When a celebrity suffers a fatal sports-related head injury, it hits the national news; when the average person does, it may hit the local newspaper. Both hit home and are equally devastating and often preventable tragedies. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons offers this advice: Whether you are a novice or advanced, an average person or a celebrity – proceed with caution, and play it safe on the slopes and snow. Wearing a helmet and following other safety precautions may save your life or the life of your child.
The following are just a few true-life stories about winter sports-related head injuries:
- On January 5, 1998, Sony Bono, age 62, died from a traumatic brain injury after striking a tree while skiing near South Lake Tahoe. An accomplished skier, Bono was not wearing a helmet.
- On December 31, 1997, Michael Kennedy, age 39, son of the late Robert F. Kennedy, died immediately after hitting a tree, fracturing his skull and cervical vertebrae and severing his spinal cord. He was playing a football game while skiing and was not wearing a helmet.
- On December 25, 2007, a 13-year-old Michigan girl was killed when she lost control and slammed into a retaining wall at Schuss Mountain resort near Traverse City. She was a novice skier and not wearing a helmet.
- In 2006, a 21-year-old man was snowboarding without a helmet and fell 10-15 feet, suffering serious head trauma and seizures. He was admitted to the hospital and his post-injury status is unknown.
- In 2006, a 25-year-old man was ice skating at a local rink and fell on his head, suffering an intracranial hemorrhage. He remained hospitalized, dazed, and with no memory of the accident.
Every year, thousands of adults and children are treated at U.S. hospital emergency rooms for head injuries related to winter sports. And there are many that lose their lives or suffer life-altering head injuries. The most recent head injury statistic estimates from 2006, related to winter sports, from the U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission:
- Snow Boarding: 6,326
- Ice Hockey: 5,263
- Snow Skiing: 4,922
- Ice Skating: 2,924
- Sleds, Snow Disks and Toboggans: 2,142
- Snowmobiles: 301
Head injuries tend to be most serious and result in fatalities from skiing and snowmobile accidents. While the number of skiing-related head injuries has remained about the same, the good news is that the number of snowmobile-related head injuries has decreased considerably in the last two years. Snowboarding has gained popularity in recent years and the number of head injuries has increased. The majority of ice hockey and skating accidents result in concussions or contusions. While many organized hockey team players wear helmets, concussions can still occur. However, it is important to remember that helmets worn in conjunction with all winter sports may help prevent far more devastating consequences.
According to the AANS, many head injuries can be avoided by following these simple safety precautions:
- Buy and use helmets or protective head gear approved by the ASTM for specific sports 100 percent of the time.
- Wear appropriate clothing for the sport.
- Do not participate in sports when you are ill, very tired, or have consumed alcohol.
- Do not participate in outdoor sports when weather conditions pose a serious hazard.
- Drive snowmobiles slowly and only on marked trails.
- Ice skate only in areas designated for skating, and be sure to check the ice for cracks and debris.
- Use only sleds that can be steered, and never go down a slope head first.
- Follow all posted signs and warnings on ski slopes, sledding hills and ice skating rinks.
Materials provided by American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.