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 fallĀ  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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  1. Anna

    Sophomore year of college a friend of mine was found unconscious near his college campus early in the morning. He had been long boarding and fell off and hit his head. The trauma caused his brain to swell and, though the swelling went down, his brain hemorrhaged after a few days in the hospital and he passed away. The neurosurgeon described it as a freak accident, but I cringed when I see young children on bikes, scooters, and skateboards not wearing helmets. If a fall can kill a 22-year-old, surely it can kill a young child.

    March 19, 2009 at 20:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Malcom Reynolds

      Yeah, no kidding Anna. That is terrible about your friend. It makes me worried as well to see these kids without helmets,full of the folly of youthful invincibility. http://www.jacobscure.org

      November 23, 2010 at 13:02 | Report abuse |
  2. Verbena B.

    I slipped on a wet bathroom floor, cartwheeled up in the air and hit HARD head first when I came down. I was stunned and felt like the cartoon character that gets hit and has stars spinning around thier head. Needless to say, had an unbelievable headache for the day, but was told by my dr. when I called her that if I did not have nausea, dizziness, sleepiness or different sized pupils – I was ok. Seems like people trivialize head injuries! Even now, months later, I have headaches so badly at times that they make me sick to my stomach. Yikes. My heart (and head) go out to Ms. Richardson's family!

    March 19, 2009 at 20:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. glenda gryba

    Thank you for bringing this to my attention – I never knew how serious this turn into – I now am educated that much more. I will never take a head injury lightly. It's a matter of life or death.

    March 19, 2009 at 20:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Lee Lederer

    In 1998, I was hit by a pick-up truck while jogging in McMinnville, Oregon. I suffered multiple traumatic injuries, including a right parietal hematoma. I spent 2 months is a coma in the Neuro-Trauma ICU at the Oregon Health Sciences University Hospital. Later I spent another 2 months in Skilled Nursing Unit followed by a month in the Rehabilitation Institute of Oregon. The next two years were spent in outpatient rehabilitation and three more surgical hospitalizations.
    Everyday is a gift!

    Lee Lederer
    McMinnville, Oregon

    March 19, 2009 at 20:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. KarenWI

    You wanted to hear from people who had had head injuries? About 15 years ago I was in a one-car accident (lost control), hit the concrete median about 70 mph, flew up in the air, landed on the roof, did a complete rollover back to the roof again, and slid across the highway on the roof. I had a skull fracture all the way down the left side and across the back. My forehead was sliced open to the skull and I almost bled to death waiting to be cut out of the car. The drs have no explanation of how I even lived. I could remember thinking clearly, and now I couldn't. I couldn't even put a complete sentence together.They wouldn't give me painkiller in the hospital because they didn't know the extent of the bleeding in the brain. I would lie awake at night in agony and strain to think of co-workers names; when I finally pulled up the name I would go to the next one and do the same thing; then go back and start over with the one before because I'd forgotten it already. I was in the hospital for 2 weeks. Without even any therapy I was back at work part time a month later after released, and full-time 2 weeks later. I know how close we are to the edge between being extremely intelligent and being mentally retarded. I had graduated in the top 10 students of my high school class of almost 500; graduated from college cum laude; and suddenly I couldn't put a sentence together. Now I will never be as smart as I used to be, but I'm happy to be alive and be "average".

    March 19, 2009 at 20:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. keith

    The brain! I have been dealing with old trama for quite sometime do to many blows to the head playing soccer. Take care of your head people. I just turned 36 and wonder what it is going to be like in the future. I am sure dementia is lurking.

    March 19, 2009 at 20:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Barb

    My daughter suffered a head injury at 11 years of age. She fell straight -legged back onto a carpeted concrete floor at the dentist's office. The air was knocked out of her and her eyes rolled back. then she sucked in a huge breath, screamed out and was out again. She came to a few seconds/moments??? later – not sure because it seems like a lifetime when your child is in trouble. Jillian saw black spots and was taken to the hospital via ambulance. She was examined and told she did not have a concussion...no mri or ct scan. this was in 1997.

