Death of Natasha Richardson Puts Focus on Brain Injuries


Yesterday’s death of actress Natasha Richardson following a fall on a ski slope is obviously tragic for her family. For her husband, actor Liam Neeson, and her two sons, Richardson’s death does not make any sense right now. And many people may be wondering how did a simple fall cause the death of someone, especially since the fall occurred on a beginners’ slope and Richardson did not hit anything? Most news stories state Richardson was talking and joking after her fall. However, soon after she returned to her room, she began to complain that she didn’t feel well. She was rushed to a hospital. We know the end result.

Several neurosurgeons have given statements regarding brain injuries over the last two days. Maybe this is due to an assumption that it was her head she injured. After all, she wasn’t wearing a helmet. What the general consensus is, and it’s here we stress that it is not known or has not been reported what exactly Richardson’s injuries were, is that she may have suffered bleeding in the brain. According to one doctor, when the pressure begins to build up, classic symptoms of a traumatic brain injury occur.

Potential Causes

An example of what might have happened is that Richardson suffered an epidural hemorrhage. This occurs when an artery is ruptured and blood is trapped between the brain and skull. A layer of material surrounding the brain called the dura mater separates the brain from the skull. In a hemorrhage, so much pressure builds up that the dura mater is punctured.

Then there is “talk and die” syndrome. If a skull fracture occurs just above the ear, an artery can be torn and begin to bleed above the lining of the brain. Because there is no room for the blood to move in the skull cavity, and pressure begins to build, blood flow to the brain is reduced and symptoms occur in which the patient begins to decline at a rapid pace. Symptoms can occur in five minutes or three hours after the rupture. Symptoms include a severe headache, nausea, glossy eyes, sudden sleepiness, and more. Getting to an emergency room quickly is the key to survival. The solution to this is an emergency craniotomy, where the skull is opened, to stop the bleeding and swelling.

It is because of these types of injuries that most doctors suggest people should go to the hospital after auto accidents or other accidents in which the head might be involved. Simply feeling okay at the time does not mean something is not wrong. Symptoms of bleeding in the brain may not occur for several hours, and by the time a brain injury is realized, it may be too late.

A brain injury this severe may take several years to recover from. The risk of permanent brain damage is real, and being monitored by doctors who are experts in this field, as well as physical therapists can keep the patient from becoming completely disabled. This may take several years to accomplish. Doctors also suggest that all people involved in sports or simply riding a bike wear a helmet and that everyone learn to recognize the signs of potential trouble.

While it is upsetting that someone as talented as Natasha Richardson has dies in this manner, bringing the issue of traumatic brain injury into the public sphere is an important part of this tragedy.