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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 (297 Responses)
  1. unibank

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    October 4, 2015 at 23:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Name*Jessica

    I was kicked in the ear and knocked out my eyes rolled back knocked out at least two minutes and it's been two weeks since this happen and a certain move of my head I get very dizzy and my head feels like it a spinning I did not see a doctor

    October 16, 2015 at 14:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Linda

    I fell back off of a step stool and hit my left lower skull on the half inch thick glass edge of the hood cover over the cooktop. It happen on Friday and now it is Sunday afternoon. I have been suffering from a headache and pain in my ear across to the area I hit when I fell. Should I go to the doctor?

    November 1, 2015 at 15:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Randall Chisley

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    November 7, 2015 at 12:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. kikq

    What should i do when my head stuck for several second on auto house gate.. its hurt and now when i touch the affected area, it seem swelling and hurt..hurt like your fresh bruise is touched.. what should i do?

    December 26, 2015 at 06:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Cher

    My Moher snd u were en route tto pick up a last few items of food to tske to my friends home for Christmas the following day when i stopped the car at a stop sign and next thing I knew I was dazed and confused
    The dog whi had been in the rear if the car ended up in the frintbsear next to my Mims eig which simehiw got knicked off her head
    I soon realized i hit my head on the headrest if my Toyota Solara causing everything to seem surreal.
    The young woman who rear ended us at oerhaps 80 mph keot askingbif we were ok , i krotbrepeating no while trying to detrfmine if my then 87 yr okd Mom was ok
    Someone phoned the police but they came frim vehibdvsbd the wonan hid hutnus shoisged them away! I had no cell so had to drive home in a very precarious condition
    Imy mom passed out and was hospitaluzed the next day
    I was unable to put my head on pillow and suffered excrutiating psin all over my head neck abd other areas but couldnt ficus ir think the head trauma was so extensive for many nsny months
    I wasnt able to drive due to the svere pain but when i finally git to a neuroligist he dud a two munute check then said i had nothing organically wring with me, never orderung a ct scsn ir mri ir anything, this a si called prestigous neuroligist, yeah right
    With my 3 medical degrees even I know better
    Long story made short i have suffered one cincussion after the other ever since, hitting my head so terribly causung severe mental cinfusion inability to see lack if appetute severe nauseaa and hirribke pain from hitting my head on things like the refridgeratir burd csges carkutchen cabinets etc often three times or mire in a given week!
    Where di i go frim here? Its been three tears
    I suffer terribke vleedingbfrom my nose but after my asthma snd allergy soecualist exmuned me told ne ut nit frim mybbassl etc passags
    What dies that leave
    I refuse ti gi vack to the b and w neuro drot vecause ive bever recruved the necessary gelp there ever nirvdud mybDad whi dued frim beaun bleeds csused b poliio i determjned that dusgnisus nit the beyro dept
    One of ygesebtnes i will die fir syre frim these hirribke traumas
    Im suttingbun head oaun niw frim a vsng in the fridge 5 dats ago snd 29 mubs after ut happrbed sinething fell iff a shelf hitting my firehead abd two dats larer a lesser vang
    Tge lump on mybgesd from the frisge is huge larger han sn egg and hyrts alot without even touching it
    The other sud if my head niw hyrts ascwe
    It ciuld be bleeding inside but my pcp has ignored this snd not one of my doctors us grloung me

    February 9, 2016 at 22:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. April Edwards

    My Dad fell off a ladder at work 2 weeks ago. He suffered major head trauma and is fighting his way back. He was found unconscious and air lifted to the nearest hospital. He was heavily sedated for several days while the doctors watched his brain thru MRIs and CTs. While he is making leaps and bounds beyond all the Drs beliefs, my Dad still has a very long road ahead of him. The Drs say he suffered a stroke from the impact of his head hitting the floor. Originally he wasn't able to move his entire left side. And now to everyone's amazement my Dad is walking around! He fractured the front of his skull from temple to temple and broke the bone under his eye. The swelling and bruising almost made him unrecognizable. As the swelling is starting to accept defeat and retreat the Drs have decided not to do reconstructive surgery on the broken bone below his eye. Now that my Dad is responsive and able to communicate he was able to tell the Drs where he hurt. Two broken wrists and two broken ribs added to the list.
    I write this blog with a huge question in mind. From this head trauma my Dad can not see out of his left eye and can barely make shadows out of his right eye. The Drs say that his eyes were not damaged but the part of the brain that controls how we see was damaged. No one knows if he will ever be able to see again. My Dad has surprised everyone so far with how quickly he is recovering in other areas. I was wondering if anyone else had experienced vision loss from head trauma? If it is permanent, has anyone ever heard of surgery that can fix the damaged part of the brain?