    ..fast forward 10 years. At age 21 Jillian started to experience partial complex seizures. She would zone out for 20+ seconds sometimes followed by a terrified scream. She would not fall down or thrash around or anything like that but just be standing there then look at you like a little child with the eyes of wonderment at what she was seeing and not understanding. Following the seizure she would not know where she was, what she was doing, who she was with. If you asked her she wouldn't know for at least 20 minutes. If you said, you're with mom, at home, on your way out the door to college, you have an exam, memory would return immediately.

    We have no idea when the seizures actually started. It was only at age 21 we caught her in the middle of one. There would have been no way for her to tell us that she was having a seizure since she didn't hurt herself or fall down or anything you would associate with a seizure.

    Medication trials and adjustments were a nightmare! Some meds made her so lethargic she could hardly move. Others would put her in an age bracket of 2-5 years old...beligerent and argumentative. Her comments were that she felt like she was watching life go on but not really participating. AFter that one wore off @11 p.m. she said she felt like she came off a really bad high – that was one pill at 9 a.m. Other meds robbed her of her short term memory. That particular med caused her to lose a year of college and had to change majors since she just could not memorize anything. A couple of doctor changes and she's finally got a great neurologist and is on lamictal 100 mg plus gabepentin (sp). Life is back to normal. WE have no clue if she will ever be off meds. Jillian is now 24 years old.

    March 19, 2009 at 21:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Kathleen

    My son, at 16, was a passenger in a "friend's" car. The first time he had ever been in a vehicle of someone other than a relative. The circumstances involved a college tour to NYU with his older brother, guilt, a concert to be missed, etc. I inspected the car, talked to the driver and the other two passengers(all of whom my son had known since he was 4). Less than 2 minutes from our home the driver attempted to pass on 2 double solids, on a curve, at dusk into oncoming truck traffic. The car rolled 8 times and each time after his head went through the window it hit the ground, the roof and the rear window blew out into it. He was so badly injured they sent him to a trauma unit for adults (brand new). When we got to the hospital we were told a number of things-he was lucky the ambulance was there within minutes, but they still didn't think he would survive. Hours later they didn't know if he would leave the hospital. Days, if he would walk or talk. Miracles? Medical intervention immediately! His head was "blown" apart in 8 different areas and he had glass in his skull a year later. The last thing we were told was to watch him closely for fear of seizures and changes in behavior. And later in life; Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, etc. Anyone who bangs their head should not feel silly for seeking medical care and they should insist on a CT Scan. By the way the young driver had not been taking his medication for ADHD (not one of us parents knew he shouldn't have been driving). Parents ask questions, don't be afraid to look foolish-we were lucky. But we live with it every day.

    March 19, 2009 at 21:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Beth

    On December 21, 2007, I had a brain anurysm that ruptured without any warning or symptoms. It was actually several hours later before someone realized something was wrong, I was home alone when it happened, Fortunately my husband is an EMT and my children made contact with him and he came home and realized something was wrong and transported me to the hospital. After a cat scan showed the anurysm I was transfered to another hospital, and the operated and put coils in my head to take care of it. I have no memory of what actually happened, but I have been blesssed enough to recover completely.

    March 19, 2009 at 21:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. S. Steiger RN

    Working on an ambulance in Miami, I cared for a young woman who had hit her head. She went from alert & oriented to full cardiac arrest in less than 10 seconds. After a few minutes of CPR, she came back to full consciousness again, complaining that her chest hurt. (Duh!) When we arrived at the hospital, the ER personnel didn't believe that she had coded – until she went from fully conscious to cardiac arrest again, in front of them! I've had a healthy respect for head injuries ever since. Most never become serious problems, but health care personnel as well as the public need to remember that the potential is always there.

    March 19, 2009 at 21:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Kathleen

    Follow up-we Snowboard, Wakeboard, Wakeskate, Sky Dive, Skateboard, Bike....you name it, we wear helmets for everything. I think we should start wearing helmets in cars, although they might impair our vision. These things happen when you least expect them, when you let your guard down, when you aren't in your comfort zone, when you are in your comfort zone.

