Thursday, March 19, 2009

Natasha Richardson's Death is a Sad Lesson

The media continues to speculate about the sad and unfortunate death of actress Natasha Richardson, but one thing remains true. The life of an admired film and stage actress was cut way too short, and her family is now mourning her passing.

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The details of Richardson's accident remain sketchy, but Richardson took what looked like a minor fall at the end of a ski lesson, and even joked about it afterwards. However one hour after returning to her hotel in Montreal, she complained of a severe headache, and was taken to a hospital, then later transferred to Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, where she was ultimately pronounced brain dead.

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As a parent, this tragic story causes great concern and trepidation. All children are at risk when they don't wear a helmet. In most states, anyone riding a bicycle, skateboard or scooter is required by law to wear a helmet for protection. Yet too many children participate in these activities without a helmet due to peer pressure, and because it isn't "cool." I get so frustrated with parents who don't enforce the helmet rule. If we all banded together and insisted on helmets, then no child would be signaled out for being "uncool." So fellow parents, please join me in insisting that helmets be worn at all times.

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This tragedy also brings to light the seriousness of head injuries, and how they can be deceptive. More often than not, when a player receives a head injury during practice or a game, they are asked to "sit it out" for a few minutes. According to Jasper Shealy, a professor emeritus at the Rochester Institute of Technology, this practice is a mistake. "It takes more than a few minutes to know how serious the injury is. An initial concussion, neurologists are now learning, can make a second concussion more likely."

What can we learn from this information? From now on, if one of my children takes a hit in the head, he will be forced to remain inside until I am 100% sure that the injury doesn't warrant a trip to the doctor or emergency room. I also urge all coaches to be more vigilant about head injuries, and realize that they can be more serious than initially assessed.

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The fact that Richardson was not wearing a helmet may or may not have made a difference in the gravity of her injury. I'm sure that the details will come out later. In the meantime, now is the perfect time for parents to climb aboard the safety train, and follow the law. The consequences of not doing so can be catastrophic.