would have known how many people he would have hurt, and he never would have done it," Lowney said. "His brain wasn't functioning the way it should have. What he did was not my son, he would have never in a million years done such a thing."
Hours after suffering a concussion on March 14, 2019, Jared suffered mostly physical pain from what he could tell.
Unbeknownst to his mom, Jared had a large gash on his head from the hit, but his helmet was still on after the game.
He told her he was going out with some friends, then when she saw how he looked, she acted immediately.
"The game was over and I told him 'I'll meet you back at the school' and he was like 'no mom, I'm going to IHOP with my friends' and he still had his helmet on. So, he went to IHOP with his friends and came home and says 'mom, I don't feel good, my heads pounding, everything is so bright and I feel numb' and I turned around and looked at him and his head was bleeding," Lowney said. "So I took him to the hospital and they diagnosed him with a concussion."
She began doing some research into concussions and subsequent symptoms learning that this head trauma included sensitivity to light, depression, and anxiety.
Laura later learned that Jared was suffering from Post Concussion Syndrome.
"He stayed in his room for a couple days, was still sensitive to light for a while. I let him go to a practice just to watch and I made sure to tell the coaches 'don't let him do anything because I know he's itching to do something', so he went to practice with his sunglasses on," Lowney said.
She brought Jared for a follow-up with the doctor and she tested his balance and checked out other symptoms and "said he was good to go, and I didn't feel he was balanced the way he normally was because he had great balance."
Then she brought him to the Athletic Trainer who cleared him as well and back to the field he went within a couple of weeks of suffering a concussion.
It turned out that it was too soon.
Laura saw signs he was changing and felt deep down he wasn't fully healed.
"I noticed a change on the field with him," Lowney said. "Never once did I think it was from his concussion. Everyday after practice, I'd ask him 'how you feeling?' and he said 'I feel great mom', 'do you have a headache?', 'no I don't have a headache', 'are you sure?' 'yes, mom'," Lowney said. "There was nothing alarming with him, just little subtle things."
While Jared's physical symptoms may have cleared up, his brain wasn't fully healed and he struggled mentally and emotionally from the very moment of impact until his tragic passing.
"I think my son, in his own mind, thought 'what's wrong with me? will this ever get better?'. In his goodbye letter, he said 'my mental state is so bad, I don't know why, I don't know what's wrong with me'. He did not know why, now we know why, if he would have known why he would have known, 'I'll get better, it's just this hurdle I have to get over,' I think he thought that he'd never get better," Lowney said.
In an effort to change protocols in schools and help protect any other athlete suffering from a concussion, Laura is pushing for Annual Baseline Concussion Testing to make sure an athlete is mental and emotionally ready to go back to playing sports even if the physical symptoms subside.
"How are you feeling mentally? That should be a question that's asked, not something on a piece of paper that they check off, they should be physically asked," Lowney said. "The thing with baseline testing is it's not just the physical test where you ride the bike and they say, 'do you have a headache? no, I don't. okay, you're cleared', you can't go on a 16-year old's answer, you can't put faith that they'll tell you the truth because they have that pressure to get back on the field. I'm not saying it's coaches, they pressure themselves to get back on the field."
A baseline concussion test would be something athletes take before their season starts and evaluate their motor skills, brain function, and emotions.
The test would be taken before a season begins if they get a concussion, so before an athlete can return to the field, they would have to pass this baseline test.
If they fail, they'll have to sit out and then take it again at a later date.
By taking multiple baseline tests, you'd be able to see what's normal and what's not.
"If they're not doing as well as they did before the concussion, they (coaches/athletic trainers) can keep them (the athletes) out for a couple more weeks and let their brain heal," Lowney said.
This is not only to protect them from themselves but also to ensure they're fully healthy and not going back out there to play and risk getting another concussion, being out longer and in some cases dying.
It could also help prevent or better treat the effects of Post Concussion Syndrome and possible CTE.
"The most dangerous part about a concussion is the mental effects it leaves," Lowney said.
Lowney says parents, teachers, coaches, and athletic trainers need to help educate and comfort an athlete in saying that you won't be out forever, when you're better you can go back to the field. She isn't saying don't play sports or contact sports, just that if you get hurt if you get a concussion, stay out until you're better and not a moment before.
To help in her effort of mandating baseline testing in schools, Laura Lowney is also backing a bill A-4766, introduced by Ocean County Assemblyman John Catalano, which would require annual baseline concussion testing for student-athletes and cheerleaders from grades 6-12.
The legislation would also require an athletic head injury safety training program to be implemented in schools for school physicians, athletic coaches, and athletic trainers.
If you or someone you know is in need of help and/or recovery from a concussion or know somebody who is, contact the Concussion Legacy Foundation or check out their website for more information. You don't have to go through any of it alone.