My Turn

Story published: 07-18-2012 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Helmets can save lives

By Paula Walter

Each year, thousands and thousands of motorcyclists, bicyclists and skateboarders suffer head injuries. Wearing a helmet can help prevent the majority of these accidents.

According to statistics from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 91 percent of bicyclists that were killed in 2009 were not wearing bike helmets. In 2010, out of the 429 deaths related to bicycle injuries, 70 percent were not wearing a helmet, compared to 15 percent of the 94 riders who died that wore protective headgear. Snell Memorial Foundation cites that two-thirds of bicyclists who died and one-eight of riders that were injured suffered brain trauma.

Bicyclists are not the only ones who need to keep their head protected. Those who play sports such as football and baseball, as well as people who skateboard, snowboard, ride horses, play hockey or lacrosse are also at risk for sustaining severe head injuries. Even small children are at risk for falling off low-riding toys and injuring themselves.

The brain is protected by cerebrospinal fluid that absorbs some of the impact in head injuries. Depending on the force of the fall, the brain can move, causing tissue damage and swelling. Because the skull is firm and unforgiving, as the brain swells it can cause tissue to press against the skull and can lead to additional damage. Brain injuries occur from any number of accidents where there is an impact to the skull and can cause a multitude of health problems and even death.

Evan, a 23-year-old young man, was skateboarding on July 4th on a street he had ridden on many times without a helmet. He fell and his head took the brunt of his fall. Fortunately, Evan lives in an area surrounded by trauma centers, and he was quickly rushed for medical attention.

Evan grew up in the neighborhood my husband and I raised our children. He and our youngest son have been friends since Evan moved into a house down the street from ours when he was approximately five years old. They grew up together; spending hours with their close-knot group of four friends shooting hoops at the end of our driveway, making ramps to do stunts with their bikes, and yes, skateboarding.

Evan has been in a medically induced coma for over a week now. He has had holes drilled into his skull to help relieve the swelling. The doctors attempted to bring him out of his coma, but his brain immediately began to swell again. He underwent surgery to remove part of his skull and had part of his brain removed that was severely bruised.

It breaks my heart to think of this young man who graduated from college last year who has his whole life in front of him laying in a coma, connected to tubes, wires and a respirator. I can only imagine the terror in his parentsí hearts as they sit by their only sonís bedside.

The State of Tennessee, along with many other states, requires bicyclists under the age of 16 to wear helmets. Despite this legislation, it appears that many people are breaking the law. With the risk of head trauma so high, itís difficult to understand why the rules are not followed. I know that itís hot under the helmets and you sweat, flattening our your hair and giving you a bad hair day. The helmets donít always want to stay in place and it takes awhile to make the necessary adjustments, and sometimes we just give up in exasperation. Peer pressure is strong, and if a childís friends arenít wearing a helmet, they are going to balk at putting one on. Itís easy to have a carefree and an ďit canít happen to meĒ attitude. Iím sure Evan never thought it could happen to him, but it did.

Evan is expected to continue to be in the coma for another five days and the doctors will once again try to wake him up. No one has mentioned his recovery and what problems he might encounter. He needs prayers, and so does his family. I think if Evan could speak right now, he would plead with everyone, adults and children, to put on their helmets before climbing on a bike, running onto a soccer field or hopping on a skateboard.