In the span of one to two weeks in
one location, I met a nuclear engineer, a 15 year old high school
sophomore, a 19 year old college student, a heavy equipment operator, a
personal trainer, a prison guard, and a preacher. Yes they were a disparate group, but believe it or not they shared one very tragic important trait with Formula 1 racing legend Michael Schumacher. They all had suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Unlike Schumacher, they were not rich or famous so they did not have a worldwide platform with a built in audience of millions to tell their stories. And unlike Schumacher's family and handlers, they wanted to share their stories to give people hope and raise awareness about the devastation that comes with a TBI. You see, when Schumacher was transferred to a rehabilitation facility today, his manager, Sabine Kehm, stated that his continued recovery would take place in private and that they would sue any reporters who wrote anything more about it. This was because of all the conjecture and speculation that has been reported in all forms of media since his skiing accident last December. Unfortunately, his manager and family have missed two golden opportunities that would have helped not only themselves, but the millions of people around the world that have suffered and survived a TBI.
The first opportunity is simple: manage the story. Because they have held any and all information so tightly since his accident, and plan to do so going forward, they are giving up all control of the narrative. This means that with Schumacher's millions of fans, there was a vacuum to be filled. Nature abhors a vacuum, so the space was filled with conjecture, speculation, and information that was flat out wrong because everyday people do not know squat about TBIs. In fact, they probably have no idea that in the United States, more people die every year as a result of a TBI than they do of Breast Cancer. If the Schumacher family takes control of the narrative, they can provide information as they see fit, along with explanations of what is specifically means for him. This is important because no two brain injuries are alike, and there is no standard prognosis or predicted outcome for them.
I know what I am saying because my now 19-year old daughter was hit by an SUV when she was running on January 13, 2013. From the very beginning, we were like the Schumachers as we did not release any information to the news media until we were ready. And when we released it, we knew what we wanted the narrative to be about. We were also in a period of great uncertainty as my daughter lay in a coma, not knowing if she was going to live or die, or what would happen with her life. We debated how much information to share publicly, but we were also overwhelmed repeating the same story and information over and over again. After a few days, we set up a Facebook page to share the story of her journey of recovery, as well as to help people understand the challenges of a TBI.
This is the second opportunity the Schumacher's have: to help raise awareness of TBIs through Michael's story. When people read the news today, they read that Michael was out of his coma and released from the hospital. People were quick to scream "hurray" because they had no idea what is ahead for him and his family. This is a message that needs to be shared loud and far.
No other person today, perhaps with the exception of former Congresswoman Gabbie Giffords or ABC New Correspondent Bob Woodruff, has the visibility of Schumacher, especially in the world of sport. This is important because the people most susceptible to brain injuries are young and experience these injuries while physically athletic. What better way is there for a global audience to learn the challenges faced by TBI survivors and their families? What better way is there to reach these people to help them avoid a preventable injury?
Granted, the Schumacher family is entitled to their privacy and I am not arguing that here. The media and Michael's "fans" who believe they are entitled to know everything are entitled to nothing. It his the Schumacher's story to share or not. What I am asking the Schumacher family and Sabine Kehm to consider is what a gift it would be, for so many voices who cannot be and are not heard, to share their story and the long journey they are now undertaking. They will be surprised at how valuable that would be for so many, many people.
So what about the people I mentioned at the beginning of this piece? The causes of their accidents were as different as the people themselves. The nuclear engineer and prison guard were injured in automobile accidents. The 15 year old high school student was injured when he was playing with his father's handgun. The 19 year old college student was shot, execution style, in a home invasion robbery. The heavy equipment operator was crushed and had his oxygen flow cut off when the hydraulics on his equipment failed. The personal trainer and the preacher had strokes, with the trainer's stroke possibly caused by a visit to a beauty salon. They were all different people with different stories, but they shared a bond no one ever wants to share: they suffered an injury that forever changed the lives of them and their families, an injury that is more common than you know.
SOME BRAIN INJURY FACTS
•Over the past decade (2001–2010), while rates of TBI-related ED visits increased by 70%, hospitalization rates only increased by 11% and death rates decreased by 7%.
•In 2009, an estimated 248,418 children (age 20 or younger) were treated in U.S. EDs for sports and recreation-related injuries that included a diagnosis of concussion or TBI.