Choosing to parent after brain injury

BY: MELISSA JIROVEC

Parenting is hard work. It challenges you in ways you never imagined you’d be challenged, forcing you to think outside the box and re-evaluate everything you thought you knew about pretty much everything.

Add a brain injury to the mix and the experience becomes even more complex and interesting.
Melissa & family Jason and I always knew we wanted children. We discussed and imagined what our future family would look like long before it was time for us to actually consider making it happen. When Jason regained his awareness after sustaining a traumatic brain injury, both of us agreed that a family of our own was an even bigger priority. At 24, we’d become aware of our own mortality and felt willing to attempt the uphill battle we faced, adding parenthood to recovery for him, and caregiving for me.

Fast forward four years and two children later, and we’ve learned a lot about parenting and brain injury. We’ve encountered many challenges, and reaped many rewards. The biggest challenge has no doubt been fatigue. Parenthood is exhausting in and of itself, but the fatigue my husband experiences makes it hard for him to fully participate as a parent.

There are many times throughout the day where Jason needs to escape downstairs for a nap, downtime on his Xbox, or do laundry to get away from the noise and stimulation. This is hard on me as the parent who must care for both children alone.

Our toddler is also incredibly observant. She picked up early on that her Daddy is not able to keep up with her, that he struggles physically to dress or change her, and that he often gives up if she gives him too much of a hard time because of his impulsivity and lack of patience. She uses this to her advantage at every opportunity. The baby is now starting to move around quite a bit and no longer sits still long enough for Daddy to change and dress him. However, of the two, Daddy definitely does better caring for our younger child.

 When things get rowdy around the house it takes a toll on both Jason and myself. Jason struggles to stay focused and calm, while I struggle to corral the kids on my own. Truthfully,  I sometimes feel resentment.

This is why I work hard to maintain my mental, emotional and physical wellness through journalling, affirmations, meditation, goal-setting, strength training, and getting fresh air often. Jason and I both find it crucial to maintain good nutrition for our mood and energy, in order to function well as a family unit. We are also continuously improving the way we communicate, trying our best to ensure that we are being open and honest with each other so as to problem solve as effectively as possible. We are committed to seeking improved personal growth and increased knowledge.

But as challenging as parenting in our situation can be, the benefits of becoming parents far outshine those difficult moments. For example, both of us have become more efficient with our planning and organization. We’ve learned to laugh at the little things. We thoroughly enjoy new experiences with our children and watching their little faces light up. We’ve both begun to challenge our belief systems and have started really questioning our lifestyle and what messages we are sending to our children.

How do we want to raise them? Are we showing them to be compassionate to others and the planet? We’ve realized that the only way to raise smart, kind, compassionate, grounded, aware and successful children is to do our best to model that ourselves. We are both working on that every day.

 In the end, parenting has been everything we hoped it would be and more, despite the added challenges we face. Those challenges have made us stronger and better parents.

I’ve begun to let go of the idea that parenting should be 50-50 between Jason and I, because despite knowing that it wouldn’t be going in, a small part of me still felt frustrated when he couldn’t step up and I knew that was up to me to fully accept.

The brain injury isn’t going away. But we are slowly learning tricks and strategies to help things run smoothly from day-to-day. Brain injury recovery is a lifelong journey, but having something to work hard for has pushed us into seeking the best way not just to survive, but thrive.


Melissa is a caregiver to her husband Jason who lives with a traumatic brain injury, and their two children Emma & Liam. She has authored two books, one an autobiography of her journey as a caregiver titled: ‘Getting Out of the Rut’,  as well as a children’s picture book that promotes awareness of brain injuries titled: ‘My Daddy’s Brain’. She is currently working on a third book, training for a fitness competition, and speaks to various groups about caregiving, brain injury, communication, self-care and resilience. You can follow her journey on instagram @fit.mindful.mom or visit her website at www.melissajirovec.ca.

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I. Am. Awareness.

BY: MARK KONING

Here we are into the month of June and Brain Injury Awareness Month.

Every year I wonder of its impact. What minds are being awakened and new things learned? Do people come to an understanding of what it’s like to live with brain injury? Are folks even paying attention?

