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March 19th, 2009
05:39 PM ET

Head trauma is nothing to be taken lightly

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

The death of actress Natasha Richardson is tragic. A beautiful, vital 45-year-old goes for a ski lesson and falls. She gets up, declines medical care and goes back to her hotel. From there, the story takes a terrible turn. She becomes ill, and is transported to one hospital, then another and then finally to a third hospital near her home, where she dies two days later from brain injuries caused by an epidural hematoma. Her family, friends and fans are shocked. How can something as innocent as a ski fall  kill you? Because, neurologists say, the brain, although complex, is a delicate organ. It's very vulnerable and it needs to be taken seriously. And even a bump on the head can take its toll. Unfortunately, I know this all too well.

Thirteen years ago, my husband, daughter and I were in a terrible car accident on the Florida Turnpike. On our way to Orlando, our vehicle was hit by a driver who had fallen asleep at the wheel. Although we all had our seat belts on, our car swerved and hit a bridge embankment. My husband's head went out the side window, hitting the windshield and the concrete. When EMS workers got to us, it looked as if a battle had taken place: burning cars, debris. And because my husband had a major slice to his head, blood was everywhere. I was not hurt, and my daughter had a minor cut from flying glass. They loaded us into ambulances and took us to two different hospitals, my husband headed for the local trauma unit. He stayed two days in the hospital. They stitched up his forehead and sent him home, mentioning that he may want to see his doctor once he got back to Washington, D.C. And although the whole thing was terribly traumatic, we left Florida three days later, with my husband behind the wheel of a rental car.

Because he felt fine and there seemed to be no urgency to his injuries, my husband went back to work and made an appointment with his doctor to have a CT scan two months later. When he got off the table, the radiologist asked him to sit down and immediately called a neurologist. As the doctor viewed the images, his face turned pale and he asked my husband how long had it been since he was in the accident. My hubby shrugged and said, "A couple of months." The physician then told him not to move - he was going to schedule surgery immediately. It seemed my husband had developed a subdural hematoma that covered his entire brain. According to MayoClinic.com it's usually formed from head trauma that causes the brain to be shaken severely. Many children who suffer from shaken baby syndrome have these type of injuries. And unlike epidural hematomas, which bleed in the brain fairly quickly, my husband's injury developed slowly, causing a massive bruise to form. One false move could have given him a stroke, or caused permanent brain damage.

Although my husband made it through brain surgery without incident, there is a lesson here. Never take a head injury for granted. When doctors looked at his scans in the ER in Florida, they obviously did not see the bruising that later formed over his brain. Because the brain is loaded with large and small blood vessels, head injuries can cause all sorts of serious problems. Studies have shown that athletes who suffer even minor concussions can develop neurological problems later in life. The brain is nothing to be messed with.

Ironically, March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. And although brain injuries are not as common as, say, broken bones, they do happen and many have serious consequences. They need to be treated immediately. In this story, my husband got treated, before suffering brain damage. He was fortunate. God bless her, but Ms. Richardson was not.

Have you ever faced head trauma? Know someone who has? What happened? We'd like to hear about it.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


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soundoff (246 Responses)
  1. Lindsey

    I hit my head on this past Monday on a glass shelf It looks red feels like a bump near my eye lashes will you think I would be able to work when I need to go in

    July 24, 2014 at 16:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Lindsey

    I hit my head while I was working on the glass shelf didn't see where I was hitting my boss had to give me a bag of ice I cried in the break room for about 6 minutes

    July 24, 2014 at 16:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Dakota Cheyenne

    Hi on Friday 8th I fainted sweating really bad my friends didn't know what to do I was helped up and the Saturday the 9th my neck is really really sore to the touch and part of my lower back hurts to. When I fainted I hit wood like the house I was at had no carpet. I don't know what to do and I need some help I'm scared I don't know if I should go to the hospital. Can someone please get back to me ASAP

    August 10, 2014 at 05:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • TONY

      You might need to buy new carpets for the house you were in. They will appreciate you and you will not have that problem once you are back there again. Good Luck! and God Bless!!!

      February 10, 2015 at 18:27 | Report abuse |
  4. Efren Saetteurn

    you have a great blog here! would you like to make some invite posts on my blog?

    http://www.yell.com/biz/akasha-seo-scarborough-7867743/

    August 23, 2014 at 17:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Sharon

    After walking into a metal post resulting in a major lump on forehead and small bump on the back of head. As the encounter with the pole sent me reeling and I fell to floor and hit back of head on a wall.
    I have headaches and my neck hurts do I seek medical help and ask for a CT scan?

