Actress Natasha Richardson lost her life today, as a result of a fall she took while skiing. We’re about the same age. She and her husband also have two children. Based on the little that I’ve read, she probably suffered an epidural hemorrhage that didn’t reveal itself immediately. After her fall, she was apparently conscious, and even joking.
Background articles on Traumatic Brain Injury (T.B.I.) abound in the news today.
It’s not unusual for traumatic brain injuries not to reveal themselves immediately. Bleeding can be very subtle, decreasing the blood flow to the brain suddenly, while not being apparent on a CAT scan.
I don’t know the circumstances of her fall, but do know a little about the dangers associated with an epidural hemorrhage/hematoma. It’s similar to what happened to me after my bike accident last July. I was apparently conscious for a short while after the accident.
My doctors apparently did not detect my bleeding until several hours after the accident – during the third CAT scan. As a result of the surgical procedure to eliminate the brain bleed, a piece of my skull was removed to permit my brain to swell, and then heal. This procedure is considered essential to avoid "brain death" or severe damage. In other words, if they’d not detected the bleeding in my brain, I probably would have died.
Following the surgery, I was in an induced coma for nearly a week. This allowed my brain to heal some more, as it was able to survive with a lower blood flow due to my very low level of activity. Although my life was not so much in danger during that time, it was unclear whether the same ‘me’ would wake up or not. Friends tell me that by the fifth day, they detected some optimism from one of the doctors monitoring my level of response to spoken requests, which made them feel much better.
I am so lucky that I was close enough to the trauma center to get such quality attention. I am truly sorry that Ms. Richardson was not so lucky. I assume that the decision to transport her from Montreal to New York was made to ensure that she received the best trauma care possible.
It seems she was very respected as an actress. However, I’ll be thinking about the two boys and husband that she left behind.
Update from 19 March 2009
I read an article about her cause of death in the New York Times today. According to her autopsy, Ms. Richardson indeed died of an epidural hematoma. Apparently she fell, and tore open an artery that caused bleeding between her skull and dura (the lining covering the brain). According to a neurologist interviewed for the story, usually this is due to damage to the middle meningeal artery, and surgery is required quickly (usually within the hour).