In this episode, Dr. Hackie Reitman talks with brain injury survivor Clay Moyle.
(26 minutes) In addition to his day job as the Director of Continuous Process Improvement for Carlile Transportation, Clay is a boxing biographer. His books include Sam Langford: Boxing’s Greatest Uncrowned Champion, Billy Miske: The St. Paul Thunderbolt, and Tony Zale: The Man of Steel. He discusses his battle with a brain injury, how his own research helped his recovery, and what he thinks other people with similar injuries should know.
For more information about Clay, visit: prizefightingbooks.com
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Introducing Clay Moyle
HACKIE REITMAN, M.D. (HR): Hi, I’m Dr. Hackie Reitman, and welcome to another episode of Exploring Different Brains, and today, we’ve got Clay Moyle with us. Clay is a boxing biographer, and his own brain is a little bit different, as you’re going to be about to hear. He’s a very interesting guy. Clay, welcome to DifferentBrains.org
CLAY MOYLE (CM): Thank you, Hackie, it’s good to be here.
HR: Well, you’re a noted boxing historian. Tell us about some of the books you’ve written.
CM: I’ve written three biographies. The first of those was about a fella named Sam Langford, who was a contemporary of Jack Johnson’s in the early 1900s and a really interesting character. The second one is a fella who fought around the time of Jack Dempsey, and his name was Billy Miske, and then finally, I co-authored a third one with the nephew of Tony Zale about Tony Zale, middleweight champion in the late ’30s and 1940s.
HR: Okay, why don’t you introduce yourself better than I just did, too, so our audience knows more about you?
CM: Well, what would you like to know about me?
HR: Well, where’d you grow up?
CM: I grew up in the… primarily in the Seattle area. My folks moved over to a small island called Bainbridge Island, which is about 30 minutes across Puget Sound from Seattle. I’m living closer to the Tacoma area these days. I’m 62 years old, and I’ve been in the transportation industry for approximately 42 years now.
HR: Alright, tell us about your company and what they do.
CM: I work for an organization called Carlile Transportation Systems, and we ship primarily to Alaska. We’re a trucking company, but we also move a lot of our product over the water via steamship and barge as well, do a lot of intrastate Alaska moves. Many people are familiar with Carlile from the show “Ice Road Truckers”. They were a prominent company on that show when it originated.
Clay’s Brain Injury
HR: Alright. Now, we are DifferentBrains.org, and tell us about why your brain is different and how that transpired.
CM: It’s about three and a half years ago now. I was, uh, things were going along smoothly, sailing along, no issues, and I fell off a stepladder. I was probably about eight feet in the air and picking apples of all things, went to reach for one, and overextended myself, and ladder went one way and I went the other way, and I very quickly reached out and tried to break my fall by grabbing onto a small branch, which immediately broke, and um, I was told that I was out for about nine minutes, but my first memory is some three or four hours later when I found myself lying in a hospital bed, so those three or four hours are gone forever. I spent the night in the hospital. Somewhere during the middle in the night, I got out of bed and went to the restroom and looked in the mirror, and I saw two heads looking back at me, so, you know, right away, what I discovered was that I had some visual issues that were going to last, as it occurred, over the course of the next year. I had some blurred and double vision in various gazes for the next year as I worked with a vision therapist to try to help me resolve a number of those. Initially, I was so hyper-focused on the visual challenges that I learned right away that I had suffered what they termed a mild concussion or a mild traumatic brain injury, and they told me it would probably be the last six months time to recover from that. You know, I really didn’t give that a whole lot of thought at the time because I thought that, uh, initially I thought I was feeling pretty normal other than my visual challenges. I would quickly come to realize that over the ensuing weeks that, uh, that was far from the case, and those around me could immediately see that that was also far from the case, especially my wife and children. Anyway, so that’s… you know, I had no clue what it was like to deal with a serious concussion. You know, I quickly came to learn that there’s a host of symptoms that one can suffer from immediately afterward, and some of those, in fact, didn’t even come until weeks or in some cases months. They were in different combinations along the way, things such as extreme sensitivity to light. I had two or three months where I felt like I was walking around in what I can only describe at that time as a thick fog 24/7. There was confusion, I was… I suffered from extreme fatigue, where when I did eventually go back to work too soon after 3 weeks, I found that halfway through the day I was toast. I was just completely exhausted. I’d go home, and the first thing I’d do is climb in bed for an hour to try to, you know, regain some energy to get me through the rest of the day
Brain injury tools
HR: And what are some of the tools that worked for you to help you out of these… out of this?
