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Make Sure Your Kids Are 'Head Smart'

Posted December 20, 2006

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— Skateboard injuries account for 50,000 emergency department visits a year in the United States. Many of those emergency visits involve head injuries in which children did not wear a helmet.

Robert Piland, 13, and his friends loved to skate and sometimes without a helmet.

"They think it's cool not to wear a helmet, which is real stupid not to wear a helmet," he said.

Robert Piland was not wearing a helmet last January. He was going down a hill while skateboarding with friends on a road in his neighborhood. He cannot remember much of the incident, but his mother, Nancy, does.

"(He was) jumping off the board, lost his balance and hit the back of his head," she said.

Robert Piland was in a coma for several days at the WakeMed Trauma Center. Two cranial surgeries relieved pressure from the swelling in his brain.

Trauma surgeon Dr. Pascal Udekwu also sees injuries from bike falls.

Handlebars can cause intestinal damage and spleen injuries, but, "The injuries that we're most concerned about that have the most dire consequences are the brain injuries," Udekwu said.

Most skate and bike parks require helmets and joint pads for skateboarders. Plus, most parks are supervised. Riders and skaters are safe from motor vehicles though it's still not without risk.

Nancy Piland said she doesn't want to take any more risks involving her son.

"He's my youngest of four sons, and they all skateboard or used to skate. None of them skateboard any more," she said.

After six weeks in the hospital, Robert had to learn to walk and talk all over again. He's regained his skills at the piano, but he has some short-term memory loss.

Robert Piland said he will never forget the struggle of recovery or the message he wants others to hear.

"Wear a helmet. That's the only thing you have to do is just wear a helmet, please," he said.

Organizations of trauma surgeons, orthopaedic surgeons and pediatricians say children under age 5 should not ride skateboards. Between ages 5 to 10, they should ride under adult supervision at all times.

Udekwu recommends helmets with a projection guard, a type of stiff visor over the forehead designed to prevent most facial injuries. He also recommends wrist guards along with knee and elbow pads.
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