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What It's Like to Have a Traumatic Brain Injury

In honor of Brain Injury Awareness Month this March, we wanted to dedicate a blog post to this very important issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), traumatic brain injuries (TBI) occur when an external force injures the brain, and every year 1.7 million Americans sustain a TBI. A brain injury can happen anytime, anywhere, to anyone – a brain injury does not discriminate. But what does this mean to you? We hope it means a greater awareness of how common brain injuries actually are – and that you will take simple steps to reduce your risk of brain injury.

In January of 2011, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ was shot from point-blank range through the brain. There was plenty of coverage (and rightfully so) of Giffords’ remarkable early recovery, however, what was missing from the media coverage: mention of the long and grueling journey that lies ahead for her and for so many others with TBI’s.

The federal government has been involved in this issue directly since passing the Traumatic Brain Injury Act of 1996 and several amendments to the Act, which encouraged research and innovative programs to increase awareness. On March 19th, 2012, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health looked at Federal, State and private efforts to prevent and treat traumatic brain injury and the disabilities they cause. Read more here.

In the equestrian industry, two years have passed since US Olympian Courtney King-Dye’s accident, perhaps the most high profile TBI to ever happen to a professional equestrian rider. From the comfy couches and corners of the Internet people have watched Courtney’s brave rehabilitation and slow recovery. At Troxel we received an outpouring of letters, emails and phone calls from dressage riders, trainers, judges and fans everywhere, asking for our support to the recovery of Courtney King-Dye. We were so incredibly touched by this and jumped at the opportunity to help fundraise further rider education and acceptance of helmets. This has been a commitment Troxel has been invested in since 1990, when Troxel spun off from its parent company to enter the equestrian market. At this time certified ventilated lightweight helmets did not exist. Catalyzed by the success of its first schooling helmet, and followed thereafter by the first certified show helmet, Troxel quickly emerged as the world's leading provider of ASTM / SEI certified equestrian helmets.

It was Courtney King-Dye’s accident that birthed the Riders4Helmets campaign, with a goal to “educate equestrians on the basic facts of wearing a helmet, to promote the helmet wearing campaign on a National level by involving leading equestrians in various disciplines that hopefully encourage an increased use of helmets, and, to provide important links/resources to enable riders to become further educated on the importance of wearing a helmet.” At Troxel we are so deeply proud of all the hard work of the Riders4Helmets campaign founders: Lyndsey White and Chad Mendell.

Since Courtney’s accident we have continued to further rider education and acceptance of helmets. We have also continued to see many riders shun the use of helmets and make excuses or believe some of the common myths associated with helmets.

“Only kids and amateurs need to wear helmets”

To help shed light on what it’s like to have a TBI we have gathered stories from TBI survivors.

The 2008 US Olympian Courtney King Dye opened the 3rd Riders4Helmets Safety Symposium held Saturday January 14th, 2012 with an update on her current medical condition and daily issues of living with a TBI.

"I'm going to put you in my position for a minute." Watch Courtney’s video from the 3rd Riders4Helmets Safety Symposium >

Courtney continues to struggle to regain the ability to speak and walk with the ease that came naturally before her fall. She has been unable to return to competitive dressage, but she works diligently on her rehabilitation every day.

Anne Ricketts, owner of website and author of book “My Latent Self, Recovering My Soul After Brain Injury” shares her experience as a TBI survivor:

Many survivors of brain injury report a feeling that they have lost their ‘self’, or their soul. Their families and loved ones often feel the same way. I hope to alleviate some of the fears by sharing the many insights into what is really happening from own experience of TBI. My goal is to raise awareness about the effects that brain injury can have on our lives – both from the ‘inside’ and from the ‘outside.’

I started riding at about nine-years-old. I had always felt a desperate love for horses and a real connection with them. Here in England, I have never ridden anywhere that did not require all riders to wear safety helmets. I was wearing my own helmet with integral chin straps the day I fell on my head. I have no idea how much more severe the damage to my brain would have been without that helmet; I am here but for the grace of God. The full story is in my book, ‘My Latent Self, Recovering My Soul after Brain Injury.’

Even though I had ridden for so much of my life and had always worn a helmet, I was never really conscious of the protection it gave me. If anyone thinks that it won't happen to them then let me tell you that the World Health Organization estimates that there are currently one billion people living with some kind of brain injury across the world today. Of these, there are millions living with the effects of traumatic brain injury that is caused when the brain is smashed against itself and the inside of the skull. You don't have to have an open or visible wound to sustain damage to the brain. Brain injury affects cognitive function in almost everyone. Some people have emotional and physical problems and disabilities too.

With me, I lost all sense of who I was; I literally lost the connection to my soul…If it comes down to it and you have a choice about whether to wear a helmet or not then I would say this - ‘do you want to live without knowing who you are, perhaps with severe physical disabilities, problems with your sight, your balance, migraines, speech?’ The list is endless, and yet most people don't even know that even a simple bang to the head can lead to these kinds of very serious and severely life-changing affects. No one is immune.

What was brain injury like for me? It’s like trying to cling to the periphery of the world with broken fingers.

—Anne Ricketts

The bottom line is that the level of rider has nothing to do with risk when it comes to head injuries. Your level of expertise doesn’t protect you: The risk of injury is tied to cumulative riding time, not level of expertise.

Both Courtney King Dye and Gabriel Giffords’ resignation is a heartbreaking reminder that for patients both famous and ordinary, the medical story doesn’t end when the media attention fades. There is a long road ahead of them and what we can do is continue to educate ourselves and wear helmets. Prevention is vital to avoiding TBI’s.

What are some reasons you do or do not wear a helmet? Do you suffer from a TBI? Please share your thoughts and stories by leaving a comment below.

To learn more about these initiatives or to learn more about awareness and advocacy events taking place in your state during the month of March and throughout the year and how you can get involved, contact your chartered state affiliate

For more information on the Riders4Helmets campaign, visit www.riders4helmets.com. You can also follow the campaign at www.facebook.com/riders4helmets and http://twitter.com/riders4helmets.

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