August 17, 2001 Features & Images » Feature Story

Feature 

Head games, part I

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At the same time, too many people are still getting hurt.

"It’s just common sense to wear a helmet to protect yourself," says Dr. Brian Hunt, a neurological surgeon at Lions Gate Hospital and a Whistler skier for years.

"What’s really frustrating is all this business of ‘Why should I wear a helmet?’ How many examples do we have to give? What about the story of the little Japanese girl in Calgary who fell backwards on her (inline skates), hit her head on the cement, and died the next day? That’s a good example. How many stories do you need? There are too many stories, that’s the problem."

About 56,000 stories a year

According to statistics compiled by Webster & Associates, a Richmond, B.C. based law firm that provides legal services for survivors of brain injury caused by negligence, every year in Canada there are approximately 56,000 cases of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), or head injuries serious enough to require extra medical attention.

For some 36,000, the injury is severe enough to require hospitalization; 2,500 will die, 9,000 will require long-term rehabilitation, and 6,000 will live with a disability.

TBI is also the leading cause of death and disability in children and adults.

About half of all brain injuries are the result of motor vehicle collisions, with the remainder divided among work-related injuries, falls, illness, sports injuries, firearms and assaults.

British Columbia accounts for approximately 6,000 TBI cases each year, of which 600 cases will be serious enough to require lifetime support and services "which are difficult to obtain and often are not available," according to the B.C Brain Injury Coalition.

Between April of 1998 and September of 1999, Whistler contributed 2,787 head injury cases to the provincial load. Locally, head injuries are the second most commonly treated medical emergency, behind orthopedic emergencies. That’s an average of 164 head injuries a month, although numbers are significantly higher during the winter.

Nationally, approximately 70 per cent of brain injury survivors are young adults between the ages of 18 and 28, while young males between 14 and 24 have the highest rate of injury out of any demographic, nearly twice that of females.

Preventing the initial injury is critical because once you’ve sustained a brain injury your vulnerability increases exponentially. After your first brain injury you are two to three times more likely to sustain a second injury. After a second injury, the potential for a third increases to eight times the normal average.

There are numerous different types of brain injury, resulting in the bruising, bleeding, twisting or tearing of brain tissue, and victims of TBI often have more than one type. The damage may occur at the time of the injury, or may develop later as the result of swelling or bleeding.

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