Morristown: Former West Morris football player turns brain injury into inspirational podcast

Source: Daily Record.com

Kevin Saum wants to make something clear up front: He isn’t opposed to youth sports and he still enjoys football — even though the sport almost claimed his life 11 years ago.

Saum had experienced severe headaches after a hit on the field a week earlier, but hid his symptoms. After a second hit, he had a grand mal seizure and was airlifted to Morristown Medical Center where he received an emergency craniotomy to relieve the pressure on his brain.

Saum’s recovery was slowed by infection and an allergic reaction. But he beat the odds, since almost 100 percent of second impact syndrome survivors have some kind of disability – and 50 percent die.

Saum is now OK – except for a scar curving from his hairline past his right ear. He worked for the Rutgers football team, interned for the New York Jets while earning his undergraduate degree in sports management, earned a masters degree in sports industry management from Georgetown U., and has worked for Atlantic Health for three years. He got more involved with health and safety issues in athletics, and launched the Heads ‘N Tales podcast show to share stories like his.

With childhood friend Josh Boyd, he has weekly discussions about injuries in the National Football League. They discuss big hits, penalties, and whether rule or equipment changes can make the game safer. Now up to 133 episodes (not including NFL recaps), Heads ‘N Tales is about to celebrate its third anniversary with downloads of about 3,000 per month.

Saum’s guests have included Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand, who broke his neck in a game against Army in 2010; former New Orleans Saints lineman Kyle Turley; Bella Picard, who suffered a spinal cord injury playing softball; and David Vobora, who overcame an addiction to painkillers after his NFL career and opened an adaptive-training facility.

“I don’t blame football for my injury,” Saum says, “I blame the mentality I had as a 17-year-old of sacrificing my body and trying to play through pain. I never listened to my body telling me to take a break or sit this one out.”

“It’s his baby pet project that’s become really, really big,” says Boyd. “He enjoys having people tell their stories for the first time — like how he got to tell his story. The more stories like that he can get out, he feels really good about that.”

“I knew he’d do something big — I didn’t expect him to sit back,” said Lou Vanorski, who coached Saum on the Long Valley Raiders from sixth through eighth grades and is currently the offensive coordinator at a Mendham school.

“We probably know him locally as ‘the kid who had the head injury.’ But he’s establishing himself with a wider base. He’s worked really hard to get his message out there.”

Heads ‘N Tales podcasts can be found at iTunes and the HeadsNTales.org Web site.

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