14:33 PM

Buckle up to save your brain

Across big sky country, white cross memorial markers can be found along roadsides designating the site of a fatal accident. These crosses are installed by Montana chapters of the American Legion. The American Legion has been putting up crosses on Montana roads and highways since 1953 to remind motorists about driver safety.

What you won’t notice, however, are roadside markers for those accident victims who left the scene with severe head injuries – physically alive, but never the same post-injury. Effects of traumatic brain injuries can range from mild to dramatic; limited function of arms or legs, abnormal speech or language, loss of thinking ability or emotional problems, loss of independence, short-term or long-term coma, and permanent medical care and/or rehabilitation for a lifetime. In addition, these effects can place extreme demands on family – emotionally, physically and financially.

Vehicle accidents represent a significant number of traumatic injuries treated by the trauma services team at Kalispell Regional Healthcare. And sadly, Montana is rated fourth in the nation for highway mortalities.

Luckily, one simple action can be the difference: Wear a seat belt. Buckling up is simple, requires seconds to install and is virtually unnoticeable when in place. Above all, it can save your brain, your life and your future.

Medical providers at Kalispell Regional Healthcare’s Neuroscience & Spine Institute encourage all drivers to buckle up every time they get into a vehicle – as a driver or passenger – on a long road trip or a short outing to the supermarket.

Thomas Origitano, MD, is a neurosurgeon and medical director of the Neuroscience & Spine Institute. His team is focused on helping patients with traumatic brain injuries, concussions and other severe spinal injuries.

“Simply put, your chances of walking away from a car accident are significantly higher if you wear a seat belt,” explained Dr. Origitano. “But it’s not just about surviving. Many don’t consider a life with a traumatic brain injury. It could result in the inability to finish school, a very limited capacity to earn a paycheck, or having caretakers for a lifetime to help you with daily tasks such as showering and going to the bathroom.”

From 2013 to 2015, Kalispell Regional Healthcare treated 1,083 traumatically injured patients. Of those, 393 were involved in motor vehicle accidents. Patients were studied for a number of demographics including age, gender, use of seat belts, alcohol level, death, length of stay and injury severity score (ISS).

Initial review looked at the use of seat belts combined with the presence of alcohol and arrived at these findings:

  • Nearly 25 percent of these patients tested positive for alcohol intoxication with an average level of 2.5 times the legal limit.
  • Intoxicated patients who did not wear seat belts had an average ISS of 13.0 and spent about five days in the hospital.
  • Intoxicated patients who wore seat belts had an average ISS of 8.5 and spent about a day and a half in the hospital.
  • Patients not wearing seat belts (regardless of alcohol level) had a 42 percent higher ISS and spent 3.4 times additional time in the hospital than those patients not wearing seat belts.

When patients were analyzed without regard for alcohol use, there were 186 who wore seat belts and 211 who did not.

  • In the seat belt group the average ISS was 8.3, average length of stay was 2.1 days, average age was 45 years and total number of deaths was six.
  • In the group who did not utilize seat belts, the average ISS was 11.7, average length of stay was 4.5 days, average age was 35.5 years and total number of deaths was 11.
  • Wearing a seat belt reduced severity of injury by 34 percent, length of stay by 73 percent and death rate by 59 percent.

The summary of this data points to the fact that whether intoxicated or not, wearing a seat belt significantly decreases injury, death and length of stay in the hospital. Other adverse impacts include lost wages from time spent receiving care and the costly expenditure of multiday hospital stays to a family or individual.

Most people would logically consider a vaccine or taking medication if it helped prevent a deadly disease by 59 percent. Wearing a seat belt offers the same odds. Simply put, it’s time that buckling up is added to the mix of preventive actions as a simple, no-cost and very effective measure to help save lives, avoid unnecessary injuries and keep health care costs under control.

For more information about traumatic brain injuries, contact the Neuroscience & Spine Institute at (406) 752-5170 or krh.org.