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Natasha Richardson Dies Following Fall on Ski Slope/The Myths of Traumatic Brain Injury

It is with sadness that I have learned this evening that actress, Natasha Richardson has passed away from head injuries she received when she fell and struck her head on the beginner's ski slope on Tuesday. She was not wearing a ski helmet at the time she fell to the ground.

According to published reports, all present at the scene thought that the head injury sustained by Richardson was minor.  She was not unconscious, was able to fully respond to those offering her assistance and refused further medical evaluation. Only later did she begin to develop a severe headache and was rushed to the hospital where it was discovered that she sustained a brain hemorrhage causing pressure changes within the skull resulting in brain damage. 

I have been carefully following the commentaries on Natasha's traumatic brain injury and am shocked by some of the comments that I have read and heard.  

Anyone with any knowledge of head injuries is not surprised that a relatively minor fall could produce such devastating consequences.  I have seen many cases where individuals have fallen and struck their head on ice, on slippery and wet surfaces or as a result ofbeing struck by an car.  In these cases the injuries have ranged from concussions with lasting consequences as a result of the development of the post concussion syndrome, all the way to skull fractures, brain hemorrhages and tragically even comas and death. 

What the public and the news media need to know is that all head injuries must be taken seriously.  An even seemingly mild head injury can lead to serious and permanent brain damage.  There is never anything mild about a mild brain injury. 

An injury to the brain can occur even if the individual is not knocked unconscious, seems to be fine at the scene of the accident and is able to leave the accident scene unassisted.

The public, news media and even some members of the medical profession need to be reminded of the following myths surrounding traumatic brain injury.  It is important to know that a person can have a serious, permanent and disabling brain injury, even though:

1. The person is not knocked out at the scene of the accident.

2. The person may be walking, talking and even exchanging his driver's license at the
scene of the accident.

3. The person did not sustain any cuts, broken bones or major injuries in the accident.

4. The person may have a negative MRI, CT Scan, EEG and all other tests;

5. The person may have "passed" a  standard neurological examination.

6. The person was involved in only a minor accident, a low speed crash or a slow fall which can all exert sufficient force on the brain to cause a brain injury.

7. The delay in diagnosing the brain injury is not the patient's fault.

8. The person who sustained the brain injury is a a very poor historian of what happened.

9. The person who sustained the injury only related two or three problems following the accident usually headaches, nausea or vomiting and only later reported other difficulties such as memory loss, poor concentration, sleep difficulties, light sensitivity or sensitivity to loud noises.

10. The person was able to continue with his or her employment.

Here is what the Center for Disease Control says “About Brain Injury” in their publication,  Facts About Concussion and Brain Injury:

A blow or jolt to the head can disrupt the normal function of the brain.  Doctors often call this type of brain injury a “concussion” or “closed head injury.”  Doctors may describe these injuries as “mild” because concussions are not life threatening.  Even so, the effects of a concussion can be serious.

After a concussion, some people lose consciousness or are “knocked out” for a short time, but not always---you can have a brain injury without losing consciousness.  Some people are simply dazed or confused.  Sometimes whiplash can cause a concussion.

Because the brain is very complex, every brain injury is different.  Some symptoms may appear right away, while others may not show up for days or weeks after the concussion.  Sometimes the injury makes it hard for people to recognize or to admit that they are having problems.

The signs of concussion can be subtle.  Early on, problems may be missed by patients, family members and doctors.  People may look fine even though they’re acting or feeling differently.




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