by Corrine Casanova
We’ve all heard the adage, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure which essentially means it’s easier to stop something before it happens than to repair it after the damage is done. This statement couldn’t be more true when it comes to brain and spinal cord injury. In fact, an ounce of prevention may go much further than that. For example, in 2010, direct and indirect medical costs of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) cost $76.5 billion. Annually, about 1.7 million people here in the United States sustain a TBI, 52,000 of whom don’t survive.
According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, there are about 17,500 new spinal cord injuries each year (not including an estimated 5,000 who die at the scene of the accident). Since 2010, vehicle crashes are the leading cause of spinal cord injury, followed by falls, acts of violence and then sports/recreation activities which are nearly nine percent of all spinal cord injuries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the leading cause of TBI (about 40 percent of all brain injuries). Sports and recreational activities contribute to over 20 percent of all TBIs in teens.
Through his work, a local neurosurgeon, Dr. Lali Sekhon, has witnessed the heartache of indescribable loss, not only emotional and physical loss, but devastating financial loss too due to accidents and falls. He wanted to do something proactive about it, especially when it came to kids and teens. As a result, in 2011, he founded ThinkFirst Northern Nevada, a local chapter of the ThinkFirst National Injury Prevention Foundation. He explained, “When it comes to any activity like alcohol and driving, distracted driving and participating in outdoor activities, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. When somebody sustains a severe brain injury it not only impacts the person experiencing it, it also impacts their family, career and future. It is possible to spend $10,000 a day in the ICU after a severe injury. I would rather spend that money on the front end with prevention. We can make a far bigger impact by raising awareness of spinal cord and head injuries by educating, especially young people, about themselves and their brains.”
While estimating how many people are being saved from sustaining injuries through the local efforts of Think First is difficult to do because you can’t put something into a statistic that never happened, Dr. Sekhon has recognized the strong community spirit when it comes to rallying around people who have sustained spine or brain injuries. A case in point would be the seven teens from Dayton and Carson City who were critically injured in a Nov. 9 rollover car crash.
Getting the prevention message out to kids and young adults in the 15-24 age group is crucial as this group is at the highest risk for these types of injuries. Kathy O’Sullivan, a physical therapist who is the chapter director of ThinkFirst Northern Nevada, goes to 12 local high schools, twice a year, to educate students about making smart, safe choices to avoid head and spinal cord injury prevention. These presentations are either held in classrooms or during a general assembly. A video, “ThinkFirst About your Choices” provides testimonies from nine people with brain or spinal cord injuries. O’Sullivan follows this with a brief discussion about the anatomy of the brain and spinal cord. At this point she is joined by a VIP—Voices for Injury Prevention—speaker who shares their story about their own traumatic brain injury.
One of her VIPs is Tayler Dahlberg. In February 2014, he was in an off-road dirt bike race in northern Nevada and 3 ½ months later woke up from a coma in a hospital. He has absolutely no recollection of anything that happened that day of the race. While he wore all the protective gear and even took extra precautions, he was severely injured on the 50-mile track loop in the desert. Nobody will ever know what happened that day as there were no witnesses. After his extensive hospital stay, he eventually met O’Sullivan who was a physical therapist at Rehab Without Walls. After working together on Dahlberg’s recovery, she asked him about becoming a ThinkFirst VIP speaker. Dahlberg has been sharing his story with kids at high schools ever since with the goal of preventing spinal and head injuries. His rehabilitation period was about 18 months and he continues to work towards getting better. After he shares his story, kids will usually ask him how it felt to learn how to walk again and what are some things he can’t do today as a result of the accident.
Through their prevention efforts, ThinkFirst also reaches out to the community through free helmet giveaways. Kids on Big Rigs and the Run for Education are two events where they have a booth where parents or teachers can bring children to receive an absolutely free, properly fitted helmet. Adults can also get a free helmet. So far, they have given away nearly 3,000 helmets with the help of donations from such companies as Renown and Sierra Neurosurgery Group.
They’d like to expand those efforts and do more. Their actual cost is about $8 per helmet and they typically give out 500 helmets per event. With a large enough donation, organizations can have their company’s logo sticker on the helmets. If you would like to help finance a portion of the high school presentations which are about $1,300 per high school or $650 per semester, you can do that as well. To learn more about sponsorship opportunities, donating or scheduling a presentation at your business, contact Kathy O’Sullivan at Kathy@thinkfirstnevada.org or go to www.thinkfirstnevada.org to make your donation.