Are all of those awareness campaigns ever enough?

Over the years I have attended various conferences, and volunteered as a peer support mentor. Of all the survivors I meet and all of the voices I listen to, the common theme I hear over and over is of people feeling alone and misunderstood.

I am misunderstood, often. I feel like people hear me, but don’t listen.

“Hello, is anybody out there?” I want to scream. “Do you get it?”

But when I really think about it, contemplating my own thoughts and replaying conversations, I realize: isolation is not winning. Hopelessness and ignorance do not always come out on top. People care, learn, and adapt.

I am a graduate, I am honoured with diplomas, I own a home and have a good job. From everything I have accomplished, and through all of the challenges I have faced, I have learned.

As a brain injury survivor and advocate, people applaud my presentations; they enjoy my blogs and value my mentorship. A written memoir of my life and challenges with brain injury has gotten respect and admiration.

I. Am. Awareness.

Mark Koning's UnMasking Brain Injury Mask

Everyone who speaks up and moves forward is awareness.

Life is awareness. It is happening all of the time, more often than we, or I, may think.

Is it enough? I don’t know the answer to that. Is there ever a time we should stop moving forward? To stop learning and teaching?

Helping to create brain injury awareness is part of me and who I am. It is part of a lot of us. And it is all of OUR legacy, being aware, creating hope, understanding, and inclusion.


Mark’s passion to lend a helping hand, offer advice and give back, has developed into a moral and social responsibility with the goal of sharing, inspiring and growing, for others as well as himself. His experience as a Survivor, Caregiver, Mentor and Writer, has led to his credibility as an ABI Advocate and author of his life’s story, Challenging Barriers & Walking the Path. Follow him on Twitter @Mark_Koning or go to www.markkoning.com.

What I learned from having a stroke at the age of 40

BY: JANET CRAIG

Although I usually post recipes I thought June being Brain Injury Awareness Month, I would talk about how I got here.

Back in 1991, when I was just 40-years-old (yes, you can do the math), I suffered a massive brain aneurysm. I am now turning 67 and even now when I speak to stroke survivors, I still get emotional. I was a healthy ski instructor, never smoked, did not take birth control nor had high blood pressure. I was bodybuilding with heavy weights and teaching skiing at least twice a week. So the bonus was, I was in great shape.

Having at stroke at 40

What I did not realize was that my mother had the same type of stroke at 37-years-old. Being Irish, she kept talking about the time she had the ‘spell’. My sister also had a TIA, a mini stroke, at 42 so definitely we were predisposed. This is another contributory factor, the hereditary card.

For the two months prior to my stroke I worked in a new job that I was struggling with that included a lot of travelling, driving and working all kinds of hours. I was single and dating so probably exceeding the number of drinks I should be having. I had a constant migraine, which sometimes I would think that I was just tired and I would ‘catch up’ on the weekend. I never consulted with a physician and later on, when I returned to work, realized I was self medicating.

Easter weekend I was teaching skiing at Mont Tremblant and had a migraine so severe I was vomiting throughout the night. In the morning I felt so tired and still nauseous. I tell people later the sensation of trying to move and I felt like I was literally was underwater.

Everything was an effort and my limbs wouldn’t respond. I finally made it to the chairlift but when I sat back, my head felt like it exploded. Fortunately for me the staff there are trained EMS services so got me into an ambulance where I was rushed into Montreal Neurological Institute, a leading research facility where I was diagnosed with having a  stroke and treated quickly. That is the only reason I survived.

In hindsight, all the signs were there but like most people, particularly women, I chose to ignore them.

In hindsight all the signs were there, but like most people, particularly women, I chose to ignore them - Janet Craig

I thought I was overtired, stressed from work and lack of sleep. Well of course I was. Not realizing that expression, stress kills, is actually true! What I did learn, the hard way, is to know your own body and be kind to yourself.

Be aware of the risk factors: oral contraceptives, smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, family history, high alcohol use and stress. Most women have very high expectations of ourselves and even though they are exhausted think that they will “catch up” on the weekend. Well you know the drill, you have to be the driver, the cook, the therapist, model wife, and housekeeper and lo and behold the weekend flew by and you are still tired!

