Lindsay Simpson Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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For months leading up to July 14, Lindsay Simpson was filled with dread. That date marked the two-year anniversary of what she simply refers to as “the accident,” when part of a railing became dislodged and struck her from above as she prepared for a pregame show during the opening of D.C. United’s newly constructed Audi Field.

Her post-accident world has become insular. Simpson, who served as D.C. United’s sideline reporter and vice president of marketing and communications, spends most of her days recovering and only sees her husband, Nathan Getty, a few family members in the D.C. area, and close friends. But as the anniversary of her accident neared, Simpson, 34, decided it would be an appropriate time to publicly share her story of what she describes as an altered life, no matter how painful the anniversary of that day feels. 

“I’m ready to … stop seeing it, in my own life, as the day my life ended or the day my life changed forever in a negative way and start seeing it as the day God gave me a chance to live,” she says. “And so that’s where I really turned the page and started seeing July 14 not as the worst day of my life, but as my second birthday, because nearly every medical professional I’ve seen has told me that there’s no reason I should be alive.”

Simpson and I first met at the University of Maryland at College Park, where we briefly overlapped during our graduate school journalism programs, and I consider her a friend. I’ve watched Simpson’s career develop from afar, and had planned to say hello to her during the Audi Field opener, but figured with all the commotion of opening night that she would, in her multiple roles, be a little busy. I would catch up with her another time.

Days after the inaugural game at Audi Field, Simpson told City Paperthat the accident left her with a concussion. By her own estimate, that was either her seventh or eighth concussion. She doesn’t remember the accident and didn’t have a “single recollection for weeks.” About a month later, D.C. United moved her from the active payroll to disability payments, Simpson says, and according to her lawyer, David Schloss, her workers’ compensation benefits ended last September. That came seven months after the team’s insurance company, Great Divide Insurance Co., sent Simpson to get a medical examination from an independent neurosurgeon, who concluded she did not suffer a head strike.

Simpson, a former University of Maryland women’s soccer goalkeeper, is still struggling with her recovery, and has filed a claim against D.C. United and Great Divide to continue receiving workers’ compensation and recoup lost wages.

There are people in her life, she says, that still have trouble believing what she’s going through. That’s part of the reason she wants to become an advocate for athletes struggling with traumatic brain injuries and their caregivers.

“I have been, pretty much my entire adult life, trying to convince people, and oftentimes people really close to me, family friends, that concussions are real,” she says. “This isn’t made up. These are real symptoms. And just because you can’t see it on an X-ray or read it in bloodwork, it doesn’t mean it’s not there.”

***

Simpson pauses to gather her emotions as she talks about the aftermath of the accident. People who were near her have filled in some of the blanks, including the moment she stared Getty in the face and asked him to go get her husband.

“We try to laugh about it and say, I wonder who I was looking for, the Spanish soccer player I [must have] had in mind, and try to make jokes about it,” she says. “But it breaks my heart that I did that to him.”

That year had been shaping up to be the best of her life. She got engaged in January, and then a month later was promoted to vice president of marketing and communications. Shortly after, D.C. United announced that it would be signing international soccer superstar Wayne Rooney. 

She would work late and show up the next morning at 6 a.m. to get in a workout before starting another day at RFK Stadium, the team’s previous home.

“But I wasn’t miserable,” Simpson says. “I was in heaven. It was like every dream I’d ever had was coming true all at once. Then it all changed in an instant.”

On July 14, 2018, prior to the team’s long awaited debut match at Audi Field, Simpson had just wrapped an interview with D.C. United legend Jaime Moreno in the locker room before she headed toward the outdoor set near the pitch for a pregame broadcast. Fans had not yet filed into the stadium, and as Simpson was texting on her phone while on set, she heard a loud clanging noise. A large metal object, described as a “railing” or “railing cap,” fell from above and struck her. Where it hit her depends on who you ask.

Simpson and her lawyer believe it hit her on the head and shoulder. Dr. Donald Hope, an independent neurosurgeon at the Center for Cranial and Spine Surgery in Northern Virginia, examined Simpson at the behest of Great Divide on Feb. 28, 2019, and asserts in a report after viewing video of the incident that it was “unlikely based on this film that she actually sustained a head strike.” 

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In a video of the incident viewed by City Paper, the long metal object appears in the frame and proceeds to fall somewhere near the right side of Simpson’s head and shoulder. She bends forward after the strike, and moments later loses balance and is seen sitting down in a chair while her co-hosts, Dave Johnson and Devon McTavish, among others, check on her.

Hope writes in the medical examination report, obtained by City Paper, that “while she has a slight flinch corresponding with the sound of the railing coming loose, she does not flinch as it goes by her head or move in a reaction to a head strike stimulus. Instead, her movement secondary to the trauma occurs when the railing hits her shoulder. I am convinced that there was absolutely no head strike.”

