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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    friend of mine with a sawed-off bat as I went to leave the backyard of a friend's house I ran right into him he was a colored man I couldn't see him it was dark I ran into him like a wall he slammed the bat down on my head on the left side of my head immediately I started bleeding I touched my head realized I was bleeding and said why'd you do that he said you thought I was playing with you swing me around told me to walk I want to hit me again on the left side of my head told me to walk as I walked he hit me again he hit me again and then he told me to walk faster and he hit me again he hit me again as I walked and he hit me again he told me don't fall in he hit me again I never lost consciousness all's I know is he continued to beat me as I walk down the road when we came to a stop we had an altercation he hit me about four more times in my head want to say it's about 16 or 18 times did he threw the weapon in the middle of the road and left cuz I never lost consciousness I think he was frustrated and I'm not sure but I followed him I wanted to know what the hell was wrong with him he told me I was a special kind of stupid and he jumped up in some left when when the neighbors had saw this they had called the cops so I'm outside and I'm trying to roll me a blunt in my car and I had a hoodie on it was around Christmas time of 2014 so the cop comes to me cuz they're going to everybody asking questions and he comes to me and I told him a bunk story told me I had no clue couldn't help him he got a call saying they've recovered the weapon I said well good maybe you can get something off of that good luck and he left and I refused an emergency ambulance of course I didn't go to emergency instead I took off walking I walked for maybe 2 hours dripping blood when I came back to because I literally lost consciousness while walking I came back to I was walking down Christmas tree Lane in Turlock surrounded by carolers singing I realized I had a phone in my pocket I need Italy called my son's father who figured where I was it showed up and he was terrified he wanted to take me to the yard I told him no take me to a motel I'm not going to the hospital so I went to the motel I went to the shower and I rinsed out my head to stop the bleeding cuz I could not work on myself with all the blood I just see what the damage was done well it was broke from the tip of my skull going to pass my ear and from the tip of my school back towards my neck the side of my ear and my head was crushed completely into my head my ear was unnoticeable I couldn't find my ear so what I did was I squeezed my skull back together and I started pulling my hair to get my skull formed and reached in the whole to find my ear and start pulling it out I was able to piece back together my ear and for my head and my skull my jaw was sagging so I popped it up back in the place and I went to sleep I woke up in a bunch of blood I just took a quick shower and what about my day here it is 2021 I 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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.