My daughter had a brain injury five years ago when she was 14 in which a portion of her skull pierced her brain. Doctors had to replace part of her skull with metal and screws. She has no lingering effects other than a changed personality and the odd headache.
She is still very active. She recently flew to New Zealand and wants to go skydiving. Would that be a bad choice based on her history?
There two issues here. The first is the effects of high altitude on the injured brain and the second is the potential effects of skydiving on the brain.
There is no published evidence to help us know if flying in an airplane after a head injury — especially one five years old — is bad. There is a theoretical risk that low oxygen tension at altitude will dilate cerebral blood vessels and even open the blood brain barrier leading to post-concussive headache or mild brain swelling. But there are no studies to substantiate this.
As for the effects of skydiving and the brain, as long as your parachute opens up, your daughter should have no problems!
That said, skydiving comes with obvious risks. If your daughter were to fall wrong and hit her head, she has a greater chance of more serious and perhaps long-term effects since she has sustained a significant brain injury in the past. It would also be prudent for your daughter to make sure she goes skydiving at a reputable skydiving facility — one that has passed accredited safety standards and has well-trained instructors.
Dr. Bazarian is an emergency physician with a strong research interest in traumatic brain injury. He is associate professor of Emergency Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery at the Center for Neural Development and Disease, University of Rochester Medical Center.