Thursday, March 19, 2009

Natasha Richardson, RTIR, Dings, Bell-Ringers ,untimely deaths and pure facts by Debra Sanders

It's amazing. I have been running ads in The Radio and Television Interview Report (RTIR) since September, and let me tell you, these are not cheap ads. RTIR is one of the mainstays of the radio and television talk show industry—every month it contains almost a hundred pages of tabloid type ads, all clamoring for the attention of talk show hosts ranging from the likes of the guy running the little radio station up the road, to those in charge of finding guests for Good Morning America and Oprah.

I could have chosen any number of marketing angles when it came to issues brought up in A Matter of Panache: special education, traumatic brain injuries, public education, the choice to endorse or reject mediocrity; even, the decisions and choices we make in the name of friendship. I opted for none of these, but rather my ads have been focusing on a small subset of head injuries: concussions. Why? (Besides the fact that my own under-treated concussion has cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost income, my previously active lifestyle and a good percentage of any feelings of competence in the last six years). Why? Because the statistics surrounding concussions are staggering and they receive very little attention. Surprisingly little attention.

Anyone out there want to guess how many radio stations have called me over the past five months, wanting to set up interviews?

If you said zero, take a bow. You are correct. Zero. Not one radio station thought the topic worthy of booking a guest—despite the fact that every day there is the need for 10,000 talk show guests. Ten thousand guests needed--every day! Can you believe that? (This demand perhaps explains the thinking behind booking some of the guests we have all heard interviewed here and there over the years, don’t you think?)

But,sticking to my topic-the answer is, I repeat: no calls. Not even so much as an email request asking me to be a guest on somebody’s show. This, despite the fact that March is Brain Injury Awareness Month!

That is, I had no calls until today.

My phone started ringing at 6:00 this morning and it has not stopped ringing since. I am betting it will ring again tomorrow. Producers of radio shows in Montreal, British Columbia, Wisconsin, California, Minnesota and God knows where else have called wanting to have me on their show. Why? Well, because a young, beautiful and very talented woman died after a seemingly innocent fall on a beginners ski slope. And when movie and stage stars die unexpectedly, people take notice and suddenly their cause of death is sexy enough to garner attention.

I am sick over the death of Natasha Richardson. Not because I loved her as an actress—frankly, I am not sure I have ever seen anything she has been in—but because she is 45 years old and the mother of two boys, age 10 and 12. And because, although you probably won’t hear this, what happened is not all that uncommon. My guess is, you will hear this referred to as some sort of fluke, a gross anomaly,a freak accident. You will hear it referred to as anything other than the truth in order to explain how a fit, vibrant woman could have possibly died from such an innocent little fall in the snow.

Well, let me give all of my readers out there some shocking information (all six of you, LOL):

• Every year falls are the leading cause of traumatic brain injuries, with consistent reporting indicating that roughly 85% of concussions go undiagnosed.

• Nationwide, 300,000 sports and recreation-related concussions are reported every year, but the estimate is that nearly seven times that number is closer to the number of concussions that are actually sustained.

• Most people think a helmet will prevent a concussion, yet football, ice and field hockey, soccer, lacrosse, softball and wrestling all require helmets—and the rate of concussions in these contact sports is high.

• Loss of consciousness is rarely a symptom present in sports concussions and brief loss of consciousness does not correlate to the severity of the injury—still, when players sustain star-causing “dings” and “bell ringers,” they are allowed to continue playing since they appear to be “okay.”

• One in five high school athletes suffer concussions (that’s the reported number). Surprisingly, people seem to think that because teens own youth, they recover more quickly. In fact, children and teens are far, far more vulnerable to the ramifications of concussions. They suffer many more of them and their brains and nervous systems take longer (not less time) to recover.

• Second-impact syndrome—that is, sustaining another hit to the brain within a year, can cause irreversible brain damage—or death.

• At least two young athletes in our nation die each year as the result of a sport-related concussion. Just like Natasha Richardson died. The only difference is their deaths do not bring attention to the issue.

I could go on and on (and on and on) about this subject, because I can tell you from personal experience that there is no such thing as a “mild” head injury…that I was told, “it’s just a concussion. You’ll be fine in a couple of days,” and because the six year anniversary of that day is coming up in two weeks and I am still very much not fine.

Natasha Richardson was a young, beautiful, talented woman who has now left two pre-teen boys without a mother. I don’t care how rich, how famous, how pampered a person is, no amount of money can replace a mother to two young boys.

Here’s but one of my many questions: When the paramedics came to intervene and they were told to go away because Natasha said she was “fine,” why did they go? I said I was fine too—I walked away from my rolled truck and insisted I was fine. The paramedics at my accident scene did not however, turn and walk away; rather, they insisted on taking me—in an ambulance—to the hospital. They may have miscalled the severity and duration of the effects, but there is no doubt they knew enough about concussions to know that more often than not (for reasons I can explain in another post), people often feel okay the first hour or two following a concussion. It’s after that time period that the headaches, nausea, dizziness, blurred vision and foggy thinking start to emerge. And one would think that paramedics and hospital personnel are aware that concussions rarely show up on CT scans or MRIs (the reasons for which I can also explain in another post), but that does not mean serious damage has not occurred.

Anyone…I mean, anyone and everyone who sustains a jolt to the head (note that I said jolt, not crack or bump to the skull) needs to be carefully watched for a minimum of twenty-four hours, with the absolute understanding that slow bleeds which cause swelling, can cause death if not treated. The subdural hematoma that killed Natasha Richardson was easily enough treated had it been caught. Physicians treat it all the time—they open up the skull and make room for the swelling, and rarely does the injury become fatal. Left untreated however,the outcome is nearly always tragic.

I urge all of you out there to at least make Natasha Richardson’s death matter to more than her two little boys and husband. Start learning about concussions. Learn the truth about concussions and learn what to do when you or someone you know sustains a “ding.” Don’t cheer the athlete who shakes his head to clear the stars and then goes back onto the field. Why on earth would we ever cheer such foolishness?

Keep checking on my blog. I promise you there will not be two or three weeks between posts when it comes to this subject. Next: Signs and symptoms. After that: treatment and interventions.

This is a topic that deserves not one, but many posts.

Oh, and turn on your radios. As of today, I am booked on…let’s see…I think it was five shows, last count. Or maybe it was six.

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