CLARKSVILLE, TENN. — More than a year ago, John Hogan suffered the injury that forced him to miss the 2012 baseball season
and nearly the entire academic year at Austin Peay.
Hogan, the Govs’ first baseman, assured athletic trainers, coaches, teammates and even a concerned first base umpire he was fine
after his head hit the ground hard on a freak play in the Govs’ 2011 regular-season finale. Nearly a year later, he immediately knew
something was wrong after UT Martin’s Cody Terry ran into him at full-speed while Hogan tried to field a wide throw at first, knocking
him into what his mom remembered as a “backwards somersault.”
It took four months to get a proper diagnosis, and after seeing more than 30 doctors and specialists, Hogan is only just beginning to
get an idea of when he’ll be able to return to school, let alone a baseball field. The mysteries and misconceptions that come with
post-concussion syndrome drove Hogan into serious depression, even as his family tried everything to comprehend and combat the
worsening of his condition.
“I just think it’s a ridiculously slow process and frustrating, but it is what it is,” Nicole Hogan, John’s mother, said in early May.
“There’s no medical tests they can do, there’s no timeline they can give you, so that’s the part that I think is most frustrating.”
Shortcomings in awareness and proper treatment have been the biggest obstacles for the 2011 first-team All-Ohio Valley
Conference first baseman and team MVP, who spent much of the last year learning about what may be causing the malfunctions
inside his brain. Understanding a condition and developing a plan for recovery haven’t made Hogan miss playing first base any less,
but the process has helped him and his family come to terms with his ongoing struggles.
The invisible injury
The details of the play are hazy for Hogan, who said everything became “really bright” as he drifted close to unconsciousness. Govs
pitcher Mike Hebert said Hogan told him in their room at APSU later that night he had “blacked out” for about 10 seconds, though he
doesn’t remember being knocked out or making that comment.
“I checked him all night, made sure he didn’t die or anything overnight,” Hebert said before a practice this May.
Like everyone else at the game, Nicole and Hogan’s sister, Erin, were reassured when John got up and resumed his duties at first
base. Nicole would call her son that night and again the next day, telling him to make sure coaches were keeping a close eye on
Hogan’s resilience assuaged the early fears of Govs coach Gary McClure, who acknowledges he wasn’t aware of the seriousness
of concussions. He said although some players have been taken out of games with possible concussions, he couldn’t remember
any Gov missing another game with a head injury during his 25-year career.
‘I had some dark, dark days’ The summer following his freshman year of high school, Hogan broke his foot at a baseball tournament in Florida. He had to fight
through the pain while riding in a car all the way back to St. Louis, but he’d gladly trade in the experience several times over for what
he’s been through the past 14 months.
A turning point came on Sept. 21, when instead of going out for his 21st birthday, Hogan went to see St. Louis physician Dr. Mark
Halstead, who works with the Rams and Blues. He diagnosed Hogan with a concussion that would be defined as a “stage 2 mild
traumatic brain injury” following a test in early October.
Halstead told Hogan to remain in St. Louis, stay away from bright light, and stop all strenuous physical and mental activity, including
watching television, texting, or getting on the computer. The inability to do virtually anything from his old life quickly led to
depression, and Hogan’s latest doctor has told him complete rest was probably the wrong prescription so long after the injury.
“There were days that (the depression) was so bad that I didn’t think that I would wake up the next morning,” said Hogan, who could
scarcely sleep without medicine and lost much of his muscle while gaining between 20 and 30 pounds of body weight by the year’s
end. “There were days I would only get out of bed, basically, and I could barely walk up the steps.”
Nicole Hogan owns a hair salon and was able to work reduced hours to spend more time with her son. His three younger siblings
were close as well, though he still had to spend a fair amount of time alone and couldn’t go out in public because of all the light and
noise. His parents are divorced, and he said the weekly 30-40 minute drive between their houses could ruin his entire day.
As Hogan, his parents, Erin, and his brother Jimmy talked about those difficult three to four months over lunch in St. Louis this May,
the family recalled with faint smiles the memories of eating dinner by candlelight, or coming home to find Hogan sitting quietly in a
dark room. John Hogan Sr. said it was a huge adjustment to watch his formerly active and energetic son become so despondent.
Early signs go undetected
The Govs’ talented first baseman complained of a few headaches and skipped the team’s first practice following the loss at Martin.
But he still hit 3-for-11 with a home run as Austin Peay won all three games during a hot weekend in Jackson to take the league
“Your mentality isn’t to ever quit playing, and as an athlete you play through pain a lot,” Hogan said. “I don’t really remember it being
that big of an issue to me, though, in the conference tournament.”
Dustin Fink, a certified athletic trainer who runs “The Concussion Blog,” said via email that awareness is critical in the first few days
following a possible concussion, as athletes must know when to step back and avoid risking further brain damage. Although he
enjoyed being a critical part of APSU’s OVC title run and its second NCAA Regional win in school history, Hogan wishes he would
have chosen to rest and encourages others to take a cautious approach.
The feeling is shared by the Austin Peay coaching staff. As Hogan’s parents anxiously attended to their son, McClure has been
going through a “nightmare” of his own over the past year.
“Something happens like that at all now, you have trainers and you have people that are professionally prepared to deal with it,”
McClure said. “But I know from my standpoint, if there’s any doubt at all, I’m taking the guy out of the game. What you’ve got to do is
protect the kid from himself.”
