While the fall season has become a time for fashionable scarves and pumpkin-spiced lattes, when I was a kid, I always hated it. The waiting was unbearable. A watched sky rarely seems to snow.
When it did, it was on.
Sledding season, nothing was better. Sprinting to the top of the large hill outside of our elementary school, sleds and friends in tow. The preparation, the getting situated, teetering over the edge and then finally, hurtling down over the powder.
There were also, of course, the collisions. In some ways, running into each other was half the point. It wasn’t malicious. It was fun. We’d try to be careful, but really it was a lot like “Lord of the Flies” on sleds with mittens.
“I think a lot of parents have gotten wise to making sure their kids are wearing a helmet while biking, rollerblading, skiing or snowboarding, but there’s something about sledding that seems so innocent,” says Peter Kim, MD, a neurosurgeon at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare. “If we’re talking about the type of sledding you do in your backyard, that’s one thing. But on large, icy hills, or on any hill with trees, the risks are quite similar to those of downhill skiing.”
A Field Trip Gone Awry
Dayvin Lee, now 11, was excited to go on a sledding field trip with his school last January.
“They were going to Como Park,” his mother, Lauri Putman, recalls. “There were going to be a lot of kids there, and I remember suggesting that Dayvin wear a helmet. He told me kids who wear helmets get teased. Helmets weren't mandatory, so I didn't press him on it.”
Coincidentally, just weeks earlier Lauri had heard a warning on the radio that was focused on the importance of wearing a helmet while sledding.
During the field trip, Dayvin and another child accidentally collided and knocked heads. The other child ended up with a goose egg. Dayvin wasn’t as lucky. He suffered a depressed skull fracture and a concussion.
The Call No Parent Wants to Get
Dayvin was taken to Regions Hospital, and from there he was transferred to Gillette. Lauri and her husband rushed to the hospital.
“Dayvin hadn’t been hospitalized before, so it was very overwhelming,” Lauri says. “We met with Dr. Kim, and he told us they would need to operate that day. He was very kind and assured us that he could fix this, but he had to inform us of the potential risks.”
The right side of Dayvin’s forehead was indented, and the depression was putting pressure on his brain. During the surgery, Kim and his team elevated the depression and the surgery was a success.
“We were so relieved and grateful to Dr. Kim and Gillette,” Lauri says. “Obviously at the time there was so much going on, but looking back on it, we couldn’t have been taken to a better place.”
Recovery is a Process
Every brain injury is different, but what seems to be consistent is that the recovery from them can be a laborious and frustrating process.
A CT scan of Dayvin's skull before (right) and after (left) surgery.
“We were in the hospital for three days after the surgery, and Dayvin was put on brain rest for two weeks,” Lauri says. “But it didn’t stop there, Dayvin couldn’t run or do anything too strenuous for six months, and he’s basically ruled out from any contact sports in the near future.”
Dayvin was frustrated by some of the limitations, but overall, Lauri says he’s getting back to the life he had before.
“If anything, Dayvin would like families and children to know the risks of sledding without a helmet and his goal is to raise awareness so no other family will have to go through this,” Lauri says. “We consider ourselves lucky, but things could have gone much worse. Perspective is not a thing that most children have, that’s what parents are for. There’s really no reason for a child not to wear a helmet while sledding. Why take the risk?”
For Kim, he’s confident that the message will begin to get through.
“It’s not our goal to scold people,” Kim says. “People take time to change. As medical providers, we know that it seems like there is always one more thing to worry about. But the more common helmet use while sledding becomes, I think we’ll find that it grows to be a new habit rather than a hassle.”