Two blocks from her house, 9-year-old Mary Walia was hit by a car. The injuries to her brain and body were catastrophic. Mary had diffuse hemorrhaging in the space between her brain and skull, a fractured femur, a bruised lung, and a spinal cord injury.
Almost nine years later, she uses a wheelchair and has limited use of her arms, restricting the tasks she is able to do freely. But these life-changing injuries have not held back this ebullient girl. After high school, she wants to use her humor and experience to raise awareness about TBI and help other people. “I get asked a lot about what life is like, since I was once ‘normal.’ Sometimes life is kind of difficult from my perspective, but more or less, it’s just what happened. I can’t change it now. I can’t go back for a ‘do-over,’ so I guess I’ve just got to deal with it. If I think about my life being sad or bad, I’ll never get anywhere,” says Mary. “I’m a young woman with a lot to give to the world, and the world has a lot to give me yet.”
Mary was one of the 1.7 million people who sustain a traumatic brain injury each year. In fact, children aged 0 to 4 years and older adolescents aged 15 to 19 years are among the groups most likely to sustain a TBI. And because children’s brains are still developing, the toll of a brain injury on a child can sometimes be more dire than on an adult.
In addition to educating themselves on how to prevent a concussion, parents should know these basic facts:
Children with a brain injury can have the same symptoms as adults, but it’s often harder for them to share how they feel. Call your child's doctor if he or she has had a blow to the head and you notice any of these symptoms:
Sometimes problems from a brain injury can be similar to those related to a learning disability, so getting an accurate diagnosis can all the difference. Problems at school that result from a TBI can include attention and concentration, planning and organization, and social interaction among others.
Our content about children and TBI provides information about children, ages birth through 22 years, who are affected by traumatic brain injury. Children with special needs in this age range may be eligible to receive services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal special education law.
Remember that children do best when parents, educators, and health professionals communicate, develop common goals, and work together. But most importantly, parents play the most essential role in their child’s recovery.
Keeping a journal, taking videos, and looking back to mark progress can help families with a loved one with a severe TBI. But most importantly, families need to seek help.
Until contact sports are safer, Chris Nowinski would hold off as long as possible before letting his future children play games where repetitive brain trauma is commonplace.
BrainLine Kids is funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, U.S. Department of Education Award# H133B090010.