Now women have more strokes than men and heart disease in general is hard to diagnose in women we have totally different systems than men. The prognosis is much better for recovery with new drugs available, more research and 10 centres for Stroke Prevention in Ontario.


After suffering a stroke at the age of 40, Janet left the corporate world to open a personal chef business, Satisfied Soul Inc. Now retired, she continues to enjoy her passions of cooking, creating and teaching people how to eat properly. 

Dear Brain Injury,

BY: MARK KONING

Dear Brain Injury,

Where did you come from? I never asked for you. You snuck into my head and caused a great deal of damage when I was a young boy, defenceless to your attack. You tried your best with your seizures and placing me in a coma. You robbed me of memories, physical strength, speech, and understanding. You made me feel trapped.

You tried to pull me into the abyss, but I would not go. I would not surrender.

With all that you stripped of me, I somehow made it back.

Photo of a journal: Secrets of a Brain Injury Survivor
PHOTO: MARK KONING

Maybe it was the love of my mom and dad, or my little sister who wanted her big brother back. Maybe it was my friends who wrote me cards and drew me pictures while I was lying there, motionless. Maybe it was something you just could never quite take away; my heart and my soul. My character.

Somehow you managed to shield yourself from my awareness and understanding. You did this for quite some time. And while I knew something wasn’t right, I just didn’t know.

I want you to know that despite trying as hard as I did and always, sometimes blindly, moving forward, you still made life growing up, difficult. Challenging. Torture.

But I kept moving.

I never wanted you.

But I kept moving.

People didn’t and still don’t, understand. I don’t necessarily understand.

Dear Brain Injury, when you knock me down I get back up. I will ALWAYS get back up. - Mark Koning Person wearing a grey hoodie, from the back, looking at the oceanBut I keep moving.

You are an unwanted guest, still lingering after all of these years. Hiding in the shadows like a monster. In my weakest moments, or sometimes when I’m just not paying enough attention, you unleash your poison. You bring about the pain, the fatigue, the frustration and the tears.

It is hard for me to know that others don’t see my unwanted guest. It is hard for me to know that you refuse to leave. But despite these things, despite how tired and angry I get, I know. I am the strong one, you are the weak. This is my path; and in a weird and strange way, you are the one who is now trapped.

Because I realized something that I don’t think you ever intended; it is NOT the end. I am a Survivor. Not just of the initial impact, of my time in the hospital, but every day. I survive; I thrive; I learn; I grow. And when you knock me down, I get back up. I will ALWAYS get back up.

Truly, NOT yours,

Mark


Mark’s passion to lend a helping hand, offer advice and give back has developed into a moral and social responsibility with the goal of sharing, inspiring and growing – for others as well as himself. His experience as a survivor, caregiver, mentor and writer has led to his credibility as an ABI Advocate and author of his life’s story, Challenging Barriers & Walking the Path. Follow him on Twitter @Mark_Koning or go to www.markkoning.com

Unmasking new arrivals

BY:  SHANNON SCHILLING

Dedicated quality poured out upon the elegantly displayed array of expressiveness, and groups of brain injury confidants cast their talent in raw form.

Participant Chris paints his mask for unmasking brain injury
PHOTO: SHANNON SCHILLING

Picturesque participation mastered itself along this year’s province-wide event: Unmasking Brain Injury. In Toronto, four sessions, over two months, that were available for participants to attend at the CHIRS head office on Yonge Street, Toronto. The third day on April 7, 2018, from 1-4 p.m.: that afternoon I attended with my husband (pictured above).

Along with survivors and their partnerships, the CHIRS staff welcomed an incredible show of artistic achievement. Clients’ feelings were captured inside and out, with primary colours envisioning an individuality to others.

It was an event not to be missed, with collaboration representing members from both CHIRS and BIST on all four afternoons it was available. The Ontario Brain Injury Association (OBIA) brought the event to the attention of brain injury associations across the province to share in the experience.