    March 19, 2009 at 21:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Jennifer Taylor

    My older brother suffered a very traumatic brain injury. In 1995, he went to a professional hockey game to watch a sport he recently started to love. You expect to see injuries happen on the ice, but not in the stands. He was in the stands and the puck was hit in an attempt to score a goal and went over the safety glass. This was before they had nets over the safety glass. Once the puck went over the glass, it hit him square in the forehead and not him out. He is about 6'4 and most of his life was insecure about his size. Ironically, it was his size the saved his life. If the puck would have hit his forehead 1/8 inch in either direction, he would have died instantly. He has experienced brain damage and has not been the same since the accident. He is the reason they now have safety nets above the glass at hockey games. The only good thing to come out of this!

    March 19, 2009 at 21:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Patti

    My sweet 77-year old Mother had dementia/alzheimers and fell a couple times. A head injury went undetected and we found out too late she had an acute subdural hematoma. She was too fragile for a craniotomy and passed away quite suddenly.
    My heart goes out to Natasha Richardson's family and friends.

    March 19, 2009 at 21:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Emily

    Val, Thanks for sharing your story. Your husband was lucky. I just never realized that there could be a such a lag between the blunt impact and life threatening danger. I have 2 young boys who often get banged up playing rough- this is an important lesson for me and for them.

    March 19, 2009 at 21:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. unknown

    we had a nephew who had head trauma from playing football it happened on Saturday afternoon. He was hit and he still had his helmet on and not sure how he got hurt. He was rushed to the hospital and then air lifted to another hospital were he died at 6:00am Sunday morning.

    March 19, 2009 at 21:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Bonnie Robinson

    Thank you for your article. My story began when I was 13 years old. My friend accidentally slammed my head in a car door (she thought I had climbed into the back seat of a 2-door car but I had not made it all the way in.) As teens, we just laughed it off and I got a couple stitches. Over the years I experienced excruciating migraine headaches. Then, when I turned 38 my husband noticed that I was losing my memory, both long-term and short-term at times. After 4 years of doctors telling me that I just "had too much on my mind" and not taking my complaints seriously a new primary care physician finally took me seriously and sent me to a neurologist. After tests were run it became apparent that I had developed epilepsy. The cause? The head trauma when I was 13 years old. I tell my story to many people because head trauma can be life-altering.

    March 19, 2009 at 21:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Kalli

    I have worked in a traumatic brain injury rehabilitation unit in Milwaukee, WI for the past 10 years and see countless people come through the doors with a severe injury that has changed their and their loved ones lives forever. Unfortunately the general public is very uneducated about traumatic brain injury & what an injury will do to their life. Most people come in thinking a traumatic brain injury is as easy to fix as a broken bone. Those of us that know brain injury know it can take months to years of rehabilitation and most people never fully recover. I appreciate this story and others that I read because helps to educate others!

    March 19, 2009 at 21:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Kris in Texas

    A couple of years ago my teenaged daughter fell and was knocked unconscious when she hit her head on a concrete curb while playing basketball. Her friends brought her home and I actually called a nurse helpline for advice on whether to take her to the ER or not. I don't know why I even hesitated to just take her but I did. They said, yes I should probably take her to the ER. I'm so glad I did for she had a horrible seizure while we were in the ER waiting room and they got her in to a room immediately. She had an MRI and a lot of other tests while we were at the hospital. She was OK and they let us leave after being there for 4 or 5 hours. Then I took her in to a Neurologist the next day and he recommended keeping her home for a couple of days. Turns out my daughter ended up spending the week mostly in bed, she felt lousy and had a horrible headache so she just rested and recovered. Then over the next 6 months they did 2 more MRI's and another test where they measured her brain waves to make sure she was OK, Looking back on it, I didn't really realize just how serious head injuries are but I sure do now! I'm very very lucky that she wasn't more seriously injured.

    March 19, 2009 at 21:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. K Inama

    My daughter suffered what I was told a minor head injury when she was 7 years old. She was taken to doctor and was told to go home a rest. We followed up with another doctor, who also said to go home and rest. After 4 days of resting, she had trouble with her vision and her eyes looked different. We went to another doctor who immediately told us to go to the hospital. At the hospital the doctors were in shock at the amount of bleeding around her brain. She was transferred to a trama hospital and had surgery. She is okay now and is 19 but NEVER AGAIN will I not follow my gut instinct and press forward to make sure that when I think something is not right. Lesson learned and I am on a soap box any time I get , if you have a head injury, get to the hospital and get seen immediately.

