18 March 2009

Brains are precious - it only takes a little knock

What a sad day for the Redgrave acting dynasty. Different newspapers report a different degree of injury for actress Natasha Richardson after her skiing fall, but whether she is “brain dead” or sedated with “brain swelling”, she is in a critical condition and her family are gathering by her bedside today. Evidently she fell down in a lesson on a relatively flat ski slope, felt fine, was checked out by ski patrol and started to feel headaches an hour later.

Despite having a hard skull, when you bump your head your brain can suffer as a result and be damaged on impact – moving inside the skull, knocking against the sides. It may bleed, swell or develop bruising either immediately following the impact or some hours later. If there is swelling, there is nowhere for it to go, pressure can build causing further damage. Headaches are obvious warning signs to be taken seriously, as are blacking out, nausea, dizzy or drowsy feelings. The message from the neuroscience community is clear – go and check it out – quickly – and have a brain scan. Surgery can alleviate the pressure so the swelling has somewhere to go and a full recovery is possible.

Particularly poignant for me about this story is that our family also skied last year in the same resort Natasha Richardson’s accident happened – Mont Tremblant, and I vividly recall the debate my husband and I had about buying adult helmets so the kids wouldn’t feel so “silly”. Looking back now, it was the conversation that was silly – we will definitely buy helmets when we ski again.

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