Bone crushing tackles may prove bone chilling for spectators, but statistically speaking, cycling is responsible for far more traumatic brain injuries than football and baseball combined.
“There was a bike race in Cape Coral about a year and a half ago. A guy had just taken his helmet off just for a few minutes and unfortunately his tire hit the guy in front of him’s tire. And he basically went head-down,” says Lee Memorial Health System neurologist Dr. Dean Lin.
More recently, NBC2 meteorologist Jim Reif died after falling from his bike. He was not wearing a helmet. Data from 2009 found that 90% of bicyclists killed in the US were not wearing them either. The majority are middle-aged men. The combination of speed and force causing them catastrophic damage.
“There’s a little bit of space in there, but the brain basically comes to an abrupt stop up against the skull,” says Dr. Lin.
These closed head injuries occur when brain tissue impacts the skull. Depending on the severity it can cause bruising, bleeding, tissue damage and swelling. The buildup of pressure and swelling produce the most devastating outcome.
“Even in the absence of a blood clot the skull remains a hard, solid cave. It’s not expanding anywhere, so those are the patients that need to go to surgery frequently and have some of the skull removed,” Dr. Lin says.
To give the brain room to expand, part of the skull is often removed. Neurosurgeons address fluid buildup, clotting and assess brain activity. Severe head traumas often prove fatal.
“Yes, that’s very common. Someone who comes in after a bad head injury, could be brain dead very quickly. So it’s a horrible situation.”
Safety experts say, the only cure is prevention.