TBI – Survivors, Caregivers, Family, and Friends

Archive for March, 2019

So, Whaddya Think? . . . . . . . . . Do Motorcycle Helmets Protect the Brain?

So, Whaddya Think?

Do Motorcycle Helmets Protect the Brain?


David H. Figurski, Ph.D

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

David H. Figurski, Ph.D. survivor of brain injury

Whether or not motorcycle helmets reduce head injuries is a topic that is highly controversial. Witness the fact that some states have motorcycle helmet laws while others don’t.

Clearly, helmets do not prevent all brain injuries. Former National Football League lineman George Visger (San Francisco 49ers), who’s a survivor of a football-induced brain injury, worries about the false sense of security that helmets can engender.  (Listen to minutes 12:00-14:00 of Donna’s August 16, 2015, interview of him.)

On the positive side, many people believe motorcycle helmets can reduce minor head injuries and thereby mitigate or even prevent some brain injuries. I am staunchly pro-helmet in my viewpoint, but I am also realistic about how protective a helmet actually is. Recently, I encountered someone who is an adamant proponent of the anti-helmet viewpoint. Here’s what happened.

Donna and I recently attended a lecture by Carrie Collins-Fadell, Executive Director of the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona (BIAAZ), on the basics of brain injury and the work of the organization. At one point, I asked Carrie if BIAAZ had an official position on motorcycle helmet laws. (Arizona currently has no such law.) Given the current debate, her unsurprising answer was that it does not.

I’m a firm believer in helmets because one saved my face and possibly prevented a serious brain injury. I loved my bike, and, like most riders feel about their riding ability, I considered myself to be competent, alert, and safety-conscious. But, my bike was totaled in an accident that was not my fault.Vehicules-Moto-476361

As I rounded a bend in the Catskill Mountains of southern New York one Sunday morning, I encountered a massive oil spill that was left on the road by an emergency car repair. My tires lost their grip, my bike and I went down, and my bike ended up underneath on oncoming car. Fortunately, I was thrown from my bike and ended up down the road. (The hysterical driver thought I was still with my bike underneath her car.)

The point of this story is that I was wearing the best full-face helmet I could buy. I hit face-first. I know that because the chin-bar on my helmet was ground down from the road. Because of that helmet, I was able to walk away – although with some road-rash. I hate to think what would have happened to me if I had not been wearing that helmet.

CoolClips_vc040139I told Carrie that I was in favor of helmet laws. But, another member of the audience took issue with me and presented the opposing view. “The only reason I would wear a helmet is if a law required me to.” We had a short discussion about our opposing beliefs. There are valid arguments for both opinions, and I know much more could have been said. But, I was mindful of the time, and I suspected Carrie was eager to get back to her talk. (I know Donna was happy I ended quickly!)

Both of us made valid points. I’d like to address comments that were stated and what could have been said.

The audience-member argued that a helmet adds possibly dangerous weight to a rider’s head. This is a valid point.

Helmets can add up to 5 pounds to the head, and that extra weight can endanger the neck, with consequences for the brain and/or spine. (Professional race-drivers are well aware of this danger. I raced cars at the amateur level, and, again, I considered myself to be safety-conscious, although Donna thought that racing cars at all was a strange way to show it! Nevertheless, I was the first driver in the group to use a HANS device – a carbon-fiber collar that’s held tight by the safety harness. The point is that the weight of the head and helmet is somewhat counteracted by tethering the helmet to the device. There is evidence showing that the reduction in the number and/or force of head impacts by a HANS device is protective.)dk163

The audience-member also argued that a full-face helmet cuts down on peripheral vision.  I completely agree that good peripheral vision is really important for safe riding. I adamantly disagreed with the statement, however, that a full-face helmet interferes with peripheral vision, but I didn’t take the time to give my reasons for believing that way.

It’s true that old full-face helmets have small eye-ports and restrict peripheral vision. But, many modern full-face helmets have wide eye-ports so peripheral vision is not restricted. That was a consideration when I purchased my helmets for motorcycling and car racing.

Another point the audience-member made was that a helmet does nothing to protect the brain in a serious accident and, as was noted above, may make neck injury more likely. I agree that helmets are not protective in a major accident. I know of a rider who was killed while wearing a good helmet.

A helmet will not protect the brain in a catastrophic accident, but a helmet might reduce the severity of a brain injury in a minor accident. A slight impact of the head in a highly-cushioned helmet may lead to no brain injury at all or to a less severe brain injury. But, a slight impact of a helmetless head could lead to a serious brain injury or even be fatal.incident-clipart-accident

The audience-member also mentioned that he’s been riding 40 years without a helmet. I congratulate him for the accomplishment of never having had a serious accident. I too thought I would ride my bike for many years. But, unexpected things happen. One such incident happened to me. It’s why some of us wear safety gear.

The audience-member and I ended by agreeing on a point. We both understand that, during a serious impact, no helmet can protect the jelly-like brain, which exists inside a hard skull.

I understand there is considerable joy in riding totally free and unencumbered. Motorcycles are about freedom, and the principle of individual freedom is paramo61463unt for some people. Those of us who wear safety gear are concerned with the significant risk of riding with the lack of precautions. We still experience the feeling of the impressive freedom that comes from riding a motorcycle – just a bit less.


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Survivors SPEAK OUT! Courtney Clark

Survivors SPEAK OUT! Courtney Clark

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski


Courtney Clark Photo 2

Courtney Clark – survivor of Brain Injury & Motivational Speaker


1. What is your name? (last name optional)

Courtney Clark

2. Where do you live? (city and/or state and/or country) Email (optional)

Austin, Texas, USA

3. On what date did you have your brain injury? At what age?

In the spring of 2011, at age 31, I discovered I had an AVM (arteriovenous malformation).

