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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 (395 Responses)
  1. Carleena Allred

    My son was walking to work last week. He was hit by a SUV head on going 40mph. He was unconscious for an hour and suffered severe injuries. Released after 4 hours, sent home alone, with a few meds, and tramadol for pain. I flew in two days later to find him not acting himself. He stays dazed and can't make since of simple written instructions. He has no medical insurance, what now do I do, he says he is fine, but I notice his difference. Please send suggestions.
    Worried Mom

    September 15, 2018 at 15:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. drbhupinder

    Hey..!
    That was a fascinating and informative article.
    Neurology Hospital in Hyderabad

    September 17, 2018 at 06:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. patrick

    i fell from a tree when I was a child with my head down, i was taken to the hospital but I was given an antibiotics without any examination or scan. am 31 years now and i experiencing cold and headache. it started when i was growing up, please could it be the falling from the tree?

    September 17, 2018 at 09:02 | Report abuse | Reply
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    September 20, 2018 at 16:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Flo Klaus

    I hit my head while boarding a vehicle. I didnt feel any pain that day. Its one week and it has began paining to an extend of having a stiff neck. Reach me out please. My email is floklausob@gmail.com

    September 24, 2018 at 14:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Pete Simpkin

    When I was 18 I was involved in a terrible motorbike accident when in collision with a car. I hit the car sideways
    Head on and when I hit the ground the massive force of the impact knocked my helmet completely off my
    Head. I was Knocked Out by this and remained Unconscious until I woke up in a hospital bed about 40 minutes
    Later.
    I only Know this because I had a friend on the back of my bike, who although injured was conscious and picked
    My helmet up from the road and told me later my helmet had come off in the accident. He called for help and
    said I was Unconscious. I only saw him again 3 to 4 hours after the accident.
    I don’t remember anything at all about the police or paramedics at all attending to me at the accident scene
    And cant recall ever being put in or taken out of an ambulance or being transferred onto a hospital bed. Much
    Of the accident is a complete blank.
    This was my first and only serious concussion ive had with a loss of consciousness.
    I will never fully recover from the accident as I have been left with a permanent disability in my right leg.
    I am glad to be alive though.

    October 22, 2018 at 05:24 | Report abuse | Reply
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    November 8, 2018 at 12:25 | 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.