    March 19, 2009 at 21:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Jim Purdy

    Sounds like a very convincing argument for outlawing the "sport" of boxing.

    March 19, 2009 at 21:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Robert

    I only know head trauma too well. Mine happened in 2003 when my front brakes of my bike locked and threw me over. I landed on the left front of my head. Luckily for me I had a helmet. I stayed unconscious for five minutes and woke up seeing paramedics over me asking questions to make sure I was oriented. During that time I was still a grad student studying clinical psychology and it made me more concerned how I will come out of this without any cognitive or emotional deficits. I had a CT scan immediately after the fall and it was negative but I heard that the next 24 hours is critical so I tried to keep awake as much as I could. To this day I have trouble getting enough sleep, maybe 6 hours if I'm lucky. But if I didn't have that helmet I would either be dead or in a vegetative state so I'm pretty serious on safety today- and now I'm a psychologist!

    March 19, 2009 at 21:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Mike

    I hit my head many times as a child. Fell off my bike, got a concussion, jumped in the air off my bed and fell head first onto the floor (twice), ran into a toilet head first, fell backwards, head first onto the ice and a few other less painful incidents. I can't say that I've ever had any 'effects' from it, but I was just thinking yesterday that my memory is very very poor sometimes. I can forget things in a heartbeat. I run my own company so I have to write everything down and have a good system otherwise I can easily forget things. Funny thing is, I can remember numbers relatively easily – can often rhyme off phone #'s or business related figures to the surprisement of others. At the very least, I can always fall back on the old excuse – sorry, hit my head too many times as a kid...lol

    March 19, 2009 at 21:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Roberta Ann

    I was mugged one evening. My assailant knocked me down and I hit my head on the curb. I guess, luckily, I was okay. The hospital kept me under observation for possible brain trauma.

    March 19, 2009 at 21:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. SRC

    What happened to Natasha is nothing short of tragic but hopefully the awareness which has been brought to such injuries will save multiple lives. May her friends, family and especially her children always cherish her memory.

    March 19, 2009 at 21:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Linda Eden

    On 12-21-08 I fell on ice, hit my back of my head and was taken to St Luke Hospital ER in Marion, KS. I had severe head pain, dizziness, nausea/vomiting. They took a CT and hours later after it was read they said I was OK and sent me home. But I knew I was NOT okay so on Monday (12/22/08) I told my husband to call my PCP in Newton, KS and tell her what happened-she had me come into Newton Medical Center ER. I had CT, MRI, MRA which showed a subarachnoid bleed,
    brain bruise, brain contusion, concussion. The night of 12/21/08 I had called for our Pastor to come annoint my head with oil and pray for me. My neurologist said I had a severe head trauma and I feel with God's blessing and the treatment I received at NMC saved my life. I don't think 'funny home videos' seen on TV where people fall and hit their head is funny at all, it doesn't take much to do a lot of damage, I shudder when I see a "funny" video like that and I can't bear to see it. I lost my sense of smell with the contracoup but I didn't lose my sense of humor, I excuse some of my shortcomings now due to the fact I have a lame brain.

    March 19, 2009 at 21:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Bebe

    In 2001, I tripped over a large crack in the sidewalk on my way to teach at the local high school. They say accidents often happen close to home and this one was very near to mine. I don't even remember my foot hitting the water pipe that protruded from a huge, crack in the sidewalk but it knocked me out of my shoes and before I knew it, my head banged off the pavement a couple of times. I was stunned, hurt, bleeding and it all seemed surreal. I sat up until I felt a bit better. Thankfully, two cops in an unmarked car with sharp eyes saw me hit the pavement, stopped and insisted I go to the hospital. I refused, they insisted, actually, said you HAVE to go because you hit your head. I finally agreed and was watched there for a few hours before being sent home in my mother's care. The doctors told me that I had to be with someone for 24 to 48 hours. I wish that Mont Tremblant officials had insisted that Natasha Richardson go to the hospital. Perhaps the outcome would have been different. I had a teenaged son at home when I had that accident, I cannot even begin to imagine his life had something happened to me. Those cops were my angels... My heart goes out to Richardson's family. It should be standard practice to bring those with a head injury, no matter how minor, to the hospital for observation.

