Heads Up Alaska: Common Causes of Traumatic Brain Injury
The number one cause of TBI across the country and in Alaska is falls
ANCHORAGE - Around 800 Alaskans suffer a traumatic brain injury (TBI) every year, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
DHSS says the highest rates of TBI are among Alaska Natives, residents of rural Alaska and young people ages 15 to 19 in motor vehicle crashes.
The number one cause of TBI across the country and in Alaska is falls.
"And that can be a high level fall or a ground level fall,” said trauma surgeon Dr. Regina Chennault.
Especially in Alaska, icy conditions can catch many people off guard, but it’s not just the outdoors where people are falling.
Dr. Chennault had a patient who woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.
“And he fell and hit underneath his chin on the dresser and that caused a fracture in his and… he also had a traumatic brain injury from that fall,” said Chennault.
It's older Alaskans who are especially vulnerable to taking what could be a dangerous or even fatal step.
The second most common cause of TBI is in a motor vehicle crash.
One Alaskan who knows all about that is Jeffry Kellerman.
"I kind of went… to the right of the steering column and hit the dash with my head and face,” said Kellerman.
Kellerman says he was feeling sleepy when he drove off the Glenn Highway into a ditch 23 years ago.
"I broke many things, my neck my back, my femur… a lot of things were seriously damaged including my head; my face was seriously crushed,” he said.
It would be more than two years before his brain injury was assessed and diagnosed.
Jeffry says his TBI was overlooked initially because doctors were more concerned about keeping him alive, but he knew his memory and speech were not what they used to be.
“The whole ability to say words that make sense and not just slurring the words but getting them out in order as I wanted them to be,” said Kellerman.
Among many things, Kellerman suffered from high anxiety levels because he found it hard to hold conversations with his family and friends.
But seeking treatment, even two decades later, has made a world of difference for the father of three.
“It was just a major relief to be in a group in a room with other people that understood,” said Kellerman.
The third highest cause of TBI in Alaska is assaults.
Dr. Regina Chennault says many of the assault victims she sees coming into the emergency room are women.
“They are pushed out, thrown out the second floor window, pushed down the stairs, thrown down and kicked about the head or neck to get a traumatic brain injury."
The fourth leading cause of TBI in Alaska is ATV and snowmachine crashes.