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The Statistics Are Frightening...
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is a leading cause of death and disability among children and young adults in the United States. Each year, an estimated 1.5 million Americans sustain a TBI. That's 8 times the number of people diagnosed with breast cancer and 34 times the number of new cases of HIV/AIDS each year. As a consequence:
- 50,000 people die each year.
- 230,000 people are hospitalized annually and survive.
- 80,000 to 90,000 people experience the onset of long-term disability each year.
- The cumulative result is that today an estimated 5.3 million people - 2% of the U.S. population - are living with a permanent TBI-related disability.
The risk is highest among adolescents, young adults, and persons older than 75 years. The risk to males is twice the risk among females. The major causes of TBI are:
- Motor vehicle crashes account for 50% of all TBIs and the leading cause of TBI resulting in hospitalization.
- Violence, especially suicidal behavior and assaults that involve firearms--the leading cause of TBI-related death.
- Falls--the leading cause of TBI among the elderly.
These injuries have both short-term and long-term effects on individuals, their families, and society and the financial cost is enormous. TBIs requiring hospitalization cost the nation about $56.3 billion each year. Approximately 1 in 4 adults with TBI is unable to return to work one year after injury. The financial cost is only part of the burden. The long-term impairments and disabilities associated with TBI are grave and the full human cost is incalculable.
The Reality Is Much Worse...
The people behind the statistics can tell of the terrible devastation to their lives that a brain injury brings. Our daughter Ashleigh is one of those survivors. She had just finished the last of her final exams for her senior year in high school on May 28th, 1999. She and her cousin, also a senior, went to a local sandwich shop to celebrate their last day of high school. On the way home, their car went off the road and flipped, end-over-end. Ashleigh suffered multiple skull fractures and a very severe brain injury.
At one point we were told she had only an hour, maybe two, to live. Thankfully, she made it through that crisis and survived the critical phase. Ashleigh spent three weeks in the ICU and was hospitalized for a total of six months following the accident. We chose not to follow doctor’s advice to place Ashleigh in a nursing home, and she is now at home with us. People ask our family how can we deal with this tragedy and the answer is simply, we have to.
Calling on an inner strength and an unbelievable sense of determination and will, Ashleigh continues to fight to improve every single day. The recovery process is agonizingly slow and measured in minute steps. It continues to be a few steps forward, a few steps back. At this point, Ashleigh is still very significantly disabled with limited movement and unable to speak. Yet, we consider ourselves one of the lucky ones as there are many other survivors in worse circumstances.
What About A Cure?
Sadly, there is no cure for a brain injury. Recovering from a brain injury relies on the brain’s plasticity, the brain’s ability for other areas of the brain to take over the functions for the damaged areas, and on hard work from the patient and the rehabilitation team to strengthen the remaining abilities to maximize functionality.
Medical treatments and procedures do continue to improve and doctors have been able to increase the survival rates for brain injury survivors. Some new drugs and procedures, which have to be employed quickly after the injury, are aimed at limiting the secondary damage caused by brain swelling and brain cell death that exacerbate the initial injury. In a longer-term outlook, stem cells may hold some promise for actually repairing areas of brain damage. Yet, even with all the advances, still relatively little is known about the brain, the body’s most complex organ.
What Can the Families and Loved Ones Do?
Frankly, your loved one is depending on you. You now have to fight through your grief and step up and take charge of the situation. You may be asked to make a number of decisions for your loved one. So, you need to learn all you can, very quickly, to be able to assist the medical team in setting the best course of treatment. You need to be a strong patient advocate to insure they get the best of care possible. You need to maintain a positive attitude and instill that attitude in both the patient and everyone in contact with them. If it is indeed possible, you want to will your loved one to make it through this crisis.
If your loved one survives the crisis phase, you will have to continue to be a positive, supportive, and strong advocate. Recovering from a brain injury is a long, terribly difficult process. It is up to you to see that your survivor is given every opportunity to fully recover.
What Can Others Do Who Want to Help?
If you are friends of a family going through this situation don’t be afraid to call and talk to them. Believe me, the families are thinking about their loved one all of the time, you are not going to make it worse by asking about them.
If you don’t know anyone directly, there are a couple of ways to help. One way is to volunteer and get to know a family with a brain injured survivor. You could provide a little respite time such as reading to the patient so the caregiver can work in the garden, or go shopping, or even just take a nap. Caring for a loved can be a highly stressful, 24 hour-a-day job.
Another way is to help us help others with your financial support. Your generous donation will let us at the Brain Injury Recovery Network help survivors of brain injuries.
Call our support line for more information
1- 877- 810- 2100