    March 19, 2009 at 21:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. yem amlak

    A beautiful woman is gone, She is a mother of two beautiful kids and a wife. I am not sure if wearing a helmet could have prevented this tragedy. Too late for her but a lesson for all of us –protect the head and wear a helmet.

    March 19, 2009 at 21:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Ros

    My son had a mild concussion two years ago and underwent a CT scan which showed no signs of trauma at the time. Are you saying that he should go for a followup scan now? He does have the random headache which requires Tylenol sometimes. Our family doctor hasn't been concerned with any followup as this was classified as a mild concussion. Thank you.

    March 19, 2009 at 21:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Don

    Excellent article. My wife has suffered 7 concussions throughout her life, and doctors say the next one may be fatal. You are correct in saying the brain is nothing to be messed with. My wife currently exhibits symptoms of brain damage, such as short-term memory loss, physical symptoms like bad balance and weakness, and others.

    Her doctors warned her against further injury, and when asked how best to do that, she got the shoulder shrug. More or less, "Doctor, it hurts when I press here... So don't press there anymore." vaudeville routine.

    March 19, 2009 at 21:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. BL

    Dear Val,

    My daughter, who is now 11 had fallen and hit her head fairly hard on a tiled floor while playing with her friend some 3 years back. When we called the doctor back then, they told us to monitor her, and that she would probably display symptoms of a concussion. She did display those symptoms but recovered quickly and has been fine. However I have always worried if there would be long term issues because of that concussion. Is there anything I should/could do to appease my nagging fears ? I.e. would it be prudent to have her get a CT scan etc ?

    Thanks much,

    March 19, 2009 at 21:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Jess Texas

    Maybe finally this accident will help to shed some light on the potential seriousness of even seemingly mild head trauma where a patient continues to function and then later falls over dead, in a such a way that our country will stop wrongfully prosecuting individuals on the misleading and junk science accusations based on the "shaken baby syndrome" theories!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    March 19, 2009 at 21:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Pamela

    I was the passenger of my own car I had just had a double lumpectomy that mornring and my full term pregnant daughter was driving my car. Stopped at a light second car back.. We were rear-ended by two other cars pushing us into the van in front of us. She went in to labor and I had a head trauma.. So basically I went from one hospital to the next in the same day. She did not deliver until a week later. Baby and she were fine other then some sore muscles and headach's. After several ct scans on myself.. Did we realize that I had something like shaken baby syndrom... The days that proceeded the accident.. I was unsure of my footing.. so I walked carefuly. My short term memory was gone, I had put dirty clothing away as if it had been washed. I forgot how to do the basics of cooking, driving I could not do, I would forget why I was in the car or where I was going. The Dr warned me of any other head injuries for at least a yr.. what ever I would get back by thatt ime would be it.. it has been six yrs.. If I get over loaded with numbers or details of something and I have to back off... and let my mind sort things out. I still have short term memory problems from time to time. but for the most part consider myself and my daughter pretty fortunate. I still have headaches from the pinched nerve at the base of my head.

    March 19, 2009 at 21:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Mary

    5 years ago my husband who is a letter carrier for the post office, slipped and fell on a driveway on some ice. He was knocked out broke 3 ribs and had only a small bump on his head. Things seemed ok, he had more pain from the ribs then his head, his vision was double but he was told it would go back to normal. Well 5 years later he still has double vision and crushing headaches and memory loss off and on. He can not drive, work , or enjoy the things he use to. His brain injury seemed minor at the time, and he had no other signs of injury to his head , he has had numerous mri, and ct scans. Nothing shows up. So I do know how serious these so called minor head bumps can be.

    March 19, 2009 at 21:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. meg

    Years ago, when my now-20-year old daughter was six, she was hit in the head with a baseball bat. I took her to the ER and was told to keep an eye on her for a few days. Other than turning black and blue on her forehead and around her eyes, she seemed to be fine. I've always wondered if I should have had a CAT scan done. Could she have a problem in the future because of that injury?