CM: Initially, the vision therapy was extremely important. I got to see… I was referred to a neuro-optometrist in the local area, and I also went to see an ophthalmologist at the time, and he diagnosed me with what they called a Fourth Cranial Nerve Palsy, and he said that, you know, in 80% of the people, that resolves on its own within a matter of, you know, three to four months, and if it didn’t, then you would likely have to wear prism glasses the rest of your life, and at the same time, I went to have some balance tested at the hospital, and they referred me to this optometrist who, like I said, was very good with vision therapy and was working with a lot of the folks in that hospital, and I went to him and he immediately tested me on a few different exercises to see if my visual performance would actually improve after performing a few of those exercises, and they did, albeit slightly, so it was enough for him to conclude that it would be effective for him to work with me on these various exercises, and we did that over the course of the next year. I would say that when I first went back to work after three weeks, I was at a point where, like I said, I had blurred and double vision in specific gazes, so when I drove to and from work, I had… I found that I had to tuck my chin into my chest and use an upward gaze to avoid any form of blurriness while I was driving, and that was the same at work. If I was standing across from you talking to you, I had to tuck my chin into my chest to avoid the blurriness while we were speaking, so what I found was that… as he gave me a number of these exercises to perform, that was it was excruciatingly slow, but inch by inch, I saw gradual improvement, so I diligently performed those exercises, and, um, you know, eventually, it got to the point where when I’m sitting in my living room in a couch… you know, for seven months, if I looked at a picture straight ahead across the wall and tilted my head backwards, as I did so, that picture split into two on me, you know, but again, after seven months of performing these exercises, I finally got to the point where that no longer occurred. It was just an hour a day of vision therapy, so that was one thing that was extremely helpful.
HR: Did your family notice any changes in your personality?
CM: Yeah, my wife would tell you that I was much more irritable, and I think along the way, I obviously suffered from some, uh, a lot of anxiety and some degree of depression as well, so, you know, there was a number of months there were… it was a constant struggle for me on a day-to-day basis to perform the normal functions and go to work and basically be productive.
HR: And did you see a psychologist, a therapist?
CM: I went to a local university neurology clinic, and they worked with me. They had me get an MRI and basically told me that there was… they found nothing to indicate that there would be any permanent damage. There were scattered areas of micro-hemorrhaging, basically brain bleeds that, you know, I eventually came to understand that that most likely destroyed some existing neural pathways, you know, so the bottom line with seeing them at the neurology clinic was that they said there was really nothing that was going to be any long-term damage but then… there was nothing that I could do other than to basically wait it out, rest.
HR: What about psychologists?
CM: Psychologists… they referred me when they gave me… at some point, I went on medication for anxiety and they referred me to a psychologist at that time. I met with that individual once, and the message I heard from them was basically that they would work with me and help me basically accept the new reality, and that didn’t sit too well with me at the time because as far as I was concerned, I was going to get back to what I remembered as normal, and I wasn’t… maybe they would have been, it might have been more effective had I been a little more open to it, but the message that was conveyed to me wasn’t the message that I wanted to hear. I didn’t feel like I needed to learn how to accept the new reality. I probably should have gone through with it anyway, and I’m sure I would have benefitted from doing so, but, you know, so I didn’t really work with a psychologist and gain any benefit.
Socialization and brain injuries
HR: What role did socialization play in your recovery?
CM: I guess, you know, I have a theory on that to some extent. I think that just forcing myself to get back out there and try to function as well as I could have been time in terms of working and interacting with folks forced me to basically get on with the business of living again, and I made a reference to the neural pathways that I believe were destroyed as a result because of the brain bleeds. Because of neuroplasticity and the fact that we can create new neural pathways as a result of our daily experiences, I think that socialism (socialization) and getting back out there and going to work and starting to workout again and just trying to live as normally as possible facilitated the creation of those new neural pathways, so from that standpoint, I think that was, um, that was important.
