Jeannette Holman-Price isn’t surprised thousands of people have been hospitalized in Newfoundland and Labrador over the past decade for injuries in cycling, all-terrain vehicle (ATV) and motor vehicle accidents, but she fears many accident victims may have undiagnosed brain injuries.
According to a new report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), 506 people were hospitalized in the province between 2001 and 2009-10 for cycling injuries, 646 for ATV injuries and 3,348 who were injured in motor vehicle collisions.
Holman-Price has become well-known nationally for lobbying for truck underguards after her daughter Jessica was killed in December 2005, by a city snow plow in Montreal. Jessica, who was with her 10-year-old brother waiting to cross a street on a pedestrian crosswalk, saved his life when the truck cut the corner too close and he slid under it.
She managed to push him out of the way, but lost her footing and slid under the truck’s wheels.
Holman-Price said her son, who turns 16 in a few weeks, had multiple broken bones when he was taken to a hospital in Montreal, but no one thought to check his brain.
“In triage in the emergency room, they look at what’s obvious and, often times, something as serious as a brain injury goes undetected,” she said. “He had the print of the 12-wheel truck in his head for weeks and no one looked at the possibility of a brain injury.”
Holman-Price said she just knew there was something wrong, so she later decided to fly him to Halifax to be assessed and her gut feeling was confirmed.
At a recent conference, she said, some leading Canadian neurologists and neurosurgeons said they figure brain injuries re probably 85-90 per cent underdiagnosed. Holman-Price would like to see a public campaign to create more awareness about the signs of brain injury.
She said everyone remembers being told as a child not to go to sleep after hitting your head, but most people don’t know why. Dilated pupils, personality changes, lack of balance and slurred speech are some of the signs of brain injury. If it’s diagnosed in the early stages and treated, Holman-Price said, at least the person can take the right precautions, “take time to rest, don’t go back to their pre-injury work and give the brain a chance to settle and time to heal.”
Holman-Price has donated a lot of her time to generate awareness about safety through The Jessica Campaign (www.thejessicacampaign.com) and the Newfoundland and Labrador Injury Prevention Coalition.
She said both organizations have hundreds of helmets to give away. All anyone interested has to do is apply for one.
During Safety Week, the first week of August, Holman-Price said she will be going to three communities around the province doing safety demonstrations and helmet fittings and giving some of these helmets away.
The majority of brain injuries are preventable, she said, with the right safety equipment.
It’s fine for people to live their lives and have fun, but do it safely is her main message.
“When I see children out riding a bicycle without a helmet on, it upsets me, it hurts me, the potential for injury is so great,” Holman-Price said.
Sgt. Paul Murphy, a traffic services officer with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, said the total number of hospitalizations from cycling accidents in the province surprised him. But he said, it’s possible hospitals see more injuries of this nature than police, especially in cases where people fall from their bicycles and sustain injuries.
Murphy is concerned that with bicycling becoming more popular in the St. John’s region, there may be more accidents on our roadways.
In some areas where bike lanes are being created, such as Bonaventure Avenue, he said the width of the road hasn’t changed, so drivers will have to adapt to this and there could be a learning curve for both cyclists and drivers.
Murphy said he’s noticed a lot of drivers these days have little patience with anything that might slow them down.
He said many drive too close to cyclists, but that doesn’t just apply to bicycles. One time when police officers were on the highway stopping cars, motorists would slow down and pull out around them, Murphy said, but too often now, “you can feel the mirrors go by your back.”
“Motorists should slow down when they see peddle bikes on the road and give everyone a wide berth, the same with pedestrians,” he said. “We have to look out for each other.”
Likewise, Murphy said, the onus is also on cyclists to obey the rules of the road. He believes there’s been an increase in helmet use around the city, indicating that people are becoming more safety conscious.
But, he said, it’s also important to make sure that the bike you’re riding and your helmet fit you properly.
Also, Murphy said, helmets have a life expectancy and should be regularly replaced and if you fall and strike the helmet on anything, it’s also wise to replace it immediately.
Also during the summer, Murphy said safety should be exercised in playgrounds, which are one of the worst places for injuries among small children every year.