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According to the Brain Injury Association of America, more than 2.4 million children and adults in the United States sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Whether the victim is an adult, a child, or an infant, TBIs can have a major impact on individuals and their families.

A TBI is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain. Although approximately 75 percent of brain injuries are considered mild (not life-threatening), as many as 5.3 million people in the U.S. are estimated to be living with the challenges of long-term TBI-related disability such as impairing thinking, decision making and reasoning, concentration, and memory. TBIs can also cause emotional problems such as personality changes, impulsivity, anxiety, and depression.

March has been designated National Brain Injury Awareness Month because it is important to understand how such injuries occur and how they may be prevented. Even a mild brain injury can have devastating impact on a person’s life. While awareness about TBIs has risen in the past few years due to an increasing amount of scrutiny in the media and professional sports, it is important to note that brain injuries can happen to anyone, anytime, in everyday activities. With spring in the air, it is the perfect time to discuss bicycle helmet safety.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, wearing a bicycle helmet is the best protection from head injuries and deaths resulting from a bicycle accident. NHTSA statistics show that bicycle helmets are 85 to 88% effective in mitigating head and brain injuries. Yet, a recent study found that of the 82% of Americans who admitted wearing a helmet was important, only 44% stated that they actually would wear one.

In 2005, Eve Baker was riding her bicycle in Honolulu when a car struck her. She hit the windshield at almost 40 miles an hour. Baker was diagnosed with a severe traumatic brain injury. When she woke up in intensive care, she had retrograde amnesia; she couldn’t remember anything that occurred two weeks before the accident. She had to rely on others for help with even basic, everyday tasks. Eventually, Baker made a full recovery. She attributes this to the fact that she was wearing a bike helmet that day.

Nearly six years ago, TJ and his two brothers, Trent and Cassi, went outside to ride bikes. A short time later, Trent and Cassi went running in the house saying TJ had fallen from his bike and hit his head on the concrete; they could not wake him up. TJ was taken to the hospital by EMS. It was discovered that he had bleeding on the brain; his left pupil was blown, meaning severe brain damage. Emergency open brain surgery was performed. TJ is just now returning to school part-time; he still has therapy three days each week. The most affected areas are speech, language, memory, and cognitive function. His parents were told that TJ’s speech would not surpass a 3-year-old level. Things could have been different had TJ been wearing a bike helmet on that warm April day. His family has now made it their personal mission to educate as many people as possible. “If it is as simple as wearing a helmet then why take the chance,” says TJ’s mother.

According to the Brain Injury Association of America, following safety precautions and avoiding unnecessary danger can significantly reduce the risk of brain injury.

  • Make sure children wear helmets that are fitted properly. A label should be affixed to the helmet indicating that it meets the standards set by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
  • The helmet should sit on top of the head in a level position, and should not rock forward and backward or side to side.
  • The straps must always be buckled, but not too tightly.
  • Safe Kids recommends the “Eyes, Ears and Mouth” test. The rim of the helmet should be one to two finger-widths above the eyebrows, the straps should form a “V” just below the ear lobe, the buckle should be flat against the skin and the strap should feel snug when the riders’ mouth is open. Test the fit by opening your mouth wide to yawn. If the helmet does not hug the head, tighten the straps.

There is no federal law in the U.S. requiring bicycle helmets, although currently there are 22 states, including the District of Columbia that have state-wide laws. More than 201 localities have local ordinances. A complete list can be found at The Brain Injury Alliance of Kentucky hopes the state will be next. HB 254 was filed by Rep. Joni Jenkins of Louisville and is now in the House Transportation Committee, awaiting a hearing.

How can you help? You can also help by supporting organizations such as Bikes for Tykes. With a $10 donation, the group will buy a child a helmet. Back Alley Bikes is a local non-profit organization bike and repair shop, as well as bike resource center based in Detroit. They focus on cycling education, community access for youth and accept donations of unused bike helmets. Look for organizations in your community and spread awareness by sharing this post, educating your family and friends, and using the awareness month hashtag #NotAloneinBrainInjury on social media.

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