The collision was almost forgotten by Hogan and completely unknown to coaches that summer in Fayetteville, N.C., where he
played with Hebert and former teammate Cody Hudson. Both said the tough, soft-spoken slugger kept his pain to himself as much
as possible while committing only two errors and hitting .288 in 39 games with a team-high 24 runs batted in.
In hindsight, though, the signs were obvious to Hebert, one of Hogan’s best friends and his roommate at APSU in the spring and fall
of 2011. When the diagnosis eventually came out, the odd, ongoing problems attributed to dehydration during the hot, humid
summer suddenly made sense.
“It wasn’t like there was something every day,” Hebert said. “It would just be fine one day, trigger midway through a game. The next
morning he’d feel like crap, but by the afternoon he’d be perfectly fine.” Hogan would often get lightheaded and had to receive three or four IVs every two weeks for temporary relief. The team played six or
seven games a week and players would frequently stay out late, though Hogan said he backed off his workouts and stayed home
with his host family more than he had the previous summer.
Fink said if Hogan never got the rest required to recover from the initial injury, it’s likely his brain was under too much stress over the
summer to make much progress. It’s unknown exactly how it could have affected Hogan’s recovery months later, but Fink said the
delayed treatment was probably “a major factor in lingering effects.”
Things got worse when Hogan returned to campus and began lifting weights in August. Everything came to a head Sept. 2 when he
found himself unable to drive on the highway as he left for Kentucky Lake to meet his family on Labor Day weekend. The intensity of
all his symptoms — including headaches, blurred vision, and nausea — forced him to pull over and call Govs hitting coach Derrick
Dunbar, who took Hogan to the emergency room at Gateway Medical.
“I felt like I was about to die,” Hogan said.
Upon hearing his symptoms, an ER doctor asked if Hogan had suffered any head injuries. It didn’t take long, Erin said, for the family
to finally connect Hogan’s persistent problems to the collision at first base three and a half months earlier.
The visit to Gateway would prove to be one of the few times doctors were able to provide useful information. More than 20
subsequent appointments led nowhere, including one doctor in Clarksville who diagnosed him with allergies.
Along with hours of fruitless online research, Nicole said the family tried every alternative therapy “with the exception of
acupuncture,” including a chiropractor and craniosacral therapy, in which a doctor placed her hands on Hogan’s head to try to fix his
Through all of the missed signs, the misdiagnoses, and even ineffective or damaging treatments, the Hogans adamantly refuse to
blame anyone. Nicole said holding a grudge would be a waste of time and only bring more stress on a family that has learned a lot
about patience throughout the ordeal.
“I think there was probably error on a lot of people’s parts, (John’s) included, because he wanted to play,” Nicole said. “I like his
coach a lot and I think if he had any clue there’s no way he would have played (Hogan).”
In January, Hogan began meeting with Dr. Lawrence Kinsella, who had recovered from his own concussion 20 years ago. A month
later, Nicole finally persuaded her son to go out to lunch for the first time, and the 45-minute drive to two Govs’ wins in Edwardsville
the first weekend of May was the longest he’d been in a car since the drive back to St. Louis in September.
The weekend was one of the highlights of his spring, as he got to see his jersey the team hung in the dugout every game, and his
No. 10 that adorned every Govs jersey and cap. None of Hogan’s teammates have forgotten him, and they’re all hoping he’ll be
himself again next spring.
“For his sake, I hope more than anything that he’s able to do that because that’s what he wants to do,” McClure said. “It obviously
would be great for our sake, too, but first and foremost it’s just about him being healthy again.”
Many symptoms still persist, but Hogan is improving since he was prescribed medication in January for both his depression and
headaches. Exercises to improve his balance have gotten him to the point where he can play tennis or nine holes of golf almost
daily when it isn’t too hot.
Tests show he’s making strides, and in late June he received positive results from an inner ear examination that led doctors to
believe his ongoing vision problems are coming instead from migraine headaches. But Hogan said even Kinsella’s treatment had its
limits and unintended side effects, so it was a huge relief when he received the best diagnosis yet from Dr. David Brody on July 3.
“He pretty much knew everything I was going through,” said Hogan enthusiastically two weeks ago at his dad’s home in Imperial,
Mo., while watching his beloved Cardinals rally to beat the Marlins in the ninth inning. “It was awesome. It was a very refreshing
appointment, that’s for sure.” Brody is an associate professor of neurology at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis who works frequently with soldiers in
Afghanistan. Many have the same issues as Hogan, including possible sleep apnea that may have resulted from his large build and
shorter neck. Though Hogan’s next appointment with Brody won’t be until November, the 75-minute meeting gave his confidence in
the doctors who will be administering his various physical and occupational therapies.
For six days a week, he’ll push himself to the limit in another effort to regain the physical and cognitive abilities that once made him
the OVC’s home run leader and the best defensive first baseman McClure has ever coached. Doctors will continually monitor him to
learn more about what induces his ongoing headaches and dizziness.
School this fall isn’t out of the question, and Brody told Hogan he could be healthy enough to play baseball in six to 12 months,
giving him hope for next season. Although he loves baseball “more than anything,” his harrowing experience has provided a new
“I wouldn’t play ever again if I wasn’t 100 percent,” Hogan said. “It’s just not worth it to me. I’d rather live a normal life.”
Luke Thompson, Austin Peay beat writer 931-245-0221 lukethompson