    March 19, 2009 at 21:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Craig M. Uhl, MD

    Sadly, what was tragic, was Ms. Richardson's apparent refusal to speak to the paramedics immediately after the head impact. Had she not disregarded the initial meeting with these trained individuals, they likely may not have noted anything soon after impact; however, they would have told her to stay with family/friends for the next 24 hours, and if she develops ANY sign of headache, loss of balance, unusual tiredness – she would need to IMMEDIATELY go to the nearest ER... Had she had that conversation, I have no doubt she would be alive today... This is a lesson for everyone, the medical profession, from EMT's to Nurses to MD's, we do care and want to help – but, in this world of instant medical advice given on the internet, lay people have inadvertently opted to go it alone... This event was so preventable, and a lesson for all.

    March 19, 2009 at 21:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Kathleen Loisel

    Reports of Natasha Richardson's accident on the "bunny slope" evoked a creeping fear within me. I had a lurking suspicion-something in the media's lack of details....then so saddened to discover her death. So tragic for the family, her husband, children,
    -her mom. Brain trauma then death, from such an innocent activity, must be incomprehensible for the family.
    Throughout the day I thought of her and her family, and the fragility of the brain. The sneaky swelling of her brain, pressing down on her brain stem and ultimately her life.
    My daughter had the same kind of swelling, but she survived. Julia fell out of a window and landed on her head. Death was almost certain (she had a 5% chance of survival based on her condition) but the removal of half of her skull allowed her brain to push out instead of down. Before her recovery, I experienced the very real probability that my beautiful little two-year-old would die. But she was lucky. We all were, and are. And every time I hear of a head injury I thank the doctors, and fate. And I know what the families feel.
    My heart aches for the Richardson family.

    March 19, 2009 at 21:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Sylvia

    I hit my head on the lid of my hatchback after loading something into the back of my car. I heard my head creak but did not lose consciousness. Over the next hours I became disoriented and nauseous. Over the next day, my head stiffened and I went to the emergency room. To my shock, the doctor told me that I should not have gone to sleep that night because I could have died if I had been bleeding! I felt very lucky that he diagnosed a concussion and told me that I would be okay. Well, over the next 6 months, I suffered severe headaches, lapses in memory and nausea and stiffness. That was when I discovered that even mild concussions can have serious consequences. It has been over a year and for the most part, I have no symptoms. Even so, it is only recently that I go through long periods with no symptoms. One of the worse feelings was lapses of memory and disorientation. As a highly intelligent person, I was only able to process at a lower level for a short time. Multi tasking would create great headaches. As I recovered my functions, it was always preceded by a violent headache, then a breakthrough and then a recovery of ability to think or remember.

    March 19, 2009 at 21:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. james

    I live in New York City and in the mid '90's during the rollerblading "craze", I have dealt with numerous rollerblading accidents and one was unfortunately, fatal. The girl had on every pad except she didn't have on a helmet. She was playing "crack the whip" with her boyfriend when he accidentally let her go straight into the path of a cyclist. She went down on the back of her head. The boyfriend was giving her mouth to mouth; but, I saw the severity of the injury when I looked at the pupils of her eyes. They were both completely dilated. She was rushed to the hospital. By the time, I got to the emergency room, she was on brain death protocol. The same hospital that Natasha Richardson was taken to.

    There was another rollerblader, a guy, who had fallen down. At first he was speaking in complete gibberish, then I noticed that one of pupils was normal and one was dilated. By the time the EMS got there, the police and I convinced him he had to go to the hospital.

    In another case, I actually went with the person who was injured to the Emergency Room, we had him on a backboard and neckbrace with his head taped down and immobilized. At the time, he was a little dizzy and nauseas. We knew he had to go. I kept him awake. After being checked out by the doctors and cleared, he went home and had to have someone wake him ever hour to make sure he didn't fall into a coma.

    I have dealt with other concussions where even on ice skates people can get hit with such a force they can have concussions.

    I was in a car accident where I was a back seat passenger when we were struck from behind. Each carried an amount of trauma to the head. My injury was the least dangerous; but, because of my previous experience, even though I had a slight headache, I didn't take any chances. I ended up in a backboard and neck brace and went to the ER. I also made sure I had someone to wake me up every hour.