The movement began in North Carolina in the United States and has internationally gained attention and participation worldwide.

Unmasking Brain Injury

Anticipating Brain Injury Awareness Month up and coming in June, each mask unfolds a journey contemplating the struggle and eventual acceptance of complete enlightenment. It was not a requirement, but thoughtful insight may have assisted in the creation of the fulfillment of property.

BIST Communications and Support Coordinator Meri Perra expressed to me how she was very humbled by the experience, “I had a huge respect for the artists involved and the project as a whole.”

What an uplifting afternoon!

It’s hard to believe that the mind has so much instinctive awareness; and what we come to believe with our eyes, is carried around as thoughts inside. I need my brother right now, so he can ask his machine, “Alexa, who first invented art?”

Of course, it is the expression of art that is not able to be contained in a simple answer. In all relativity, it is something that everyone needs to discover within themselves first to unmask its glow.

See the Masks on display at 9 Bars Coffee,  June 1 – 14

9 Bars is located at 46 St. Clair Ave East, Mon – Fri, 7:30 – 6 p.m.


 

 Shannon Schilling has recently had a baby girl, Annabelle, and lives in Oakville with her fiance, Christopher Uy. This summer she is able to attend the University of Toronto for a single course as well as acknowledging the juxtaposition of responsibilities at home. She owes enormous gratitude to the considerate help from her family.

Our miracle: my family shouldn’t have survived Carbon Monoxide poisoning

BY: SHELLEY TAYLOR

Seven years ago, Shelley’s family survived what should have been a fatal carbon monoxide leak in their house. She writes how her faith has helped her family survive and thrive in the seven years since.

Shelly Trammel standing outside her church
Shelley Taylor

In the blink of an eye, so many memories vanished. I wish I could have chosen which memories I could keep and tossed out the ones I wanted to forget. I know the memories which remain are what make me who I am today. I would be a different person right now breathing, talking, and living if I didn’t retain some of the things I lived as a child and as a young adult.

Valentine’s Day 2010 would turn into a complete game changer for my family, a day we will never forget. I’ve documented this day in words so if the day comes that the memory is gone I can always, reflect back on our second chance at life.

We were experiencing a Texas Winter and the six inches of snow which covered our town knocked our power out for three days. Fed up, on the third day we ran a generator out in the front driveway with the garage door and windows open. The Fire Chief later told us that the lack of wind and frigid air that day meant the gas settled into our home via the eave troughs instead of blowing away.

That night, my daughter, Taylor, woke suddenly to someone screaming her name. She jolted up in bed, tried to stand and quickly realized her legs wouldn’t hold her up. She fell to the floor.

Shelley and Taylor pose in their living room
Shelley and her daughter Taylor

From there, she crawled to her door and tried to stable herself but couldn’t and collapsed again, all the while having the frightening feeling of tunnel vision where you can’t really hear or see.

The thud of her fall woke me up and I ran to her. My then husband, Charlie, heard from the living room and he and I met at her doorway and found our daughter lying, lifeless and facedown. Not knowing what’s wrong with your daughter, when its too dark to even look her in the face is the worst thing I have ever felt.

Charlie was shaking her and trying to get a response. He sent me to get a flashlight that was on my nightstand. We were beside ourselves with fear. On my way to the bedroom, I started feeling as though I was losing control, and as the seconds passed I knew I had to let Charlie know something was seriously wrong with me. I had the flashlight in hand, and started running back to the hall, but the closer I got to Charlie, the further away he seemed. Everything was spinning out of control and I was losing awareness of where I was.

I knew if I didn’t make it back to him he wouldn’t know to come find me.  When I turned the corner to the hallway I collapsed face first without my hands or arms to brace me, falling onto the metal flashlight and cutting my forehead open, exposing the skull. Charlie was searching in the dark for the flashlight as it had rolled when I fell and I was trying to tell him I felt blood running down my face. Things were completely out of control.

Once he found the flashlight, with one look he said he had to get me to the hospital.  I said, “What is wrong with Taylor, doesn’t she need to go?”

Somehow in my head I knew she had started this whole ordeal and my mommy intuition kicked in. I was more scared for her than me!

