Swedish guitar teacher recovers from brain trauma in Lisse

"After 16 months, I can now kitesurf again. I find that truly incredible."

Until a year and a half ago, Rickard Johansson from Børas (Sweden) was living the life he had always wanted. As a talented guitar player, he had made a career for himself doing what he loved most. He also spent a great deal of his time enjoying various sports. But this all changed when Rickard fell and suffered a head injury during a CrossFit training session. Not only was he unable to work and play sports, social interaction with others also became problematic. After seeing many doctors and specialists, the young Swede eventually ended up 1150 kilometres further south, at the Functional Neurology Institute in Lisse, the Netherlands. 

Playing guitar is Rickard’s big passion. “I have my own studio in my apartment and produce my own music; mainly pop, jazz and country and western. Up to 2017, I played in bands for years and toured throughout Sweden for gigs.” In that year, Rickard decided that he wanted to actively pass on his passion for playing the guitar to young people. “I spend 50% of my time working as a music teacher at two different music schools. Teaching young people aged between 7 and 19 the intricacies of music is incredibly rewarding.” Rickard loves the combination of teaching and playing as an artist. “Life could hardly have been better.”

Devastating blow

When Rickard climbed onto the shoulders of a training companion during a CrossFit session on a Saturday, things went hopelessly wrong. Due to a communication breakdown, Rickard’s training companion let go of his legs and Rickard's head struck the hard floor of the gym with devastating force. “It was extremely painful, but I was able to carry on for 10 minutes and finish my exercise.” Rickard returned home to take a shower and rest for a couple of hours. “I didn’t think of a concussion immediately, because I have had a concussion before. The symptoms I experienced then were nausea and vomiting. This time I didn’t have those symptoms at all.” When Rickard went for a walk in the park on Sunday, he noticed that he quickly felt tired. On Monday, he was able to work almost normally. At about 80% of his normal capacity, as he said himself. 

Completely downhill

“Things went completely downhill on Tuesday. I was nauseous, had a headache and it felt like chaos in my head. At lunch, I was unable to concentrate on what other people were saying and also had difficulty hearing clearly. The sound seemed to fade away before it reached my ears. The same applied to questions asked by students. When I moved five metres towards them, in an attempt to hear more clearly, I felt exhausted.” When driving home later that Tuesday, Rickard realised that something was very wrong. “My commute is normally an hour’s drive. The speed limit is 80, but I couldn’t drive faster than 50. All the signals coming in from the environment around me were magnified to an unbearable intensity. For example, I could hardly tolerate the glare of the lights of oncoming vehicles. And when I had to drive uphill for a stretch, I suddenly felt a huge pressure on my head, almost like a roller coaster ride.” 

CT scan

A CT scan at the hospital did not reveal any disorders or injuries and Rickard was sent back home. “The doctor told me that I would feel better in a week or two.” Even though things were slightly better after two weeks, Rickard still felt very ill. “I tired very quickly and was nauseous and dizzy all the time. I could hardly tolerate noises and light. During that period, I spent as much time as possible lying in a darkened room.” In the months that followed, Rickard consulted several medical professionals, including a physiotherapist and a psychiatrist. But nothing helped. Finally, Rickard decided to start looking for a solution to his complaints himself. His search eventually took him to another physiotherapist. “Coincidentally, she had also suffered a severe brain trauma and had written a paper on ‘concussions’ as a medical condition. She advised me to immediately stop the physically demanding exercises that the other physiotherapist had prescribed. I had already noticed that the exertion was not doing me any good. Cycling, for example, was almost impossible. Frida – that’s her name – is now a good friend of mine. She advised me to take it easy and just go for short walks in the park, for example.” 

Fog in the head

Rickard slowly started to feel a little better. “The fog in my head cleared to some extent and I started to feel more energetic.” In spite of the progress he was making, there were still many things that Rickard did not feel able to do. “Work, for example, was only possible for a very brief period and playing sports was simply not an option. Keeping up-to-date with my friends was also very difficult because I felt completely exhausted after just half an hour of chatting.” Rickard also had trouble moving his fingers, an additional problem that made playing the guitar very difficult. Rickard decided not to give up in the face of adversity and spent a lot of time searching the internet for promising therapies. “Eventually, I stumbled on the website of the Functional Neurology Institute in Lisse. I had also been in touch with a similar treatment centre in Oslo.” 

Optimistic feeling

After a long conversation with the founder of the Functional Neurology Institute via Skype, Rickard decided to choose Lisse. “That conversation made me feel very optimistic. He took all the time in the world for me and answered all my questions in detail. All in all, our conversation lasted for more than an hour. I was very impressed that he took the trouble of accompanying me on a virtual tour of the treatment centre. And he sent me more information by email after our chat.” When Rickard came to the Functional Neurology Institute in May for five days of treatment, he was curious about what the week would bring. “I was under a lot of stress at the time. My professional specialist made it clear to me from the start that the treatment required good teamwork and that it would be draining for me, both physically and mentally. But the personal attention and support given to me by the entire therapeutic team was a huge help. They gave me a lot of confidence.”

More energy

When he got back to Sweden, Rickard experienced a strong relapse after the week of treatment. “I had been warned about that. Particularly about the fatigue that I would feel.” After about ten days, Rickard started to feel progressively better. And that progress continued during the following weeks. “I feel much more energetic. The pain that I had around my eyes has disappeared. And the headache is also much less severe. I am more grounded and able to focus and concentrate again. The feeling in my fingers is also getting better.” After all this progress, Rickard started to prepare for a second visit to the Functional Neurology Institute in early July with a feeling of optimism and unshakeable confidence. 

Day at the beach combined with kitesurfing

Just before the second treatment week, Rickard, who loves the seaside, decided to spend a day at the beach again. “It went very well so I asked my sister, her boyfriend and another friend to come with me to the beach the next day. Afterwards, we had dinner in a crowded restaurant where they were playing loud music. I had a bit of a headache the next day, but didn’t experience any other complaints – truly fantastic.” Rickard is naturally very athletic and had sorely missed not being able to enjoy sports during the past year and a half. “But now I can mountain bike again. As long as I don’t exceed 20 to 25 minutes, everything is fine and I don’t suffer problems with my balance. I’m also making good progress on the cross trainer. Three months ago, that would have given me a headache and I would have felt dizzy at a heart rate of just 115. Now I can increase the load up to a heart rate of 155 without any problems.” This progress is symptomatic for the treatment according to Rickard. “It’s a process with small steps forward. It’s not a quick fix. My goal is to be 100% again. I believe I can achieve that thanks to the support and dedication of my professional specialist.” The real icing on the cake for Rickard is that he was able to enjoy his favourite hobby again for half an hour. “After 16 months, I can now kitesurf again. I find that truly incredible.”

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