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 (233 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
  4. Efren Saetteurn

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


    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
  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
  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
  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
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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.