Snowboarder Video As Much About Miracles as Helmet Safety

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012
This post was written by Patricia Donovan

Spoiler: This video has a happy ending. But not all athletes participating in extreme sports are so lucky. Last week’s tragic death of Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke underscores the physical risks these athletes face each time they “strap in.”

The fact remains that in 2009, hospital emergency rooms, doctors’ offices, and clinics treated 353,346 injuries related to these winter sports activities, according to a position paper by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS). The medical, legal, work loss and pain and suffering costs were more than $9.28 billion.

Know any “shredders” who think helmets aren’t cool? You might want to share this video with them.

The newly released film Moving Forward chronicles the recovery to date of Danny Toumarkine, a professional snowboarder from New Hampshire who suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) while snowboarding in Montana on a film trip in January 2011. (Full disclosure: My nephew Tom is the human greeting card in the video.) After a grueling year of multiple brain surgeries, physical rehabilitation and sheer determination, Danny was able to return to the slopes to “ride” this month.

Danny wasn’t wearing a helmet at the time he was injured, but this video is a convincing argument for the use of “brain buckets” in any type of riding. Sarah Burke was, and there is no indication at this time that equipment played any part in her injury and subsequent death. According to the AAOS position paper, the National Ski Patrol recommends wearing a helmet while skiing or snowboarding:

Studies show that helmets offer considerably less protection for serious head injury to snow riders traveling more than 12-14 mph. Safety and conscientious skiing and riding should be considered the most important factors to prevent injury, while helmets provide a second line of defense against head injuries.

Snowboarders face greater risks, the paper continues:

The 1999 CPSC evaluation of snow skiing and snowboarding-related head injuries found that snow boarders are 30 percent more likely to have a significant head injury than skiers. One of the most common causes of injury is collision with fixed objects, such as trees. More than 40 percent of the annually reported snow skiing and snowboarding-related head injuries could have been prevented or minimized with helmet use.

And even for helmet-wearing athletes, speed is a considerable factor in the severity of a head injury:

The purpose of the helmet is to partially absorb the force and dissipate the energy of blunt trauma in an effort to protect the head. While helmets do not decrease the risk of injury, they can decrease the severity. A study found 15 skull fractures among 27 fatal head injuries. Six of these fractures were depressed, suggesting that protective gear may be of benefit. Several studies in Sweden show that the use of helmets has reduced head injuries by approximately 50 percent.

More detail on Danny’s yearlong struggle is chronicled in the Danny is the Bomb blog created by his brother Conor to keep friends and family abreast of Danny’s condition, to accept donations for Danny’s medical expenses and to raise helmet and TBI awareness in action sports.

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