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 (420 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.
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    September 15, 2018 at 15:46 | Report abuse | Reply
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    That was a fascinating and informative article.
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    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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  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
    I only Know this because I had a friend on the back of my bike, who although injured was conscious and picked
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    I don’t remember anything at all about the police or paramedics at all attending to me at the accident scene
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    This was my first and only serious concussion ive had with a loss of consciousness.
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    In November,2016 on the 15th day of the month.O was riding my bicycle and I hit a bump in the ride causing me to fly over my bike and land directly on my head. I said my ear almost off damaged my knee. But more importantly my head I mean my while entire brain rocked a vicious hard knocked or rocked I should say . Side to side .Left to right four times .It hurt so bad I was almost passing out.I went to the doctors three days later. They did a cat scan. Three days later. But they said there was no hematose as far as there xray could
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  13. Jennifer

    I was in a relationship and it ended very badly on Sept 3 2018.
    On that night I was assaulted by my boyfriend.
    He head butt me a few times right between the eyes.
    The last time he head butt me was so hard.
    It left an instant egg the size of a golf ball and I saw stars.
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    About 5 years ago I was the only 1 home in my apt...I had just woken up..it was about 6:30 a.m...I walked out of my room & into the hallway...I heard loud cracks & sounded like some 1 was knocking loud in my door..then it hit me...I'm getting broken into...right now!!!! I stood their in my hallway in shock...2 people came in after busting my door down...they had 1 (Barbell) with them..the 40 pound rods that you bench press with...they seen me ...and quickly started hurting me over the head with it...blood sprayed everywhere...all over my walls...I was hit with it about 6 times...full force...surprisingly I was still ok and standing and walking after that...I went to the hosp. 45 mind later when they got their for me...in the mean time...I had to control the bleeding some how...so I draped my head up in a clean shirt then a clean towel...my hair is dark brown & coming home from the hospital...it was Ted from all the blood...they did not wash me up..just my deep wounds..I got 17 staples and the rest stiches...they didn't CT scan me...plus I had a few more head dramas in the last 4 year's on top of that...I was kicked in the head by 2 big men ...I passed out...when I woke up I couldn't hardly see and I couldn't talk right for awhile...then I went through other dv issues...that had me suffering from head trauma...I just finally got a CT scan...I left...it was taking too long...this was 3 days ago...I need to see my results but I'm so scared...

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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.