    My brother was in a major car accident almost 20 years ago, to this day, he can't remember anything about the accident and to this day, his short term memory is pretty much destroyed. His brain chemistry was permanently altered making him succeptible to depression. Brain damage can be permanent and alter the chemical balances to the brain. Even though he had a seat belt, most of the shock was absorbed by his completely shattered jaw. No airbags.

    I can remember playing "flag football" and getting my "bell rung" just from hitting "shoulder on shoulder" no head contact; but, still enough that when I got home, I couldn't understand why my roommate was handing me money. He had to tell me what it was for, my own cognitive abilities were temporarily altered. I stopped playing as much football.

    People, please any time you have your head shaken violently, you should consider going to the ER and making sure everything is alright. Especially, if you can't think straight, if you're dizzy, if you're nauseas and most of all....DO NOT GO TO SLEEP. You must go the ER and stay awake at all costs.

    I have been a performer on stage when we have lost people to tragedy and it is like losing a family member. I am sure that the Broadway community is absolutely brokenhearted about this. I know I am.

    I also have to deal with my own stress from witnessing so many needless injuries caused by people not wearing helmets and underestimating this very serious source of injury.

    Please take the time to protect your head when pursuing your activities. Whether it's helmet or seat belts and airbags for your car. Even if you survive, you can have long term effects like memory loss, even loss of rationality, depression, etc.

    Ounce of prevention – Pound of cure sort of thing.

    March 19, 2009 at 21:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Dawn

    I'd like to extend my deepest condolence to the Richardson family.

    I experienced an all to familiar situation last August but with a much better outcome.

    My 16 month old Son and 3 year old Daughter were jumping on her bed. While my Husband was right there watching he just missed grabbing his leg before falling two stories onto our concrete patio after bouncing into the screen causing it to pop out.
    This was the most horrific moment in our lives. There was no blood, only a brush burn on top of his little head.
    We called 911 immediately and he was mercy flighted to Women and Children's Hospital.
    By the time we arrived at the hospital(we were not allowed to fly with him) the left side of his head had swollen to the size of a baseball. The emergency room doctor told me that he most likely suffered a skull fracture.
    Sure enough , shortly after , the skull fracture was confirmed. The fracture was right above his ear as described in a previous article on CNN.com.
    After a 4 day stay in the hospital for observations we were clear to go home. We had to restrict him for 4 months to ensure he did not hit his head. I knew then and absolutely know now how lucky we all were that nothing SERIOUS(No major bleeding on the brain or ill affects) happened to my Son.
    GOD BLESS and please seek medical attention ASAP with any head injury.

    March 19, 2009 at 21:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. khfdez

    My 10 year old daughter with cerebral palsy and epiliepsy was dropped on her head 2 months ago. She did not lose consciousness. I took her to the pediatrician, treated her with ice packs and pain relievers, but no tests were ordered. She still has a bump on her head, and her hair has fallen out on the bump.

    March 19, 2009 at 21:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Shikos

    I was hit in the head when I was about 11 while playing rugby for my school. I was out the whole match – I don't remember anything about the match although I was walking and running around during the match. I basically came to when I was walking off the pitch after the match ad ended. It's very weird I know but basically I remember about the first 5 minutes of the game until I was hit on the head and the last 5 minutes when the game was ending – that's a full 80+ minutes I can't remember (if you include half time). I didn't tell anyone because I didn't have anyone to confide in at the time and no doctor looked at me but I have often wondered if that has had any adverse effects since. What are the possible side effects of this.

    March 19, 2009 at 22:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Susan

    My Son was cutting a tree limb and it fell on his head. He felt fine but he needed stiches. When we went to the emergency room, they immediately took him in for a ct scan. It looked fine, but they said to watch him for 48 hours for anything out of the ordinary. He turned out fine, but I worried for 48 hours.

    March 19, 2009 at 22:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Stephen Grill, MD, PhD

    It is important to realize that there can be delayed subdural hematomas 24 hours after an initial injury. Thus, even if a patient is seen in an emergency room and has a normal brain CAT scan, if symptoms worsen, the patient should return to the emergency room for another CAT scan to evaluate for this possibility.

