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Fighting brain injury

Two well-known healthcare groups in Mississippi are teaming up to fight brain injury and increase patient survival rates through medical technology and preventive programs.

On April 15, the Brain Injury Association of Mississippi (BIA) opened its annual “Art of Recovery” exhibit at the St. Dominic’s Hospital Medical Mall in Jackson. The traveling gallery featuring the paintings, drawings and photography of traumatic brain injury survivors from around the state. Traumatic brain injury (TMI) is a blow or jolt to the head that disrupts brain function. It happens to 1.4 million Americans every year. The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control reports that 50,000 die annually from TMI, including 2,700 children. Half of the TMI incidents occur after a person falls or is involved in a motor vehicle crash (the leading cause of TMI in Mississippi).

BIA Mississippi executive director Lee Jenkins says that her phone was ringing off the hook following the sudden death of actress Natasha Richardson, who died March 18 after hitting her head on a ski slope in Canada. “The truth is that if you have an accident and you can walk and talk and look alright and seem alright then sometimes people won’t seek help,” Jenkins says,

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that many of the milder cases of TMI that people call concussions are never treated since symptoms can be subtle or may not appear for days or weeks following the injury. Jenkins says that the effects of TMI range from short-term memory loss and extreme fatigue to irritability and rage. “They are now finding out that brain injuries can even bring on addiction,” she says.

Twenty percent of U.S. war veterans also suffer from TMI, including the 4,000 to 5,000 soldiers that have been in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001. Some injuries have been linked to post-traumatic stress disorder. “The Department of Defense and Veteran’s Administration are working together to try to find the best way to recognize and handle this problem,” Jenkins says.

An exploding IED can send shock waves through the skull and brain causing tears and bleeding. “Sometimes they never lose consciousness,” Jenkins says, adding that the problem can be compounded when soldiers are sent back into action where they risk having another TMI. Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg has a 90-day post-deployment clinic that monitors soldiers returning home with brain injuries, and Jenkins says the neurological debriefing is critical to the patient’s recovery and helps their families better understand any care-giving responsibilities.

BIA Mississippi has one simple piece of advice for children and their parents to guard against preventable head injuries: wear a helmet. Its popular Ride and Roll Injury Prevention Program goes into preschools and elementary schools all over the state to give out multi-sport helmets to children. They are properly fitted and can be worn by even the smallest biker, skateboarder or rollerblader.

“It’s all about education.” Jenkins says. “We use the visual aid of a cantaloupe… throwing it down on the sidewalk with and without a helmet. There are kids from years back who tell us they still remember that.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Stephen McDill at stephen.mcdill@msbusiness.com.

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