Shelley Taylor poses for a selfie

Meanwhile, Taylor was drifting in and out of consciousness. Charlie managed to wake her, and told her she had to go get a towel to put on my head to help with the bleeding, which was now pulsing out of control from my head. We were all covered with my blood. How she made it to the bathroom to retrieve a towel is beyond any of our comprehension.

Immediately after she returned, Taylor lost consciousness again.  Charlie dragged her over and propped her on top of me, against the wall as I was having convulsions and banging my face into the floor.  My eyes were rolling back in my head, and Charlie yelled at me not to die on him.

Charlie called 911 and first to respond were the police. They used their flashlights and the first thing they saw were my bloody handprints in our hallway where I tried to stand, and Charlie covered in my blood. Needless to say, they turned their suspicions onto Charlie.

Shortly after the fire department arrived, and the Fire Chief began asking different questions. Charlie explained we were using a generator and immediately the Chief went to the truck to get the carbon monoxide detector. The truck was parked at the street and within steps of entering our driveway the readings on the detector began to rise quickly, so much that the Chief went back to the truck to recalibrate the device as he was not believing the high readings. Once again, walking in the driveway up to our front door the readings began to creep higher and higher. Upon reaching the door he called for his crew to exit the home and began to get Charlie, Taylor and our dogs out. A couple of paramedics were left inside with me to get me stable enough for transport to the hospital. Once outside, they realized that Taylor had “started” this whole incident and the firefighters told Charlie they wanted her checked out as well. I left by ambulance and Charlie and Taylor in his truck.

On route to the hospital, through nothing other than God’s grace, Taylor made some of the scariest and bravest phone calls she’s ever made to my sisters alerting them of what had happened and seeking their immediate help.  She was much too young to understand what was going on or what was wrong with her mom, she just knew they had to get there quickly!

Several firefighters went above and beyond the call of duty and stayed at our home to open windows and stay and watch our dogs for sickness and make sure they were in a safe place before leaving.

Once at Mansfield Methodist Hospital they checked mine and Taylor’s blood gases and they were “through the roof”. Worse, my daughter’s levels were much higher than mine.

They began preparing us to be transported to Dallas Methodist Hospital to get in their hyperbaric chamber. First my head had to be stitched up, 15 stitches total, and I had to have a CT Scan to make sure I was transportable. Then off we went, on the ice, Taylor and I in the ambulance, her sitting and me on a stretcher both with oxygen on.

Upon arriving at Dallas Methodist Hospital, a doctor explained the procedures for going into the hyperbaric chamber, which was difficult to understand considering everything. I must add that at some time after our arrival we found out that the family which had just been in the chamber all died, except the father!

I was terrified for Taylor and myself!  Taylor and I are both very claustrophobic, but we are survivors after our approximate three hour stay in the hyperbaric chamber.

Two Ambulance rides, one CT scan, two blood gases, two Hyperbaric chambers, 15 stitches and one concussion later, we survived!  Nothing says ‘I love you” like a brain injury on Valentine’s Day.

My sister, Kimberley, moved in with us for about a month. Physically I was trying to heal my head, but mentally I was left with a traumatic brain injury.  I started over with kindergarten flashcards, looking at an apple and saying library, and my friends and family completed most of my sentences. They scooped Taylor and I up and helped us heal.

My neurologist told me that people don’t survive what we went through and there really aren’t patients like Taylor and I.  He said he didn’t know how to treat me. I cried and he was visibly shaken. Through his honesty, he became a great comfort to me as I struggled with memory and cognitive skills. We became a little closer that day and I knew he had chosen the right career.

On another of my early visits, he took his hand and made a fist and began knocking on my forehead. He said the poison goes into your brain and destroys whatever it attaches to and we have no control over what functions it destroys or limits.

To this day, my short-term memory is horrible at times, and I’ve lost so many precious memories.

Taylor and I have a saying when it comes to trying to remember things, we just look at each other and say, “Did we have fun?”

The one who remembers says to the other, “Yes, we had fun!”

