Westborough, MA – Traumatic brain injury impacts people equally and viciously. The severe injury recently sustained by Grand Prix race car driver Michael Schumacher in Meribel, a resort in the French Alps is point of fact. The 44-year old Schumacher lies in a medically-induced coma while his brain heals from a severe trauma that resulted from an off trail ski accident. Schumacher was on an ungroomed snow field between two slopes near the border with Italy where he has a home. He fell and hit his head on exposed rocks. He was wearing a helmet which cracked like an egg when he fell. Since the accident Schumacher has undergone two neurosurgical procedures designed to relieve pressure within the skull. When the brain becomes injured bleeding can sometimes cause a build up of pressure that pushes on the surface of the brain. Excessive pressure within the skull is not life sustaining and must be reduced. In some cases part of the skull is removed to allow the tissue to expand as needed. After days or weeks the skull can be replaced as before. In the meantime Schumacher’s family sits an endless vigil awaiting a miracle that may not come.
When the head hits an immovable object – with or without a protective helmet it becomes damaged. Sometimes damaged to a point that does not permit survival. Neurosurgeons do what they can to control secondary factors that contribute to mortality such as ongoing bleeding, intracranial pressure and dangerous clot formation. Schumacher is being kept in a state of hypothermia to prevent the cascade of cellular death associated with multi-trauma. Skiing is particularly dangerous due to its high speed adventure and steep, uneven tourain.
Celebrity Brain Injuries
The allure of sking and snowboarding is well known and enjoyed by millions. The nephew of the late Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, Michael Kennedy, was killed playing with a football while skiing in 1997. Former entertainer and U.S. Representative Sonny Bono, died in 1998 skiing in California. Actress Natasha Richardson, died in 2009 after what was thought to be a benign fall in Quebec, Canada. Dutch Prince Fino died in August 2013 after a skiing crash that left him in a coma for a year and a half. Michael Schumacher is severely injured and will likely require months or years of specialized rehabilitation if he survives. The medically induced coma may not be enough to keep his vital signs stable.
Professional “extreme” skier Shane McConkey died in 2009 following a stunt he had been rehearsing. These well known celebrities are all victims of TBI. They died in the same manner that has taken the lives of so many athletes and countless others whose brain was injured as a result of high speed injury and its fatal, neurological consequence. Traumatic brain injury is unfair and extremely debilitating. It does not take much to create the energy needed to send a cavitating force through the tissues within the skull stretching and tearing the vital pathways that sustain our wakefullness and all meaningful thought.