The heartbreaking death of 21-year-old Justin Spisak is a sad and frightening reminder of the insidious nature of head injuries — and another powerful example of why it’s imperative to treat every blow to the head as potentially dangerous.
As reported in Tuesday’s Tribune, blunt force trauma to the head — sustained in a rollover accident on Nov. 27 — caused Spisak’s death.
According to the Sheriff’s Department, drugs also played a role, though details of the interaction of the drugs and the injury won’t be known until another report is out in about a week.
In the meantime, we can’t help but think this young man from San Luis Obispo would have had a better chance of recovery had he been thoroughly examined following the accident. Instead, he declined medical aid, went to bed and failed to wake up the following morning.
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The tragic case calls to mind the highly publicized death last March of actress Natasha Richardson, who suffered head injuries in a fall on a ski slope. She, too, had initially declined medical treatment, believing she was OK.
Richardson’s death prompted three local neurosurgeons — Dr. Philip Kissel, Dr. Harold Segal and Dr. Donald Ramberg — to write a Viewpoint for The Tribune. They offered advice that’s well worth repeating:
“As trauma specialists, we recommend you always seek help after a head injury. If your child goes over his bike’s handlebars or crashes off a skateboard, even with a helmet on, it’s worth checking out.
“So is your elderly mother’s tripping on the rug and knocking her head against a wall.
“Maybe the weekend warrior dives for a softball catch and smacks his head in the process. Don’t ignore these events.
“Brain injuries may not manifest themselves immediately, but the swelling and bleeding that goes undetected can lead to permanent damage and death. Medical intervention can save your loved one’s life.”
Following any type of head injury, it’s far better to be safe than sorry. That isn’t paranoia — it’s common sense.
If you sustain a head injury — even if it seems slight — don’t take a “wait and see” attitude. It may be a hassle, but it’s far better to err on the side of caution and visit an emergency room.
And please, share this advice with your loved ones — particularly if you’re a parent of a teen or young adult. Do it as soon as possible, preferably today.
Make it clear that it’s a hard-and-fast rule that they be checked out immediately following any kind of head trauma. This is one family rule that should be firmly enforced — absolutely no exceptions.