That’s all that matters. But, to be alive, in whatever capacity, is amazing!  I continue daily to deal with migraines, balance, breathing, vision, memory or the lack thereof. These are daily struggles for both Taylor and I.

I have fallen more times than I’ve stood, and had injuries that ranged from Band-Aids to orthopaedics visits. For six years, my greatest challenge was breathing, but now I struggle with a chronic migraine.  Right now, I am close to 100 days straight of my head hurting. Every day at some point I struggle to breathe and coughing has become my norm. Some days are better than others. Sunny days are my friend. On cold, wet days I lean on my faith for every breath I take.

The more I talk the worse my coughing gets and I talk so much for work. Recovery continues every day for me and Taylor and luckily her Dyslexic brain is used to accommodating skills and this continues to be her saving grace on a daily basis.  She is young, so strong, her faith is incredible, and healing has come differently for her, but memory and migraines are big battles for her.  I’d love for you to pray for her right now.

image2           Many days are challenging and bring a stream of tears but I try my best to remember that God knows the plans for me and Taylor.  He knew the breaths that would follow would bring challenge, He knew this, He knew.  Through it all, truly through it all I will trust Him.

God used this disaster to dissolve a broken marriage and link my life with the most amazing man, through merging tears, broken hope, and many answered prayers.


Taylor Trammell graduated in May with her Associates degree and will soon be an American Sign Language Interpreter. 

Shelley Taylor will publish her book, “With My Last Breath, I’d Say I Love You: When your FAITH and HOPE slip, GRACE wins every time” March 1, 201

 

8. Follow her on Instagram @shelleylovesTaylor

Why didn’t my bike helmet prevent my TBI?

BY: SOPHIA VOUMVAKIS

15 per cent of the approximately 18,000 traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) that occur in a year in Ontario are a result of a cycling accident. Every year in Canada, over 11,000 people die as a result of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) – using the same 15 per cent – that’s over 1600 people in Canada who die as a result of a TBI caused by a cycling accident. 85 per cent of all cyclists’ deaths in Canada involve a brain injury.

A little over five years ago, I sustained a TBI while riding my bike. It was a beautiful spring morning, and I was riding my bike to work, as I had hundreds of times before. I remember leaving my home that morning, and then waking up in the emergency room at St. Michael’s Hospital, several hours later. I was told by the doctors in the emergency department that I had been knocked off my bike, hit the ground, passed out, and taken to the ER by ambulance. Several hours later I was diagnosed with a brain injury. To this day, I have no memory of the incident.

I was wearing a bike helmet, which I always did, but my helmet did not protect me against acquiring a TBI. I’d always wondered why, and recently I got my answer. I came across a TED Talk by bioengineer (and former football player) David Camarillo, who, along with his team at Stanford University, has been able to demonstrate what really happens to our brain during a concussion, and why bike helmets, and other sports helmets, such as football helmets are not designed to protect against concussion, but rather, they are designed and tested to determine how well they protect against skull fracture.

What happens to your brain during a concussion?

The standard thinking of what happens to your brain during a concussion is that the head moves, the brain lags behind, catches up, smashes into the skull, rebounds off the skull and then proceeds to run into the other side of the skull. This dynamic is repeated many times. This understanding of what happens to the brain during concussion suggests that the brain is damaged on the outer edges.

In his Stanford University lab, Camarillo and his team, with the aid of new technology, have looked closely at what happens to the brain when it is experiencing a concussion. Their investigations suggest that the current thinking about what occurs to the brain during a concussion is not entirely accurate. Firstly, he does not believe that the brain moves around as much as current wisdom suggests. Camarillo argues that there is very little room in our cranial cavity for movement, perhaps a few millimetres, and our cranial cavity is filled with spinal fluid, which acts as a protective layer. Secondly, he suggests that the brain does not move as a whole.

Football player with ball about to fall to the ground

Our brain is one of the softest organs in our body – the consistency of Jell-O – and as the brain moves around in our skull during a concussion, it is probably twisting and turning and contorting – the tissue is getting stretched. Concussion does not appear to be something that is happening to the outer edges of the brain, but rather it is happening somewhere much deeper, in the centre of the brain.