4. How did your brain injury occur?

An AVM is a congenital birth defect of the blood vessels. I actually had no symptoms and no warning signs, but I had been living with it for 31 years when doctors found it.

5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?

My oncologist actually found my AVM at my 5-year cancer-free scans! Because I didn’t have any symptoms (usually symptoms are headaches and seizures), I had no idea that I had it. I also learned that three aneurysms were within the AVM. Any one could have ruptured at any time.brain-20clip-20art-brain4

6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have?

I flew to New York to be seen by one of the top neurosurgeons I could find. I had three brain surgeries.

7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?

I wasn’t in a coma. I woke up from surgery the first day, but I struggled with consciousness for almost two weeks.

8. Did you do rehab? What kind of rehab (i.e., inpatient or outpatient and occupational and/or physical and/or speech and/or other)? How long were you in rehab?

I didn’t have to do rehab, but I did have to teach myself how to read again over the course of about a month because I really struggled with comprehension.

9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your brain injury
(e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?

visionThe main issues I struggled with right away were visual issues. I had a problem with depth perception, and, because of that, I couldn’t walk for several days – I could only walk a few steps at a time. For the next several months, I also had to work on reading and anything else that required visual comprehension.

10. How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?

My life the first year was painful. I was running a small nonprofit out of my home, and I found that I could barely stay awake long enough to do any work. I felt completely helpless. (I couldn’t even take myself to the bathroom.) Now, I’d say my overall life is better – going through this with a supportive husband by my side has shown me I chose the right partner (the second time around). Also, I have even more perspective on life.

11. What do you miss the most from your pre-brain-injury life?

Yoga! I am NOT a natural athlete like everyone in my family. But, in yoga, I had mastered the headstand. I could do not one but two cool headstands! I felt like a rock-star athlete for the first time in my life! When my neurosurgeon told me that I could no longer do Yoga th-1headstands (it sounds obvious now but caught me completely off guard at the time), it was the first time I really, truly wept. Like, I’ve been through so much, and now I can’t even do this ONE THING that brings me so much joy and makes me feel like a beast!

In a larger sense, I also miss that feeling of immortality that we all have when we’re young – when we think nothing bad could ever happen to us.

12. What do you enjoy most in your post-brain-injury life?

I’m so much more appreciative of my husband, my loved ones, and my life! Because of everything I’ve been through, I now get to research, write, and speak on resilience, and I love traveling the world to get to help other people.

13. What do you like least about your brain injury?

These days, nothing!

14. Has anything helped you to accept your brain injury?

One of the main things that helped me was volunteering and giving back to other people. (It’s a strategy I ALWAYS use to help me when I’m struggling with something.) Research shows that volunteering is one of the best ways to get perspective on our struggles.

15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?

My relationship with my husband, Jamie, has been affected – because I feel 100% certain that I’ve chosen the right life-partner. When I was diagnosed with cancer at 26, my then-husband wasn’t as supportive as I would have liked. The push in the direction to end my marriage was painful, but necessary. Jamie, my second husband, and I hadn’t even been married a year when the AVM was found. I was so worried that having to take care of me – take me to the bathroom, etc. – was going to hurt our new marriage. But, Jamie was, and continues to be, a most-supportive, caring partner.

16. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?

I feel very lucky – I didn’t have any long-term changes to my social life. Short-term, yes; but long term, not really. I will say that, after my surgeries, I have a “life is short” feeling – I don’t put up with a lot of BS or unkindness from friends.

17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?

Image result for Free Cartoon Clip Art love life

My husband was my main caregiver. I don’t know if anyone can totally “get it” until he or she has been through it, but I always say that in some ways it’s almost harder to be the loved one than the patient. It was especially difficult for Jamie to deal with me because I had experienced the world of cancer also! Jamie didn’t always get to be the one to choose the treatment plan, but he had to just go along with whatever I chose. And, I got wheeled away, and I slept through the 10-hour surgery, but my husband was awake, pacing the floor the whole time!

18. What are your plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?

Ten years from now, I want to continue traveling and speaking to groups to help them gain resilience and handle change and challenge.

19. Are you able to provide a helpful hint that may have taken you a long time to learn, but which you wished you had known earlier? If so, please state what it is to potentially help other survivors with your specific kind of brain injury.

My biggest helpful hint is that helping someone else is a tool that EVERYONE can use. So often, we think that, if we’re struggling, we have nothing to give. And, we may feel drained, exhausted, or like “Why do I need to help somebody else? I’m still getting help?” or “How could I even help someone, with my life the way that it is?” But, giving doesn’t have to be directed downward – to someone less fortunate. When I was sick the first time, I kept up with my volunteer activities, and I found that it gave me a sense of personal power and accomplishment, even when I didn’t feel like I was accomplishing much in my everyday life.

20. What advice would you offer to other brain-injury survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?

My best advice is that healing and recovering from a brain injury isn’t a linear process. Before your brain injury, maybe you were like me: go-go-go, getting everything done, climbing the ladder, all about success. You can’t just “bounce back” after something like this. It’s a long, slow trudge, which our society doesn’t glamorize. But, the slow journey is really the only option, and that’s not all bad. It’s an opportunity to reprioritize and savor the smaller things (which I used to ignore).



Courtney Clark – Survivor of Brain Injury – will be Keynote Speaker – BIAAZ Rays of Hope Conference – May 17, 2019, Phoenix, Arizona


Learn more about Courtney Clark on her website, Courtney Clark – Accelerated Resilience.

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