For many Native American tribes, the brown bear is a symbol of courage, strength, protection, and life. On November 27, 2009, as I was getting dressed to go out to dinner with my husband Bruce Carmichael and friends, a thought ran through my head that I should wear my Native American bear pin, as I might need courage that evening. Where this feeling came from is unclear, but it certainly proved to be true
As I finished getting ready for dinner, I heard Bruce tumble down the stairs, while my friend cried out, “Oh no!” I ran down the stairs saying, “Call 911!” to find Bruce lying unconscious and moaning at the bottom of the stairs. Fortunately, there was a rapid response by emergency medical services, and the 45 minute trip to the nearest hospital was uneventful. Bruce underwent surgery for his injury, was hospitalized for a week, followed by a week of inpatient rehabilitation, and returned home to complete his recovery.
He gradually resumed his work as a Deputy Dean, but was frustrated that he felt as though his thought processes were a bit slower than they had been, and that he tired more easily. One of the medications that he took produced side effects that resulted in depression and some personality differences, but these effects diminished as he was weaned off the drug. His recovery was progressing well when he died suddenly of a cardiac event.
Having worked with many patients who sustained brain injuries, I am very familiar with the symptoms of the injury and the range of paths to recovery. I know that Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) impacts daily life for survivors, families, friends, co-workers, and the community. Even a seemingly minor TBI can lead to long-term symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, trouble organizing thoughts, fatigue, memory issues, and headaches.
Because we cannot see a TBI in the same way that we see a broken arm or leg, and do not always notice the long-term effects of TBI in the way that we would see a limp, or weakness in a limb, TBI is sometimes called a “silent epidemic.” But people who are affected by it are definitely lending their voice to end that “silence.” At CDC’s Injury Center, we are hearing these voices through phone calls, emails, comments on our Heads Up Facebook Page, and video submissions to the recent Heads Up Film Festival.
These stories not only give a clear and powerful voice to the cause, but show that the occurrence of TBI is a very real epidemic that impacts the lives of millions.
CDC Injury Center Science and Program
Since CDC’s Injury Center first began working in TBI, we’ve made great strides in understanding the problem, including knowing who is most at risk and major causes of TBI. Our efforts in injury and violence prevention present opportunities for preventing TBI from occurring in the first place. For example, we know that protective devices such as seatbelts and airbags, as well as bicycle and motorcycle helmets, decrease the risk of TBI. And we know that if a TBI does occur, there are ways to decrease the risks for future TBIs.
To understand the issue better, we have published several reports detailing the incidence and prevalence of TBI in the US, such as:
- Traumatic Brain Injury in the United States: Emergency Department Visits, Hospitalizations, and Deaths, 2002–2006
- Surveillance for Traumatic Brain Injury-Related Deaths—United States, 1997–2007
At the Injury Center, we’ve also worked with partners to move science to action by developing a series of practical, easy to understand programs, called Heads Up. These programs, which focus on sports-related TBI, help educate parents, coaches, teachers, caregivers, and clinicians about the signs and symptoms of TBI; what to do if an athlete has a TBI; and how to prevent further brain damage from repeated TBI. The materials include podcasts, videos, social media tools, and even online training.
Our Heads Up programs have also led to strong partnerships that raise the visibility of TBI – helping to end the ‘silence.’ We have active partners including national sports organizations, local health departments, and local athletic groups, who have given Heads Up a life of its own by co-branding CDC’s materials and using them in local concussion awareness and prevention programs.
Together, our advances in science and program have helped family members and caregivers take critical steps to reduce the consequences of a TBI.
Looking Toward the Future
The momentum we’ve built continues to drive progress for TBI prevention and treatment. Our work in the area of preventing the occurrence of TBI continues as we work to prevent falls in older adults, to prevent injuries in motor vehicle crashes, and to prevent violence that can lead to brain injury. Pediatricians and other clinicians across the country have identified a need to help diagnose and manage concussions in youth; therefore the Injury Center is beginning work with a panel of experts to develop pediatric TBI guidelines.
State and local partners expressed a need for programs to educate players, parents, and coaches about recently passed “return-to-play” laws for youth sports concussion. We are working with them to share more information from our Heads Up program, and to evaluate these policies to ensure they achieve their intended impact. To reach school professionals, we are also adding a Heads Up to Schools initiative to our Heads Up family.
Let’s Hear About Your TBI Story!
March is Brain Injury Awareness Month, so we would like to hear your story!
Post your story on the Heads Up Facebook Page. Visit the Heads Up Film Festival to share a video and add to the national conversation on brain injury. Read others’ posts and view others’ videos to learn about facing daily challenges, achieving successes, seeking support, or finding rehabilitation services. Together, we can make some noise about TBI – a once ‘Silent Epidemic.”