    March 19, 2009 at 22:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Tanya

    It has been just shy of a year since my daughter spent the better part of 6 weeks in the Pediatric ICU for her head injuries. She had suffered subdural hematomas and had to have immediate surgery to relieve the pressure. She had been presenting with flu-like symptoms- nausea, drowsiness, slight fevers- but it was spring time in Wisconsin so I put it off as the flu. It wasn't until my day-care provider experienced her having shallow breathing and convulsions that we realized her condition was much more severe. The neurologist described her condition- Nadya was born with an above-average sized skull and normal sized brain. To compensate the extra space between the brain and the skull, her body made extra spinal fluid. The space and the extra fluid caused her vessels attaching between her skull and brain to be very stretched and fragile. The best guess was that as she was learning to sit up (and obviously tip over in during the learning process) the abrupt movement caused the fragile vessels to tear, cause bleeding, and add pressure to the brain- resulting in an extended stay in the children's hospital. These symptoms were very similar to those of shken baby syndrome- and my husband and I were questioned multiple times as is the procedure along with x-rays to check for past injuries. The neurologist, who my family owes so much to, said that Nadya's condition is not common but she has been seeing it more frequently- in the past it would have always been assumed that the child had suffered from abuse. Almost a year later and our little girl is a spunky 18 month old and has her final appointment with the neurologist in a month-

    March 19, 2009 at 22:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. John Scott

    I totally agree that many times we kill ourselves by diagnosing ourselves that we are OK because we feel fine. In the cast of Richardson I am confused as to why a CT scan was ether not performed or that it was not conclusive in showing a problem?
    Was this a case that even the doctors assumed the fall was minor and that she could not have had any serious problem? Did she convince them of this fact? So many questions that still are left to be answered. When in doubt it is good to side on caution.

    March 19, 2009 at 22:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Sinclair

    My family experienced a car accident 5 years ago...my husband's head broke out the passenger window...the hospital in Panama City Beach was not skilled in trauma care and they never even x-rayed him or considered an MRI. Luckily when we returned home our family doctor sent him to a neurologist who discovered some minor deficiencies (short term memory loss). He remained under the doctor's care for over a year.

    March 19, 2009 at 22:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Greg O'Loughlin

    Another problem associated with head trauma can be loss of smell or "anosmia". A sharp impact, particularly to the back of the head, causing damage to the olfactory nerves, sometimes with no other sign of damage. Many many people suffer this loss and yet it is hardly ever reported as the medical field has little to offer. There is a great users group online at http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/anosmia/ with a ton of discussion and information to learn from those who have been there ( myself 4 years ago).

    March 19, 2009 at 22:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Traci

    This is a very interesting story and information. My son fell a couple of years ago and hit the back of his head really hard on a concrete gym floor when he slipped on water. It swelled alot and I had a CT scan done and nothing showed up then. He has bumped his head several other times since then. He does have headaches sometimes. The most weird thing is is that his scalp is very sensitive to touch or comb. Could he have a bruise all over too I wonder and should I get him checked out. He is ten.

    March 19, 2009 at 22:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Bethany St Andrew

    YOu said you wanted to know about head trauma. I was climbing from the attic in my parents garage 22 years ago.As i stepped onthe first rung, it slipped and the ladder fell. My last memory was of the ladder falling, my next memory was of pouring a cold bath. I didnt know who I was or what had happened but I know I had to stop the bruiing on my hip.After talking with people later that night, we figured that what happened was I fell back and hit my head on floor/ceiling and then fell after the ladder ( I looked like I was carrying a softball on the back of my head) I don't know how long I was unconscious. While I was groggy, I got up and cleaned up the garage, walked into the house, and was readying myself to take a bath. I had also fallen on my hip ( to this day I have a ladder rung shaped scar there) , and the next day I had bruises that looked like a ladderon my back. I did go to the hospital, and only got my head xrayed. They didn't even keep me overnight ( although I was not alone) I was darned lucky.

    March 19, 2009 at 22:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. CaySedai

    I feel better about taking my daughter to the ER a few years ago when she was hit in the head by a bat. At the time, I thought "better safe than sorry," but when X-rays showed no damage, I thought I over-reacted. Now I feel that decision was justified, even though she was fine.

    March 19, 2009 at 22:19 | Report abuse | Reply
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