Understanding Head Injuries

Brain injuries are the No. 1 cause of death and disability among kids and young adults, yet its a danger unknown to most

It was one of those days when everything was right with the world. Craig Sicilia was driving north of Spokane with his daughter and niece, chatting playfully in the backseat of his Dodge minivan when he saw a Lincoln Continental speeding toward him. The driver was slumped over the wheel. Sicilia responded immediately by steering his van out of the Lincoln’s way and into a nearby field. In an instant the life he knew and took for granted was gone. He doesn’t remember much of the accident, but he can tell you in detail about the next two years and his inability to find appropriate support and resources to help him adjust to life with a traumatic brain injury.

Craig smiles now when he tells you about feeling like he entered the Twilight Zone, about his inability to process information and control his emotions. But he wasn’t smiling back then. He lost his home, his career and his wife. While he’s the first one to acknowledge he’s not the man he was before the accident, those he now supports through his work as a vocal advocate for individuals with brain injury and their families appreciate the power and passion of the man he is today.

Ironically, Craig was a longtime advocate and employee of People First, a group devoted to help those with disabilities. After his accident, he discovered that there were few to zero services available for people with brain injuries — and there were lots of others like him, struggling with the same challenges he was. That’s why traumatic brain injury, or TBI, is often referred to as the silent epidemic.

Annually, more than 50,000 Americans each year die from a TBI. Another 1.4 million are treated in emergency rooms, and countless others sustain concussions or other forms of mild brain injury and are not treated at all. In Washington, 5,500 people are hospitalized and another 1,300 die each year because of a TBI. Hospitalizations from TBIs in Washington are approximately 10 percent of all injury-related hospitalizations.

After his injury, Craig began reaching out and created his own support network in Eastern Washington. Now, four years after his accident, he has teamed up with leading advocates in Western Washington to develop the Brain Injury Support Group Network. With BISGN, Craig is working to build and support a statewide network of TBI support groups, to train support-group facilitators, to raise awareness of brain injury and to lobby legislators for state aide and support.

Craig also teaches a class for youth with disabilities to learn about advocating for themselves called Self-Advocacy In Motion. SAM is offered at the Spokane Falls Community College Institute for Extended Learning, Spokane Libraries, St. Luke’s Rehabilitation and several Spokane schools. And he is the creator and administrator for the largest online TBI peer-support and social networking site at http://www.tbisurvivorsnetworking.com.

To learn more, go to biawaspokane.org or call the Traumatic Brain Injury Hotline at 877-824-1766.

Did You Know?

In 2009, Washington state enacted the nation’s toughest youth athlete return-to-play law. It requires medical clearance before children suspected of sustaining a concussion can return to play.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is considered the signature injury of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2009, the Pentagon estimated that up to 360,000 veterans of the wars may have suffered brain injuries; 45,000 to 90,000 of them have persistent symptoms that warrant specialized care.

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