At the suggestion of her lawyer, Simpson did not read the report. She feels betrayed by Hope’s conclusions after reading excerpts of the report for the first time in a Washington Post article. In response to the report’s findings, Schloss says that Hope “is not a concussion specialist … He’s a spinal specialist.” 

“When I read his reaction, I just started shaking,” Simpson says. “I almost threw up. I mean, it hurt. It felt like I had just gotten punched in the gut again. And honestly, that’s what the last two years have felt like. It’s just one punch in the gut after another.”

Schloss says that the claim filed on behalf of Simpson is against both D.C. United and its insurance company, and that the club is an “equal party to the case.” While D.C. United is named in the claim, the team asserts it has no control over what the insurance company does. 

“It is the club’s hope that the final outcome is just and we wish Ms. Simpson happiness and the best for her health, both mentally and physically,” the team said in a statement to City Paper. “The club respectfully disagree[s] with Mr. Schloss’ characterization of the workers’ compensation process as reported in the Washington Post article. The workers’ compensation litigation is controlled by the insurance company.”

City Paper reached out to Great Divide for comment, but a spokesperson for the company declined to comment on the incident, citing the company’s policy against publicly discussing individual insureds, policies, claims, or litigation.

Schloss adds that Turner Construction, which D.C. United contracted to build Audi Field, has been put on notice for a negligence claim, but that he wants to wait until a possible resolution in Simpson’s case with the insurance company before litigation against Turner Construction begins.  “We are aware of this incident, however, we have not received a formal claim at this time,” a Turner Construction spokesperson told City Paper in a statement.

Since the accident, Simpson has had two surgeries. On Dec. 18, 2018, she underwent a nerve decompression operation on the back of her head and neck to relieve symptoms of headaches and nausea. Early last month, she had surgery on her right arm and hand. Simpson says she started consistently losing feeling and strength in her hand around January.

Sometimes, she struggles with her depth perception, and has trouble remembering events. Grocery stores can be a sensory overload. Her close friend, Samantha Perrie, a former D.C. United video producer, describes the look on Simpson’s face as a “fog.” 

“Most of the time I know immediately if this is going to be a day she remembers or if this is going to be a day that she’s not going to remember the next day,” Perrie says.

Simpson still hasn’t seen a game at Audi Field. But in her basement, she has a shelf full of D.C. United memorabilia. Next to it is a hardhat and commemorative shovel from the Audi Field groundbreaking. 

“I’m so proud of what I accomplished there,” she says. “I’m so proud of all the things that my staff and my team were able to do … And so I look back on my time there with a lot of pride and with a lot of joy, and I will always be a D.C. United fan. But it just really hurts because I gave everything I had. I left it all on the field, but at the end of the day, I was just an employee. That’s where these relationships are hard, because sometimes it’s just a one-way street. And that’s just the way it is.”

***

Briana Scurry knows how Simpson feels.

In April 2010, the World Cup champion’s playing career ended when an opposing forward’s knee collided with Scurry’s right temple while she was in the net for the Washington Freedom in the now-defunct Women’s Professional Soccer league.

It was her third documented concussion—“the key word being documented,” she says—and she struggled with headaches, anxiety, and depression afterward. Scurry, 48, ultimately had occipital nerve release surgery to ease the pain, but tells City Paper her surgery was delayed due to her legal battles with the insurance company for workers’ compensation.

“I had to fight to actually get the first round of testing to see if the procedure would actually work. Then I actually had to fight to get the OK to get the procedure. Then I had to fight to get the procedure paid for,” she says with a laugh. “It’s funny now, but it wasn’t funny at the time. It’s ridiculous is what it is. So I would say all of that took nine months to a year longer than it should’ve taken.”

Her advice to Simpson is that it’s OK to get angry and upset, and that people she met also had trouble understanding her battle with what is sometimes called an invisible injury.

“A person who hasn’t had a head injury doesn’t understand what it feels like to be disconnected,” she says. “And it’s hard to even explain. It took me years to explain that feeling.”

Simpson intends to focus on the positives. From August to October of 2019, the University of Maryland hired her to do color commentary for four women’s soccer games, giving Simpson a taste of her old life. She’s found projects to keep herself occupied, like learning how to make ice cream, baking, gardening in her home in Alexandria, relearning Spanish (in which she used to be fluent), and teaching herself how to play the piano.

Simpson and her husband recently launched the Champion Comeback Foundation to help support athletes with traumatic brain injuries, and Simpson says she plans to donate her brain to the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank when she dies. 

Schloss says a hearing for the claim is scheduled for December. Until then, Simpson will continue sharing her story, using whatever platform she has to be a voice for people who share her struggles.

“I will ultimately, at the end of my life, say that [the accident] changed my life forever—in a good way,” she says. “I’m not there yet. But that’s where I’m going.”