Every 15 seconds, someone in the United States suffers a significant brain injury; about 2 million American adults and children sustain a traumatic brain injury, or TBI, each year. The injuries are inflicted on battlefields as well as football fields. The victims come from all walks of life.
Former New York Giants Hall of Famer Harry Carson appeared in 173 games as a professional, along with nine playoff games and more than 50 preseason games. He played inside linebacker and led his team in tackles five times. In his remarkable football career, including high school and college, Carson experienced thousands of collisions. He estimates he suffered more than a dozen concussions, and he now he admits he suffers from forgetfulness and "bouts with depression."
As a freshman soccer player in Alexandria, Virginia, Sarah Rainy suffered a collision in a varsity match in April 2010. She left the game long enough for a sip of water before returning. It was not until after the game that she realized something was wrong. Five weeks later she courageously told a Congressional committee about her concussion. "I sometimes now have to use a calculator to do simple arithmetic -- it takes me three times as long to do anything," said Rainey, who was 14 at the time. "Even when my head is not pounding, I always feel like I am wearing a compression headband."
Afghanistan War veteran Nick Colgin, 27-years-old, recently told NY1 News about an incoming shell that hit the side of his Humvee. He went on, "It kind of dazed me, knocked me out, broke my nose. But the worst part was I didn't know how it affected me, affected my brain." He told NY1 he can no longer read or write.
According to the Mental Health Association of New York City (MHA-NYC), more than 218,000 cases of TBI have been diagnosed among Afghan and Iraq war veterans over the past decade. Nearly 4 million American athletes get mild brain injuries, or concussions. For children, a concussion can radically alter lives by increasing behavioral issues and memory loss. Two-thirds of people with brain injuries report having poor emotional health and depression, which greatly increases the chance of suicide.
At an annual fundraising gala Tuesday night in New York City, the MHA-NYC will launch the Traumatic Brain Injury and Emotional Wellness Alliance, an advocacy group that will raise awareness of the mental health impact of TBI. Three "collaborative councils," made up of leaders from sports, science and veteran's affairs that, "Will advise the Alliance, and drive recognition, science-based information, sound policy and advocacy at the convergence of mental health and TBI issues from the schoolyard and stadium, to the battlefield," the MHA-NYC website reports. (I am a MHA-NYC board member.)
ABC News Correspondent Bob Woodruff, himself a victim of a severe brain injury while covering the second war in Iraq, will host the MHA-NYC event along with his wife Lee, a CBS News Correspondent. They will be joined by honorees Harry Carson, Sarah Rainy and Sylvia Mackey, widow of NFL and Colt great John Mackey. She co-founded the NFL's "88 Plan", which provides for the care of retired pro players who suffer from TBI. Of course, the Woodruff's have worked tirelessly on behalf of returning veterans through the Bob Woodruff Foundation for Traumatic Brain Injury Survivors.
It is clear there is much to learn about the problems TBI causes, and increasing awareness among all Americans is an important step. "The Alliance will have a lasting legacy on many thousands of recreational and professional athletes, veterans, and their families by advocating on their behalf to raise awareness of the behavioral health impact of concussions and more sever traumatic brain injuries," said Giselle Stolper, President and CEO of the MHA-NYC.