Kevin Pearce was a skilled snowboarder. So skilled, in fact, it was believed he stood a strong chance to claim the Olympic gold medal from Shaun White, recognized to be the reigning king of the sport.
But our Birmingham brain injury lawyers know that was before a training run crash in Park City, Utah on Dec. 31, 2009. He suffered massive trauma to his body, and his brain. He lapsed into a coma. Some thought he might die.
He survived, but he emerged a different athlete, and a different person.
Now, a new documentary, “The Crash Reel,” has been released, chronicling the young snowboarding star’s rise in the sport, the dramatic crash and the arduous and emotional climb back onto the hills.
The film is especially timely, as a recent study released by Safe Kids Worldwide indicates that a child is injured in a sport every 25 seconds in the U.S. Sports-related injuries account for some 1.35 million emergency room visits annually, which is about 1 out of every 5 involving children and adolescents.
The top sports for injuries included basketball, football, soccer, baseball, softball, cheerleading and ice hockey.
Of those visits, about 12 percent were for concussions. What that means is that a child suffers a concussion – a type of head injury – every three minutes as a result of sports injuries. Doctors reported that many of these injuries are being reported in younger and younger athletes. In fact, nearly half of those occurred in children between the ages of 12 and 15.
Even more disturbing is that severe brain swelling – the kind that can have long-lasting consequences or even be deadly – is more common in youth with traumatic brain injury than adults.
In “The Crash Reel,” Pearce’s doctors describe the permanent damage that has been inflicted to his vision and his memory. He is forced to relearn how to talk and walk. He spends months in rehab. His friends and rivals go on to compete in the Olympics. He is left on the sidelines. Doctors tell him he risks fatality if he goes back to the sport he loves. He’s striving to do it again anyway.
What’s more, the trick that resulted in Pearce’s injury – the cab double cork – has now become a standard one in the sport. It’s estimated that some 30,000 concussions each year are attributed to skiing and snowboarding accidents.
Not all athletes are as fortunate as Pearce. Early this month, National Hockey League player Shawn Burr died after suffering a head injury from a fall.
While the damage inflicted by a brain injury can be swift and severe, sometimes the problem is that the long-term effects are only revealed over time. This was part of the reasoning behind the American Academy of Neurology’s updated guidelines for head injuries suffered in athletic competition.
Older guidelines graded concussions on severity, from 1 to 3, allowing a person back in the game if they were symptom-free after 15 minutes. No longer. The grades have been removed and the researchers advise each injury should be diagnosed by a medical doctor on an individual basis. The new guidelines also say that if there is any suspicion of a concussion, the player should immediately be removed from the field and taken for medical treatment. No set time limit is given for when he or she may return.
To often, those who suffer a brain injury seek no medical treatment at all. These new guidelines, as well as the awareness raised by films like “The Crash Reel,” should help to shift that tide. Schools, coaches, parents and players must all take it seriously.
HBO’s The Crash Reel: The ‘Definitive Film on Brain Injury,’ July 14, 2013, By Dan Diamond, Forbes.com