When his last, best hope for a normal, pain-free life told Thomas Yerrick that he will not get better, Yerrick did what, at the time, he thought was best. He swallowed a lot of pills and attempted suicide.

“I tried to overdose and just end it,” Yerrick said.

That was two weeks ago. Now, although his physical pain is at best persistent and at worst overwhelming, Yerrick’s mental pain has subsided enough for him to realize he can help others going through the same thing.

Yerrick is 24 years old. He’s had 22 concussions.

He suffers from traumatic brain injury and chronic traumatic encephalopathy — and suffers isn’t nearly a strong enough word. Since he was 16 years old, Yerrick has had what he describes as a constant migraine headache.

“It never goes completely away,” said Yerrick, a 2005 graduate of Cony High School.

That’s what recently sent himto the Michigan Head Pain and Neurological Institute. He spent 17 days in Ann Arbor, medication dripping into him though an IV line at all times, hoping there was one doctor, just one, who could end his constant pain. There wasn’t, and that’s what caused him to swallow a handful of pills last month.

“The doctors there told me ‘You will not get better,'” Yerrick said.

He spoke softly and slowly. He sounded sad and frustrated.

The first concussion happened when Yerrick was 13. He was skiing in the Viles Arboretum with friends. They built a jump and Yerrick attempted a front flip. He landed on his head, cracking his helmet. He spent the entire weekend throwing up.

There was another when he was a freshman lineman on the Cony football team. There were others. Migraines run in Yerrick’s family; he said he had his first one in the second grade. So when his head hurt, he’d keep playing.

“I’d just keep going, even in practice,” Yerrick said. “I would go back before the doctors told me to.”

“So much of his identity was tied into sports,” said his mother, Cyndi Desrosiers.

Yerrick’s worst concussion came when he was a junior at Cony, playing third base for the Rams’ baseball team. Yerrick dove to his left for a ground ball. The runner coming from second base on a hit and run struck Yerrick in the head with his knee. Ninety-nine times out of one hundred, runner and infielder miss each other. This time, Yerrick was knocked unconscious. In the aftermath he had seizures, six to eight a day.

That time, he went to see Dr. Robert Cantu, a Boston-based physician and one of the nation’s leaders in concussion research. Cantu gave Yerrick and his family a choice. Tom could either go home and do nothing — nothing — but lie still every day for weeks to let his brain heal. Or, he could go to Boston, where Cantu would induce a coma.

Yerrick went home and spent six weeks in bed.

Over the summer, a tutor helped him catch up with the missed schoolwork. He graduated on time, with his class, and enrolled at Thomas College.

Yerrick’s head hurt too much to try out for the Terriers’ baseball team. His attention span was nonexistent. His grades slipped, and Yerrick left Thomas. The painkillers — Vicodin, Percocet — did so much more harm than good. Yerrick developed an addiction to opiates.

“When I started upping the doses of opiates, I was getting immune to it,” Yerrick said.

Seven of the 22 concussions were sports related, Yerrick said. With each concussion, one becomes more susceptible to another. So the smallest things led to more concussions. Hitting his head in gym class. Playing with his dog. Slipping on ice. Bumping into a low ceiling.

“Little things like that, you wouldn’t think would cause a concussion,” Yerrick said. “After the fifth (sports-related) concussion, my recovery period was a month. After number seven, I never had a recovery period.”

Yerrick’s typical day involved no contact with the outside world, unless he had a doctor’s appointment.

Before he went to Michigan, Yerrick tried three surgeries. The first, in November of last year, implanted wires in his head, with the idea that the electric pulses to the nerves would soothe his headaches.

It didn’t work.

In February, doctors tried implanting the wires directly into Yerrick’s spine, to try to cut the pain off there. Yerrick had a remote control with which he could control the electrical pulse. Often, it felt like a deep massage, he said. He also was on OxyContin at the time, and he felt a little better.

That was a week-long trial, and in March, doctors tried it again, this time with no pain medication.

It didn’t work.

In April, Yerrick began Botox injections. Some migraine sufferers have been helped with Botox, but after 31 injections, Yerrick had no relief.

The only thing Yerrick hasn’t tried is deep brain stimulation, in which a device that sends electric impulses to specific parts of the brain is implanted in the head. Essentially, it’s a brain pacemaker.

Yerrick has tried biofeedback, yoga, reiki, holistic remedies, even a shaman. Medicinal marijuana helped a little, but Yerrick lives in Dover, N.H., where it’s not legal.

“I just keep telling him to have hope,” Desrosiers said. “There’s a lot of people working on this.”

As much hope as Yerrick can muster, he knows he’s got a short timeline. Doctors tell him to expect dementia and possibly Alzheimer’s disease within 10 years.

“I can already feel the effects,” Yerrick said. “I’ll read a book, turn the page, and forget what I just read.”

Friends of Yerrick’s made a video about him and posted it on YouTube. It can be seen here.

Sometimes, Yerrick’s pain is so intense he has tremors that his mother said mimic seizures. Yerrick has his license, but he can’t drive. He doesn’t dare.

Desrosiers is Yerrick’s primary caregiver. He may move from Dover across New Hampshire to be closer to her in Keene.

“The fact that he’s here … I’m just thankful he’s beating the odds,” Desrosiers said.

Surviving his suicide attempt was a blessing, Yerrick said. Now he knows he can help others living with traumatic brain injury and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. The physical pain is there; it’s always there. The mental pain, that’s becoming manageable.

Yerrick’s goal is to become a drug and alcohol abuse counselor.

“I’m thankful to be alive,” Yerrick said. “I can help people with what I’ve gone through. I want to become a public speaker.

“People need to know how bad it is.”

Desrosiers has a message for parents. Educate yourselves about concussions. Know the symptoms. If your child has a concussion, make sure he or she gets all the time needed to heal.

“Parents need to be cautious rather than worry about their kid’s athletic career,” Desrosiers said.

It seems as if every day, we’re learning more and more about how serious concussions are, but when we just see words or charts, it doesn’t register.

Thomas Yerrick is a young man who hasn’t had a day’s peace in eight years. That should register plenty.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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