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Jack Sisson's TBI Blog

A hug is duct tape for the soul.

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. What follows is some excellent commentary from a registered nurse in the military. She offers several reminders of simple things we can do to help protect ourselves from traumatic brain injury. It might be nice if we reminded our family and friends, too.

Commentary by By Capt. Laura Gibbons
Walson Medical Support Element

Every month of the year has an awareness theme, with some months having multiple important causes to recognize.

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. One month is a relatively short time to highlight brain injury awareness, but we need to acknowledge, practice and prevent it year-round. Life, as we know it, is worth the endeavor.

Approximately 1.7 million people sustain traumatic brain injuries each year in the U.S. Out of this population, 52,000 lose their lives, 275,000 are hospitalized and almost 1.4 million are treated and released from emergency departments, according to the Centers for Disease and Control's statistics.

Alarming numbers like these do not stir emotions or behavior change in many people. Think of someone who has dealt with or who is dealing with a brain injury. Maybe it is a family member or friend. Was the injury from an automobile accident, a combat blast injury, a fast ball to the head or a fall on some ice? I would bet that everyone knows someone with an injury, mild or severe. Get personal, because that is when it gets very real.

Traumatic brain injury became very real in my hometown when a well-known family endured the unthinkable. The family's 25-year-old son took a snowboarding trip to the Poconos and fell horribly, changing his family's lives forever.

East Coast mountains are nowhere near the elevation and difficulty for snowboarding compared to other places in the country or world. New and experienced skiers and snowboarders hit the slopes every winter in the Poconos, unfortunately, many choose not to wear a helmet. I am embarrassed to say I was one of them. Even worse, I was stationed in Germany for three years and never wore a helmet skiing the Alps of Germany, Switzerland and Austria. What was I thinking? I am a registered nurse and I have a good head on my shoulders, but to me, the thought anything bad would happen was not real.

I am sure the millions of people mentioned in the CDC's statistics above felt the same way I did. Many people don't even consider using a helmet, and others take the approach I had thinking, "it is only a small mountain," or "I never fall or lose control." It often takes an accident to jolt people into change.

In 2009, a family from my town lost the son who they had come to know as a strong, healthy, intelligent and athletic man who was halfway through graduate school for engineering. He was among the top of his high-school class, an honor student in college with a bright future. He was in my older brother's high-school grade, on his soccer team and one of his close friends, even after college. My brother's friend was snowboarding with a group when he became separated from his friends. He was eventually found, unconscious, down the side of a trail with a severe brain injury and a mix of other injuries.

After waking from a month-long coma, my brother's friend and his mother spent countless hours at medical appointments and therapy. His mother wound up quitting her job to take care of him. The family's home also had to be fitted so that it was wheelchair accessible. It has been three years since the accident and he can only stand and walk with assistance for short distances. The future holds a lot of unknowns for his family, now troubled with medical bills, simply because he was not wearing a helmet.

This family's tragic accident served as a life lesson to myself and everyone around me. Not only do I wear a helmet now, but I convince my friends to rent one if they do not already own one. People cannot stay home in a bubble and not live life. What we have to do is value our life and protect it as much as possible.

I wear a helmet when I ski, ride my bike or visit the range. I put on my seat belt the moment I get in my car. I try incredibly hard to leave my phone in my purse whenever I am in my car. I cannot commute to work and look left and right without seeing someone staring at their phone while driving. I assume people just feel invincible.

I feel pride in being a role model for my friends, my younger sister and my niece. Let us remind ourselves and each other to understand every human, regardless of age or occupation, is at risk. Whether it is combat, falls, contact sports, winter sports, water sports or automobiles, strive to protect yourself and prevent TBI. There are many resources online, to include the Brain Injury Association and the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center websites, with articles, resources and many stories relating to traumatic brain injuries, awareness and prevention. The following tips are provided by DVBIC for minimizing the risk of sustaining a brain injury both in combat and at home:

Prevent TBIs in a combat setting:
- Wear a helmet and standard protective gear properly when on patrol or in other high risk areas.
- Wear safety belts when traveling in any motorized vehicles.
- Check for obstacles and loose debris before climbing or descending buildings or other structures.
- Employ the buddy system to improve situational awareness, such as working at heights or on certain missions.
- Be aware of what is on the ground around you to avoid tripping.
- Inspect weapons prior to use and handle them appropriately.
- Verify targets and consider the potential for ricochet prior to firing a weapon.
- Maintain clean and orderly work environments that are free of foreign objects or debris.

Prevent TBIs at home for you and your family:
- Wear a seat belt every time you drive or ride in a motor vehicle.
- Never drive while under the influence of alcohol, drugs or medications that can cause drowsiness.
- Wear a helmet whenever you: ride your bike or motorcycle, participate in winter sports (skiing, snowmobiling, snowboarding, etc.), play contact sports (football, ice hockey, boxing, etc.), use in-line skates, scooters, skateboards or ride horses.
- Always buckle your child into a child safety seat, booster seat or seat belt (depending on the child's height, weight and age) in the vehicle. Also, review local laws for these requirements.
- Use a step stool to reach objects on high shelves.
- Install handrails, window guards and safety gates at home to prevent falls.
- Remove tripping hazards, use non-slip mats in the bathtub and on shower floors and put grab bars next to the toilet and in the tub or shower if needed.
- Store unloaded firearms in a locked cabinet or safe. Store bullets in a separate secure location.

Educate your workplace and educate your family. Lead by example every time, not some of the time. The Brain Injury Association of America's theme is "anytime, anywhere, anyone, brain injuries do not discriminate." March is Brain Injury Awareness Month, but awareness in March is not enough. Prevent head injuries and protect life.



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