You or your loved one is seriously hurt in a major accident. What happens next can mean everything to your survival and ultimate recovery. In the best of circumstances, first responders arrive shortly after the accident, render first aid, and deliver you to a Level I trauma center.
At the trauma center, health care providers get you into surgery right away, relieve intracranial pressure on the brain (and otherwise perform to the best of their abilities), and get you stabilized.
However, if the crash caused a traumatic brain injury (TBI), is stabilized in the hospital – while crucial – is just the beginning.
His Head Went Through the Windshield
At the time he was hit in the crosswalk by a car, head through the windshield, he was a young 20-something student at Tufts University. His mother, writing for the Washington Post, describes the horrific consequences: rotational trauma to her son’s brain.
According to health care experts associated with California State University and Loyola University Chicago (writing for “Neuroscience on the Web“): “Rotational trauma occurs when an impact causes the brain to move within the cranium at a different velocity than the skull.”
This type of trauma comes about from extreme deceleration or acceleration, which is certainly consistent with what appeared to happen in the young man’s case.
Most disturbing of all, in terms of his prognosis:
- “[Rotational trauma] results in shearing of axons by the bones of the skull. Because this type of injury damages neural connections rather than gray matter, it can affect a wide array of cerebral functions and should, therefore, be considered a type of diffuse injury.”
Diffuse axonal injury, as one of the most serious forms of TBI, in the worst of cases leads to a persistent vegetative state or an effectively life-ending coma.
Diffuse axonal injury is just one of many forms of brain injury but is one of the most common. Vehicle accidents often lead to diffuse axonal injury. So, too, do football and other sports-related concussions (described as a milder form of diffuse axonal injury).
In the young man’s case, his prognosis was quite poor: According to Dr. Jeffrey Wasserman with Medscape (“Diffuse Axonal Injury Imaging“), an overwhelming majority of individuals who suffer from this type of TBI fall into a persistent vegetative state.
To pull a few interesting statistics about what is likely the most common cause of severe diffuse axonal TBI:
- According to this Forbes piece, you’ll get into 3-4 vehicle accidents over your lifetime (and might be one of more than two million people who are injured every year)
- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in this report, says that vehicle accidents result in more than 30,000 deaths annually (many of these deaths, presumably, arise because of complications from severe TBI)
- Roughly every hour someone is killed in an alcohol-related crash (Mothers Against Drunk Driving)
Given the sudden acceleration/deceleration of a major crash, it is reasonable to assume that many of the two million individuals who are injured every year in vehicle accidents will suffer TBI, including severe diffuse axonal TBI.
This means many lives permanently changed.
The Consequences of Serious Traumatic Brain Injury
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC), a survivable TBI may have both short- and long-term health consequences on a person, including:
- Cognitive function, meaning problems with attention and memory
- Motor function, meaning physical weakness and loss of coordination
- Sensation problems, including hearing and vision impairment
- Emotion problems, including depression and anxiety, among others
Doctors in the young man’s case seemed to believe that he would experience all of these issues, from cognitive and motor to sensation and emotion, given the severity of the impact. In fact, according to the young man’s mother, his neurologist gave 10,000-to-1 odds that he would ever recover to where he was before the crash.
“His head punched a hole through the car’s windshield,” she wrote, “and he suffered a traumatic brain injury so severe that doctors initially warned he might be permanently disabled. He might never be able to feed himself again.”
From Coma to Recovery: How to Regain Hope
To say the young man’s prognosis improved is an understatement. After a TBI or other serious injury, rehab is necessarily tailored to what is possible for the victim under the circumstances. Had the young man failed to display any positive signs of recovery – opening his eyes, wiggling his toes – the possibility of life-improving rehab becomes more and more remote.
But the young man did all of these things: opened his eyes and wiggled his toes. He began to speak. And after roughly six months of intensive rehab, he went back to Tufts University and ultimately went Phi Beta Kappa for academic excellence.
The young man’s mother quotes a neurologist familiar with her son’s case:
“Whenever a team of doctors feels like there is not much hope for a patient, I show them Dylan’s scan and say, ‘What do you think this kid’s chances of recovery were?’ Then when I tell them how well he is doing, everyone is just shocked and humbled, and at the very least rethinks their assessment of the patient before them.”
California Rehab Centers
In a sense, you regain hope after survivable TBI by focusing on all aspects of rehabilitation, physical to mental. Inpatient and outpatient rehab centers serve patients who have a chance at getting their lives back to where they were – or close to where they were – before TBI. These centers offer comprehensive support and advocacy for patients, even for those whose lives will never be the same.
Two California centers include:
- Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey, CA, one of the largest rehab centers in the U.S., affiliated with the University of Southern California
- Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, MemorialCare Rehabilitation Institute, providing neurological rehab and related services
In addition, Level I trauma centers (like the UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica and Los Angeles) generally offer varying forms of inpatient and outpatient rehab services, such as the Neurological Rehab & Research Unit in Los Angeles (see http://rehab.ucla.edu/).
This article is provided by Greene Broillet & Wheeler, LLP, Southern California’s pre-eminent plaintiffs’ trial law firm. For more information about Greene Broillet’s traumatic brain injury practice, contact us online or call (866) 634-4525.