The Laboratory – The Stanford Football Team

To help Camarillo and his team better understand what is happening to the brain during a concussion they utilized a mouth guard equipped with sensors and a gyroscope, which most experts believe can tell us what happens to the brain during a concussion. When someone is struck in the head, the mouth guard records how the skull moves at a thousand samples per second.

The study’s laboratory is the Stanford football team, young men who regularly go out and hit their heads.  This allows for rich information to be obtained when the researchers extract the data out of the mouth guard.

When the data from the mouth guard, was combined with a finite element model of the brain, developed by Svein Kleiven in Sweden, it showed that the brain of football players, who have suffered a concussion does not smash around in the skull, as current thinking would lead us to believe, but rather twists and contorts. The data shows that the greatest amount of stretching occurs very close to the centre of the brain.

What’s there? The corpus callosum, the wiring which connects the left and right hemispheres of your brain. Camarillo believes that this might be one of the most common mechanisms of concussion, the wiring is being disrupted, which causes a disassociation between your right and left brain and could explain a lot of the symptoms one sees in concussion. This is consistent with what researchers see with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) – when the corpus callosum of a middle aged, former football player is viewed, and compared to an individual who does not have CTE, his corpus callosum is greatly atrophied.

Although there is a rapid transmission of forces down to the corpus callosum when the head is struck, it does take a certain amount of time. What Camarillo and his team believe is that if we can slow the head down just enough so that the brain does not lag behind the skull, but instead moves in synchrony with the skull, then we might be able to prevent this mechanism of concussion.

How can we slow the head down?

The most currently used bicycle helmet is constructed of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam within a thin plastic shell. The EPS liner absorbs the force of an impact by deforming, while the outer shell increases the area over which the force is dissipates. The main considerations when designing a bike helmet is the size and stiffness of the helmet, which impacts how efficiently energy is absorbed. As a result of the materials used in constructing an EPS helmet, the size of the helmet has been limited to a few inches. This does not slow down the head enough to enable the brain to move in synchrony with the skull, rather than lag behind the skull. It turns out that air, in an expandable helmet would be the ideal mechanism for slowing the head down enough during impact, so that the brain moves in synchrony with the skull, rather than lagging behind.

woman wearing a skirt standing with her bike

It turns out that a company in Sweden called Hovding, is using the principle of air to give the wearer of their ‘helmet’ some extra space to prevent concussion. Hovding has created what is essentially the world’s first airbag for cyclists. The Hovding is a collar, worn around the cyclist’s neck, that uses advanced sensors, similar to the sensors used in the mouth guards described in Camarillo’s research above, that can sense the cyclist’s movement patterns and will react in case of an accident. The airbag will then inflate, fixate your neck and provide a shock absorption. In experiments conducted by Camarillo and his team they have found that the Hovding collar can greatly reduce the risk of concussion in some scenarios, compared to a standard EPS bike helmet. The Hovding is currently for sale in Europe and Japan, and is CE labelled, which means it complies with European Union safety standards, but not for sale in the United States, and alas, Canada.

In the US, bike helmets are federally regulated by The Consumer Product Safety Commission. The Commission has jurisdiction over the type of helmets they approve. The test they use in order to grant approval to a bike helmet is testing the helmets capacity to prevent skull fractures, not whether the helmet is likely to prevent concussion. In Canada, The Canadian Standards Association accredits organizations to certify that bicycle helmets meet certain standards, such as CPSC bicycle helmet standard, which uses the tests described above by Camarillo.

I contacted Hovding and asked about the availability of their helmet in Canada – alas, it is not available here. They replied that, at this time, they have not investigated helmet certification in Canada. So it might take some time to get my head into one!

Even so, any helmet is better than no helmet, so keep wearing whatever helmet you have, and wear it properly.

 Resources

Modelling and Optimization of Airbag Helmets for Preventing Head Injuries,  published in The Annals of Biomedical Engineering in September 2016.


Since her TBI in 2011, Sophia has educated herself about TBI. She is interested in making research into TBI accessible to other survivors.