Cincinnati Children's Blog

Local News Anchor’s Message About Helmet Safety and Concussions

Local News Anchor’s Message About Helmet Safety and Concussions

Editor’s note: WCPO news anchor and reporter Julie O’Neill wrote a personal account of  her daughter’s bicycle accident on her Facebook page this week.  Because it’s a great reminder about the importance of helmet safety and the different warning signs of concussions, we’re sharing it with you here, with her permission:  

What I learned over Labor Day weekend: #LoveYourBrain

I won’t bury the lede. My 10-year-old daughter is fine and will make a full recovery!

Sooooo Thursday late afternoon, my girl and I set out for a bike ride…following a brief argument over whether she would have to wear her helmet. Admittedly I haven’t always insisted, but I DID THIS TIME (and will every time now). I was right behind Samantha as we road down a slope in the sidewalk. I had warned her it was a bit steep so she should pump her brakes as she went down. (She still has the pedal brakes on her little girl bike.) What I should’ve done was have her get off the bike and walk down that stretch…but hindsight is 20/20…and I must now live with what I witnessed next. Suffice to say, she crashed her bike, went flying off and hit the concrete pavement very hard.

Initially Sam was unconscious, though I don’t think I realized that in the moment. I remember calling out her name and her not answering at first. I flagged down a car passing by to help. Soon numerous cars pulled over and people were helping. Some kind man named Walter was one them. Samantha was crying at this point but moving well and in my mind just had some scrapes. One woman who stopped said her eyes had rolled back in her head and I remember her directing me to call 9-1-1. I did and the Loveland-Symmes EMTs were soon on scene. It appeared to be just a matter of scrapes to them too, but they wanted to transport her to be checked out. GOOD THING.

As Walter was getting our bicycles back to my house, Samantha and I rode in the ambulance with a wonderful EMT named Ryan (Pickery I think) toward Cincinnati Children’s – Liberty. At some point, Sam started yelling…we’ll just say…unkind things… at Ryan. He quickly figured out that was “concussive behavior” because this of course was not her nature. With the appearance now of a concussion, Ryan suggested we get Samantha down to the main campus — suddenly it was lights and sirens on toward Burnet Avenue…and it’s a GOOD THING.

Once at Children’s it seemed there were dozens of emergency workers waiting for us. I remember thinking, “This is for us? My child fell off her bike and had a helmet on.” Within a few minutes I understood why possible concussions are taken so very seriously. My daughter stopped breathing. In came a breathing tube. I was encouraged to sit down and breathe myself. I remember the main doc in charge was this very confident looking woman who gave me very reassuring looks as if to say, “Don’t worry. I know what I’m doing and I got this.” She did. They all did.

I’ll get to what I learned now. Not all concussions are the same and helmets certainly don’t completely prevent them. The docs tell me the helmet may have saved her life, protecting her skull and likely preventing any bleeding in the brain. In Samantha’s case, though, the blow to the head was so hard, her brain shifted forward and back and when it shifted back it did damage to the back of the brain which controls breathing. As the brain swelled, she lost her ability to breathe while sleeping. She was able to breathe while awake. As she recovers now, she is behaving totally normally and has no apparent symptoms such as my son had when he got a concussion playing football– dizziness, headaches, balance issues. It’s totally different…and I know that I need to be aware that some different symptoms could come later.

Concussions are still quite the mystery and the brain is something to protect. I recently emceed a Reelabilities Film event on Traumatic Brain Injuries which featured the story of olympic snow boarder Kevin Pearce. He started a social movement called “Love Your Brain,” educating people about concussions. I am grateful for his story and encourage you to see his powerful documentary.

I write this because…well…that’s what I do. I feel a need to share information that could help someone else…namely prevent heartbreak…down the road. I also want to thank those strangers who stopped to help on the side of the road, the wonderful EMTs, the incredible staff at Cincinnati Children’s (especially my daughter’s first nurse, Allison). I also want to thank my friends, family, neighbors and co-workers for the loving support and prayers. Like a light switch on Saturday, Samantha went from lethargic and giving one-word answers…to speaking in full sentences, complete with sarcasm and giggles. Best sounds I ever heard.

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