    October 2, 2014 at 08:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Name*tina

    my husband had ahead and read that split his head about 4 inches in probably about a half an inch deep a rock fell on his head while he was in a hole digging for a pool he refuses to fall to the doctors or the emergency room for an x-ray and he's going back to work and it hasn't even been a week and I'm really scared please can you tell me what may happen cuz I don't want him to die and he won't listen to me thank you

    October 14, 2014 at 09:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • TONY

      Unfortunately, there is nothing that ANY hospital and or Doctor can do for him at this time.
      If he can return to work, and his work will take him back the way "he looks" LET HIM ENJOY LIFE!
      Apparently, his head is destroyed and gone. Not too many people survive those type of accidents.
      Your first line states "My husband had a head" and you go on saying "I am scared".
      I think you should be happy to have a hard working husband, even without his head.
      You will get used to his scary looks and his looks are better protection in your home than ADT.
      Your writing seems like you are depressed. Please don't. At least he didn't lose both heaths
      during the accident. Right?
      Good Bless my Child...

      February 10, 2015 at 18:43 | Report abuse |
  7. Patricia philipson

    fail backwards on rug hit head fall light headed. elbow funny bone hurts to touch it put ice on it

    October 19, 2014 at 14:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Patricia philipson

    hope you can help

    October 19, 2014 at 14:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Mary Oldham

    Fell backwards off step stool in kitchen taking step stool with me. Back of head hit first onto tile floor. Electric-type shock went down both arms and they went numb. I started wailing and husband came running. After awhile could feel arms again. Had very large bump on back of head and felt funny but did not pass out. We drove to ER and they took me back for immediate CT scan. It was ok so they sent me home. Eventually big bump went away. Incidentally I had bone scan months later and it showed 3 broken ribs. Do I need to worry about future problems related to this head injury?

    November 10, 2014 at 12:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. natasha

    I was busy in one of my shelfs where bottles tumbled down on my head,the one that hit me right on my hairline in the left side of by face(head..... Have made n huge bump and now 2days later its still very painfull but now my eyes are blue and swolen also my nose bridge and part of my fore head,is it normal or not? Natasha my email tassiemoller@gmail.com

    November 17, 2014 at 06:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Monica

    I fell backwards onto a concrete boat dock. I do not remember any of this It knocke me out. An ambulance was called and I was taken to a trauma hospital. Still knocked out. After testing the Dt, found out I had traumatic brain injury. I was told I was hospitalized for seven days. I don"t even remember going home. Since then I have been hospitalized 3 times and at least 4 times not admitted. I get terrible headaches, the worst I have ever had. I don't know what the future holds, butt this is the worst thing I've been through and it has not been but 3 weeks. If I had not passed out I probably would not have been taken to trauma unit. Please if you hit your head insist on a CAT scan.

    November 24, 2014 at 07:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Angela thompson

    hi my son was in a car accident in 2006 he had severe brain trama he didn't even know he had children we went to touro in new Orleans la. they learned him how to walk again he had two blood clots in his head today he still suffers from short term memory loss and he has sieziers but he cant get any help. his left leg swells so big they say its from a blood clot so they put him o coumadian he has been on it for a year since he was hit in the head with a pvc pipe that was used for a broom handle a mental patient did this he never seen it coming. today he been having trouble with his ear bleeding they give him antibotics and ear drops he finished them dr say ear looks good know it bleed out again what could be happening . very concerned mom

    January 7, 2015 at 03:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. phyliss minshull

    years ago, i would say about 1980's, i was asleep on the chair due to tiredness, while i was sleeping a solid wooden extremely heavy door fell on my head, and i was in severe pain crying and hurt, i didnt go to hospital, i left it to recover, would i be left with a fractured skull? or would it of been healed? as, NOW, 2015, when i scratch the area of my head, there is a long sensitive area of my skull that hurts and is tender, this has been here for years and i just haven't touched it or bothered it....can anyone answer this for me please, thankyou.

    January 7, 2015 at 16:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • TONY

      Since you leave in the future, please wait for a response, it will have about a 10 (ten) month delay.
      Your injury Happened in NOVEMBER, 2015. It is only early FEBRUARY , 2015 here.
      Please understand the inconvenience this may cause.
      Bio-Man 2

      February 10, 2015 at 20:36 | Report abuse |
  14. lovessiamese

    Actually, this is a hypothetical question regarding head trauma. If this is not the proper place to post this, can you please direct me to someone who can answer this question for me? I am an author, working on a novel. One of my primary characters has been thrown down a flight of four cement steps–backwards. She hits her head on the vertical edge of the third step. The injury is located in the area on the back of the head, just below where the crown would start. If there was no fracture, how long would it take to recover after surgery? What are the chances that the injury would become infected? Could it end in death? The character had been drinking heavily prior to the event that had her going down the steps. She probably has some liver damage, as she has been a heavy drinker for several years. My name is Aleta Kay Dye. My email address is aletak60@gmail.com Thank you.