HR: What’s the biggest one piece of advice that you would have for someone understanding – that every head injury is different, of course, but – what’s one piece of advice you would have for someone who sustained a traumatic brain injury?
CM: Well, you know, the treatment that I received that I think was the biggest benefit, although I would say that the vision therapy I received from the optometrist was extremely beneficial, but I think that the number one biggest treatment that I received was when I finally went to go see a functional neurologist. I really didn’t know anything about functional neurology until, I guess, it’s just slightly over a year ago. Shortly after my head injury, someone suggested I go see a chiropractic neurologist, and at the time, I didn’t do any research into exactly what it is they do. I remember thinking that, “Well I have a head injury. What on Earth can a chiropractor do for me?” But again, a little over a year ago, that came up again, and they were referred to this time as a functional neurologist, and I started to do some investigation into functional neurology and what it is they do and went ahead and set up a visit to go down to have an evaluation. It was a pretty extensive two-and-a-half to three-hour evaluation where, you know, what they do essentially is do some testing on you. For example, they do what’s called a VNG. I’m not going to try to pronounce the word because I’ll mess it up, but they put these goggles on you that are connected to a computer, and as you’re looking at the things on the wall like movement of a dot that jumping from point to point on the wall or moving smoothly, they’re able to track the movement of your eyes as you do so or when you’re in different head positions, see how your eyes are moving and whether they’re moving in concert with one another. In essence, the way I would term it is that the eyes in effect are… represent a window to the brain for them because it gives them an opportunity to see whether or not your sensory processing is integrated and things are working as they’re supposed to. They also put me through a number of… some balance testing where you stand on a platform and you’re turning and shifting in different positions and moving your head in different ways, with your eyes open or with your eyes closed, and they can measure, because of that platform, how you’re adjusting to those movements with your feet and your weight on both of those feet, so all this testing that they do essentially helps them to identify how well your system is working together in terms of your sensory processing and sensory integration, and it gives them an idea of what parts of your brain are essentially deficient at this time and they can design and customize a program to help you… help facilitate the creation of the necessary neural pathways to address those issues and jumpstart certain parts of your brain.
HR: So now, you’re a boxing biographer, you’ve suffered traumatic brain injury, and from the perspective of someone who’s now aware of how hyper-delicate the brain is, what piece of advice would you give to young athletes thinking of a boxing career?
CM: Honestly, I would say don’t do it! You know, I’ve got a 15-year old son, and based on my own experiences and what I’ve learned about the brain and head injuries, yeah, I would be less than thrilled if he wanted to do anything like boxing, and really football. I’m not too excited about the idea of him playing that sport either.
HR: Well you know, it’s funny how back in the day, concussions were not at the forefront the way they are now, and I remember back when I was having my 10 seconds of Fame with 26 pro heavyweight fights and was, you know Roy Firestone would say, “How can you justify being a doctor and then getting in the ring?” and I would just say that “I didn’t mind me getting beat up, but I don’t recommend it for other people,” so it’s kind of, you know, some people felt as being a hypocrite, but, you know, it’s an individual choice. The problem I think now, from my point of view, is when you have these kids going into Pop Warner, they’re really not making that decision in football, or in the, you know, Silver Mittens in boxing and so on, so I think we have to have a serious discussion somewhere along the way about traumatic brain injury, concussion, CTE, because right now, the discussion has been, you know, very limited, and part of it is because it’s a big business.
CM: Yeah, and I think there’s a lack of knowledge on the part of the vast majority of folks as to, you know, really what it’s like to suffer a head injury and how difficult it really is. I mean, like you, I played a little league football as well, but that was a long time ago; that was 50 years ago now, and that was at a time when they had really cheap plastic helmets that were, you know, really poor, and they taught us where I grew up at the time to tackle helmet-to-helmet. We had specific drills that we did in practice every day tackling helmet-to-helmet. You were supposed to lead with your head, so, you know, I’m sure I probably suffered very minor concussions doing that because I could remember walking home with some seriously splitting headaches at times, but, you know, in general, I had really no clue what a serious head injury was like. I mean, I had heard about people getting concussions, but I think until one really experiences it for themselves and goes through some of the symptoms that I’ve described at the beginning of our session here that you really have no idea what it’s really like, and, you know, I’ve heard of it referred to as “The Silent Epidemic,” and I think that’s a good description. There’s, um, you look at people, or people look at you after you’ve had a head injury, and like I said, for a couple years, I really knew that while I look normal for those around me, I was far from it, you know? It was not business as usual from my standpoint, but people have expectations that you’re fully recovered, and they really have no concept of what it’s like.
