By Kathleen Swift
For McDonald County High School senior Levi Neale, hitting a deer on his way to school changed his life. When Levi hit the deer that October morning in 2020, he also hit his head during the impact, and he hit it hard. Levi noticed something wasn’t quite right with himself, but when a state trooper stopped to check on him, he drove on to school following the trooper.
Levi says, “I thought I probably had a concussion, but I didn’t tell anyone. My eyes weren’t focusing right, but I thought it would go away, and I went ahead and lifted weights that day and played in the football game that night.”
Amber Brooks, Levi’s mom, remembers, “He didn’t seem quite right after hitting the deer, and I told him he needed to go see the athletic trainer. He had headaches and his eyes were bothering him.”
Levi continued to participate in sports, but in September 2021, his football career was about to come to a close. The manager noticed Levi’s eyes were out of focus, and Levi came off the field with his hands and arms twitching uncontrollably.
Levi’s hands and arms twitched for five hours before stopping. A trip to the ER and the next day to see his primary physician led to an appointment with a neurologist for an MRI and an EEG test.
“The EEG showed seizure episodes in the frontal lobes of his brain,” said Brooks, “and Levi could no longer play football. Right now, they tell us that his tests indicate epilepsy.”
“It was hard to know I can’t play football anymore. I had been wrestling, playing football, doing archery and running track at school. But even though I want to play,” said Levi, “I know it is better for me not to. I have to look past football and not let this affect the rest of my life. I may still be able to do track and archery with care, but football is a no-go.”
Levi’s injury has affected his school work, too.
“He’s missed a lot of school,” said Brooks. “He has a lot of migraines, and he can’t drive. He spends a lot of time in his room with the lights out, but he is able to go to school some and will be able to graduate.”
“Coach Kane and the rest of the coaches and the team have been great and have encouraged me,” said Levi. “Coach Kane is like a father figure to me, and I can talk with him. The players joke around with me about all of this, which some people might think isn’t nice, but I like it. It takes the pressure off. I get to be on the sidelines during the games, and it’s good to be able to still be a part of the team and see how good they are doing and cheer them on.”
Despite the obstacles his injury has presented, Levi continues to see possibilities for his life. He’s thinking about going to trade school, and with the support of his mom, his girlfriend and her mom, the coaches and his team, Levi knows there are still good times ahead for him.
See more photos from this story in the December 2021 print edition.