    February 21, 2016 at 09:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. AZIF IQBAL.J

    My office staff one day before he beat in my head back side down area by his hand two times little strongly. Will it make any problem. ?

    March 4, 2016 at 02:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Dan

    I feel into a table and cracked two teeth the other day and busted my lip pretty good.

    I'm not in a ton of pain but I recently getting single pimples popping out on my forehead and my eyebrow and one on cheak near my ear,

    Is that any sign that something else could be wrong?

    March 9, 2016 at 11:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Stephanie Kunkel

    I wish the San Diego Police knew how important head injuries are. I was beaten,kicked in my head and my husband also shook my head as he tried grabbing me off the ground by it, he shook it so hard it rattled my brain , however the San Diego Police threw me up against a wall and threatened me with jail.... having tbi is hard enough but to know it wasnt and isnt taken serious by the entire city of San Diego hurts just as well. I never deserved this brain injury and hope the Police will take black eyes, fingerprints around someones neck and various other bruises serious.

    March 23, 2016 at 16:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Stephanie Kunkel

      * How important it is to take head injuries serious

      March 23, 2016 at 16:06 | Report abuse |
  11. Tamar Shovlin

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    March 26, 2016 at 03:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. MARILYN

    Tuesday (4/19/2016) the day after Houston got flooded, after getting home from Walmart I was taking the bags in the neighbors house and when I was going back outside to get more bags, I stepped outside on the carpet there was a regular small carpet then another one underneath as I stepped I was trying to grab a hold on the wall, the carpet went flying forward under me and I fell all the way back hit my head hard on the cement it was loud I went home my son went to buy me some ice to put on my head so it wouldn't get swollen I know Jesus saved me!!!

    April 24, 2016 at 18:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Nancy

    I took a sleeping pill on a Friday night and went to bed. I must have gotten back up to eat and fell in the kitchen.I only came to myself on Monday to find my brother in the house with me. I didn't realize what I had done or was doing. I had many injuries all over from falling many times over and over. I had a large bump on my head and had no balance. My vision was bad and was also seeing things that was not there. I didn't really hurt until about Tuesday. Wednesday morning I starting hurting all over. I called an ambulance and went to the hospital. The doctor ran an MRI and told me I had a large mass on my brain. I didn't agree with him and told him I was fine til I fell all over the house and broke many things including my wrist. I was very confused and my vision was bad. All those symptoms had improved except the broke wrist and the knot on my head. He took me to surgery the next day and I had a brain bleed from the fall. I hadn't realized how bad I was hurt until after the surgery. It has been 6 months since the brain surgery and l am almost back to normal except a little slower in doing things. I used to do everything really fast and now I can't do anything fast anymore. My brain can think fast but my body does not operate correctly if I try to do things as fast as I used to. My coordination is ok as long as I move slower. I didn't use to have to think as I did things like washing dishes. If I turn my head as I reach for something my hand will go somewhere else. l have a small amt of short term memory loss.I didn't know how smart I was until I lost some of it. I am lucky to be alive I guess. The surgeon saved my life and I think he did very well on the surgery. I know I could have came out of it much worse. I am continuing to improve.I hope I get back 100% but I won't know until the improving stops. I am 59 years old so I don't know how much is age and how much is brain injury.

    May 3, 2016 at 23:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Val Heike

    Hello in August on the 11th at 4 PM in 2008 after a final I was struck by a car on my bike. I went through the windshield blew out all airbags. When the 92 year old retired attorney got done going over my bike I was thrown like a rag doll to the concrete. Landed face forward into the street behind me. Landed on my right side hard enough to smash my right wrist to bits. Cracked a scapula had glass and rocks in my hairline.
    I can't pass higher math. I had just returned to college to get my BA.I was at the junior college trying to get two AA's I was there three years transfered into Luther College with 92 credit hours. Was at Luther College four years failed out this Spring. I took Statistics over and over guess they got great fun out of watching me fail. I hate people who think telling me I can do it when they couldn't and never bounced of a road. No catscan was done?

    May 9, 2016 at 03:30 | 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.