Heads Up Alaska: Traumatic Brain Injury
The first in a series
ANCHORAGE - Last year more than 630 Alaskans were treated for traumatic brain injuries, or TBI, at Alaska Regional Hospital -- 48 of them died, including two patients under the age of 5.
Dr. Regina Chennault is a trauma surgeon and the Trauma Medical Director at Alaska Regional Hospital.
It's her job to make sure people coming into the emergency room with a TBI get the help they need.
“Time is of the essence, in that golden hour [as] it's referred to,” said Dr. Chennault.
One of the first steps is to take a CT scan of the patient’s brain.
“A lot of times if it's a penetrating injury we can see a bullet in the head, or if it's a fall or some impact where the skull was fractured we will see bone fragments displaced through the brain,” said Chennault.
The CT scan can also show signs of swelling or bleeding in the brain.
Dr, Tim Cohen, a neurosurgeon in Anchorage for the past 17 years, is called on to help assesses CT scans to decide if surgery is needed.
Dr. Cohen says it's not only the CT scan that's important when making surgery decisions -- it's also how the patient is acting.
“You can have a patient with these exact findings and they are sitting up talking to you; you can have a patient with these exact findings and they are unresponsive,” said Cohen.
Current data shows the third leading cause if TBI in Alaska is assault, and Dr. Chennault says many patients are women who are victims of abuse.
The number one cause of TBI is falling.
The severity of a TBI depends on the type of accident or trauma, and the amount of energy that's impacted the brain.
Sometimes surgery is needed immediately; other times a patient is put under watch.
“Sometimes TBI don't manifest themselves until they've been in the hospital for a day or two,” said Dr. Cohen.
Severe TBI can leave patients with a long road to recovery.
“Not everybody leaves the hospital at the same level of function that they were prior to their injury,” said Dr. Chennault.