    January 9, 2015 at 17:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • TONY

      Our recommendation is for you to call a Cement Laborer's Labor Union.
      You can always find an Italian person there with a hard head not wearing a
      Safety Hat because they did not use it in the old days and things were always
      better then. Even their prosciutto sandwiches were not as salty as today's.
      If that does not help, since yo like drama, watch for any guys on black tuxedos
      among those Italians. Get your camera Ready. I guarantee you someone is going
      to get his head hit by a knuckle over some old Italian Liras.
      The mafia will make you lose your head or they just cut your head.
      I least they give you a choice.
      They do make it dramatic and stressful during that decision process,

      February 10, 2015 at 20:48 | Report abuse |
  15. Matt

    99 my senior year high school football I had suffered 8 concussions. Some I through up other I didnt. I did not go to the doctors because I wa told th team needed me. I would always get the next practice off. I still do not remember the incidents just comming back to reality by smelling salt. Now it's 2015 and over the past 4-5 years my sleep is 3-4 hours and somedays I go with out any sleep. I get headachs that bring me to tears. My anger has gotten worse, I would snap over th littlest things. When it's quiet then someone talks loud it gives me instant headache. My speech gets fumbled a lot more over the years. Short term memory has goten worse. I write things down. I'm always missplacing things. Simple keys hat remote phone. Not sure what to do I have a 8 yr old son and a 5 yr old daughter and a wife since 2004. Please help

    January 28, 2015 at 01:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • skeetelmore65

      Matt, I can relate and don't sleep either. I seem to fight it and I'm not a child anymore. I love to sleep, but it seems that I don't get the amount that I should either. Feel ya.
      I get some terrible headaches too. The doc called them Migraines and even body Migraines. I also, have sharp pains and burning skin on my head, I have a big sore spot, still from where I was hit in a Car accident back in '95 and don't understand. I don't have a very bad short-term memory and have spells, where I write things backwards and lose time. It is bad and just want a solution.
      Sending prayers for you. Hang in there and pray. IT works more for me, than anything else that could..especially, in the anger department. I am an easy-going, that has a long wick, but don't press the red button. lol Now, I give it all to The Lord and don't have to worry anymore. God Bless. :)

      January 31, 2015 at 23:23 | Report abuse |
    • skeetelmore65

      Matt, I meant to say that I DO Have a very bad short-term memory. See, I am so messed up in my brain. I feel that when I was hit...something was messed up and just want it fixed, but my MRI's don't show anything on them or they're JUST not looking. :o

      January 31, 2015 at 23:27 | Report abuse |
    • TONY

      Too late now buddy. EIGHT?
      You should switch sports to Yoga after your first incident.
      I could help help you then.
      But after EIGHT, you need psychiatric medical help now.
      It is covered by your Medicaid card.
      You will love the medicines. It is the best part of that treatment.
      If you have extras, place a post in here.
      People will appreciate it and probable send you like a "subway
      free 1/2 sandwich card". DO NO GO FOR THE NINTH!!!

      February 10, 2015 at 20:57 | Report abuse |
  16. lisa

    Hello~ I recently had a fall that I slammed my head into the wall and heard a crack in my skull. I went into the ER the following morning due hearing loss on the side I had trauma and extreme pain and dizziness. The ER doctor ignore my head trauma did not call for any tests or scans, his staff forgot about me and I eventually was sent home with tynenol. He didn't tell me or address the hearing and ear issues before I left the charge nurse had no instructions or clue of my issue injury. His demeanor changed with me when he found out I was on medicare and verbally treated me as a drug seeking junkie. 6 days go by and my symptoms get worse my hearing is getting worse and I am having vertigo issues. I go in for a second time and complain of the previous mistreatment and was seen by another doctor and again no rests or scans ordered and this time sent home with antivert. My symptoms continued and the pills did not work. I call my normal provider and they told me to go in immediately because my symptoms were concerning and to go to a different hospital so I did and in which after a CT scan was ordered I had a fractured temporal bone longitudinal, mastoiditis and fluid in middle ear and around the fractured bone and possibly damaged ear bones. I was told it was a good thing I came in because the infection could have killed me and my hearing may be permanently lost due to lack of immediate care and testing. I was also told the doctors in my intial visits should have ordered tests for my head trauma as it is procedure for a head trauma and for the symptoms I had. Not just sent home with tynenol. Now I am on bed rest until I can walk or stand without dizziness. I hate this and I feel I was treated horribly. It is hard to take care of 3 kids and a family when you are half deaf, in pain and feeling flushed and nauseated when standing for more than a minute. Never ignore yourself get treated!!