HR: How did you get into writing about boxing biographies in your free time?
CM: Well, when I was about 32 years old, I was going through a divorce, and I had come from a family where my father and my grandfather, you know, they were big boxing fans, so I had been around it all my life, and I had always had a little bit of curiosity about boxing and wanted to learn how. It seemed like as good a time as any to, you know, go to the gym and do so, so I started going to a gym in the Seattle area right after work four days a week. It give me an opportunity to blow off steam and learn how to box, which, like I said, I had always had the ambition to do, so as a result of all that – I mean, I’m sure you know how physical it is and how demanding the sport is – I gained a much greater respect for the sport, and it kind of piqued my curiosity, and somewhere along the line, I decided I wanted to start collecting biographies about all the heavyweight champions since 1890, and it just became an obsession after that. Then, I got really carried away in terms of collecting boxing books after that. It went from every heavyweight champion to every boxing book in the English language.
HR: What’s your next boxing project?
CM: Well, you know how I’d love to write a biography about Beau Jack. I was deep into research for doing so. I was probably, you know, two-thirds of the way through my research before beginning to write that story when I fell on my head, and then my research at that point shifted entirely to how to recover from a brain injury. I spent the next two and a half, three years completely obsessed with learning more about the brain and what I could do to facilitate my own recovery.
HR: How do people find out more about you and your writing?
CM: Well, you could google my name for one. I mean, if you googled my name, one of the first sites that would come up, I’m sure, would be my boxing memorabilia website, but, you know, also find references to some of the books I’ve written, and if you googled the title of any of those books and reviews, for example, I know you’d find a number of those. You could go on Amazon, of course. People routinely review books on Amazon all the time, so I know if you pulled up the Sam Langford book, find my name in Amazon, there’s 35, 36 reviews in there, and you could read about that particular book.
HR: And what is your website?
CM: PrizeFightingBooks.com. “Boxing Books” wasn’t available at the time. Haha!
HR: Hahaha! Alright, is there any particular message you would like to share with our DifferentBrains.org audience that we haven’t covered?
Doing your own research
CM: You know, I guess the biggest message or suggestion I would have in terms of suffering a brain injury or head injury is that there is a tremendous amount of information available to us online these days. It’s all at our fingertips, and I would encourage folks to get out there and get multiple opinions. Like I said, had I just gone to this local university neurology clinic and just followed their instructions, I would just be waiting and waiting. Their only recommendation was, “Rest and give it more time.” Some of the most beneficial things that I did to facilitate in my own recovery were things that I never heard about from a neurologist or my doctor, you know, things like functional neurology, brain wave optimization, which we didn’t talk about. Those are things that I learned about online or through talking to other individuals who had successfully recovered from their own head injuries. Um, books.
HR: Well, that’s great advice, and I used to encourage my patients, and… when I was practicing as an orthopedic surgeon – and I still encourage people now – to get online. Learn as much as you can. It doesn’t mean it’s going to make you a doctor, but knowledge is a tool and you can get lots of knowledge right there online as you say, and you should arm yourself with that knowledge, and that’s no disrespect to doctors. You know.
CM: Right. Yeah, there’s obviously a lot of great websites online, too, I mean, like your own, DifferentBrains.org. There’s numerous others that are available as well. On YouTube, I know that there’s… I think there’s an individual that… they call themselves the TBI coach. I can’t remember her name, but I believe her first name is Natalie. In any case, I mean, she’s got some outstanding videos in which she details her own experiences and, for example, goes into detail about the six most beneficial things that aided her in her recovery, so, I mean, like I say, if you go on a site like YouTube and input “traumatic brain injury”, I mean, you would be just amazed at how much material there is available online.
HR: Well, that’s great advice. Clay Moyle, it’s been a pleasure to speak with you today. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk about traumatic brain injury and your experience and give our audience some tools, and it’s been a great pleasure. Thank you very much!
CM: Thank you! I enjoyed it very much, Hackie![/expand]