In helmets we trust? 

Part 2 of Pique's concussion feature

click to flip through (6) PHOTO BY BONNY MAKAREWICZ - Kevin Sansalone
  • Photo By Bonny Makarewicz
  • Kevin Sansalone

In last week's feature Pique told the story of several Whistler residents who have suffered prolonged and severe concussion symptoms. All were wearing helmets when they were injured, either skiing or biking, leaving some wondering: what did their helmets do for them? Last year alone the Whistler Health Care Centre dealt with about 800 head injuries. As the media spotlight shines on the issue from high performance sports to recreational sports, Whistler, some would argue, is front and centre in the debate.

Diane Ziff skied for 50 years before she bought her first helmet.

It was admittedly an adjustment. She'd been skiing back east, on the ice she jokes, since she was 10 and never once wore a helmet.

When she moved to Whistler in 2007 and joined the Senior's Ski Team, she met Dr. Brian Hunt, a retired neurosurgeon.

It's one thing when the ski industry "recommends" helmet use, quite another when a neurosurgeon personally "encourages" it.

She took Hunt's encouragement to heart, changed her behaviour, and bought a helmet.

In a sad twist of irony, it was when Ziff was wearing her helmet that she got her first brain injury — a concussion — when skiing.

That first fall sparked a series of subsequent concussions and has left Ziff struggling with the ramifications of the injury.

"You learn to live your life differently," says Ziff with acceptance.

What would have happened had she not been wearing her helmet?

Would the concussion symptoms have been worse? Would she have a different brain injury like a skull fracture or a brain bleed? Ziff will never know.

In the dynamic world of brain research, new helmet technologies, and the impact of sport on the brain, Whistler is sitting centre stage.

In a place where people can have more helmets than shoes — helmets for downhill biking, helmets for road riding, helmets for skiing, helmets for hockey, helmets for snowmobiling — what do we really know about what we're putting on our heads when we hit the slopes?

Not enough, according helmet advocate Richard Kinar.

He is not only pushing for better helmet standards in the industry, a place where Whistler could and should take a leadership role he says, but he also sees Whistler as a potential centre of excellence when it comes to concussion research.

"Whistler is literally the best place in Canada to do it because most people are involved in many high risk sports," says Kinar of his proposed concussion baseline testing program.

"I believe that there is a health crisis in Whistler. I believe that the effects of concussion are far worse than what most people are willing to admit."

Helmets and concussions

Linda Glenday now knows that helmets do not prevent concussions; it took a concussion to find out.


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