    January 31, 2015 at 17:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. skeetelmore65

    WRITING BECAUSE I SUFFERED A HEAD INJURY, FROM A CAR ACCIDENT BACK IN '95. STILL TODAY I GET THESE GOOSE-EGG THINGS TO DEVELOP, RIGHT ON THE TOP OF MY HEAD WHERE MY HEAD HIT THE ROOF OF THE CAR.
    THE DRIVER HIT A BOLDER IN THE ROAD AND IT MADE ME GO UP AND HIT THE CEILING OF THE CAR HARD. I DIDN'T HAVE MY SEAT-BELT ON AND HIT THE ROOF PRETTY HARD. MY MRI'S, SHOW THIS LARGE WHITE CAP ON THE TOP OF MY HEAD AND IT IS RIGHT WHERE I HURT AND GET SORE.
    SHOULD I BE CONCERNED, IF IT STILL GETS SWOLLEN AND SORE IN THE SAME PLACE WHERE I WAS HIT? IT IS SO PAINFUL, THAT I CAN'T TOUCH IT.
    I'VE BEEN BEDRIDDEN, FOR BACK INJURIES AND DON'T EVEN UNDERSTAND, WHERE THEY DERIVED FROM. ALTHOUGH, I DID HAVE A SPINAL DISKECTOMY OF MY C5-C6 BACK IN '06.BUT, DIDN'T HIT MY BACK, JUST MY HEAD.
    I'M A MESS AND ONLY WANT TO GET OUTTTT OF THIS BED. I WANT TO KNOW, WHY MY HEAD HAS TERRIBLE MIGRAINES AND SHARP PAINS AND ALL OF THESE SORE SPOTS. IT IS STRANGE, FOR THEY COME AND GO. COULD IT BE, WHERE I HIT MY HEAD ALL OF THOSE YEARS AGO, BE THE REASON WHY? THANKS, TO ANY REPLIES. GOD BLESS.

    January 31, 2015 at 23:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Donna F. Vogt

    I fell in my home this week, after I tripped over a baby gate. I fell forward and landed on my left knee and slid on the carpet towards my couch. I somehow tilted my head towards my chest and hit the back left side of my head on the wooden frame of my couch. I hit really hard and it felt like i jammed my head and neck into my shoulders. I also had a huge bump on the back of my head. I didnt black out but i rolled over and it hurt to take a deep breath and I was dizzy. I waited until 8 am to go to the emergency room. x-Rays were done and it showed a stable fracture on vertebrae #6 . Then a CT scan was done on my head and chest. The fracture did not show up on the CT scan but the doctor told me my esophagus was pushed over to the right. Im still having headaches and I have a bump on my head that feels like a big blister. I'm really concerned about my esophagus being pushed over to the right side and if I could have any problems in the future with that or the huge bump on my head. Any suggestions or advice would be very helpful. Thanks, Donna

    February 6, 2015 at 19:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Name*Josh Irwin

    I hit a tree at 45 mph last January.I go to the va trying to get help with my neck, right shoulder and the headaches I have all the time, they don't go away but sometimes there worse and I don't leave my bed cuZ light u urts it more and I stay under the blankets. They say because I checked myself into rehab in 2010 they can't get me into a pain management program. One of the TBI people told me to go to the Pittsburgh va and say I need inpatient help with my anxiety and depression but don't bring up the pain for a couple of days then start to bring it up so it don't look like I'm searching for pills. That is exactly what you would do if your searching for drugs. I told them to just take the plate out of my head because it didn't hurt as much before they put it in but they won't even listen to it. I ended up going to the methadone clinic trying to get relief because I had to go to the emergency room to get help and I can't see a doctor because I have no insurance. The va wont help me with that either unless I drive bout an hour and a half each way to the Pittsburgh va to get the methadone because they will do that. I can't drive medically from my brain injury so how am I supposed to get down there every day? I just Have to pay the $400 out of my pocket to do this. I started we'd last week and I have only been there 5 days. It's not helping but they say it's a progress and I can't be there for pain management so I don't know what to do. Do you have zny advise on what I am supposed to do now? Me and my mom both talked to them at the va and there's nothing they will do. They told me about these 3 different pain management programs then told me I can't go because I went to rehab. It's just so frustrating I just want to give up and say fuk it, honestly I can't do this anymore

    February 8, 2015 at 20:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Pedro

    I guess this is a sincere major article berth.Thanks Again. Real Major.
    Pedro http://maddieheidi.wordpress.com/2015/01/06/symptoms-of-foot-arthritis

    February 14, 2015 at 05:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Elizabeth

    Hello

    I suffered a head injury 17 years ago and since then I suffered very sharp pains in the area where I bumped my head. I went to my doctors back then and he just told me to take ibuprofen and that its probably just a trapped Nerve. I still to this day get these sharp pains and it's very scary!
    I went back to the doctors last year and again I was told to just take tablets.
    i lost a friend last year that died from a head injury and she only banged her head on the cupboard door. It scares me and I don't know what to do as the doctors just keep on telling me to take tablets.

    February 18, 2015 at 13:20 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.