Gary Horton | Give the Gift of Kid Safety — and Life

Gary Horton

Consider this a pre-Christmas public service announcement, intended to save you, your family, and your friends from a world of easily avoidable grief. 

I was at a park this past Sunday, riding bikes and playing catch with my Spiderman-gifted, catch-anything-barehanded grandson. It was a fine, sunny day and families were out with their kids, riding bikes, scooters and electrified “Back to the Future”-like locomotion machines. People were gliding back and forth with the before-mentioned electrified locomotion contraptions, which we’ve all seen with increasing frequency and at increasing speeds. 

Sometimes, moving very fast. 

I saw little kids; 3, 4, 5 years old, on scooters and skates, zipping by at remarkably high speeds. Older kids on bikes, roaring full-speed ahead, with smiles as wide as their speed was fast… 

And too often, these kids were having the time of their life without helmets on heads, even as their parents looked on adoringly. Kids speeding by without protective headgear, as concrete, curbs, rocks, walls and tons of other kids, all collaborated as prospective collisions. 

Yeah, I’ve heard the “back in the ’50s when we were real kids and we did this and that crazy thing and we never wore helmets and, we’re all here and we’re OK. That stuff made us tough.” But that’s easy to say when you’re the one who made it through stupid stuff, but the buddy you’ve forgotten who died young from a brain injury isn’t here anymore to jar your hazy memory. 

Or perhaps your old friends remain brain-impaired, put away in some facility in a wheelchair, waiting out the remaining minutes, hours and days of their impaired lives… long forgotten years ago by their joyful friends of their pre-injury youth… 

This may sound like a dark message for the bright holiday season… but it’s not. It’s a hopeful message about saving our kids… 

You see, I know what it’s like to have a child all but die in my very arms from one terrible hit to the head by a high-speed motorcycle, throwing her headlong onto a dusty old street. My son and I were there to pick up her comatose body, head bleeding from… everywhere… as we racked our own brains for the best courses of action to save her from what was then a very close collision with death. 

Katie had brain surgery that night. She would remain in a coma for three days. Unable to speak for a week, and then, only in single-syllable, monotone words. It would take a full month to get her sufficiently healthy to fly home. And another two years, all in, before she could really be counted as fully recovered. Thank God and science and doctors and helping family and friends, she recovered fully and then some – and today she’s living her best and most satisfying life, professionally and personally. 

But she’s also permanently epileptic from the head injury. Thank science again for modern drugs, which keep seizures away – without negative side effects, for which we’re tremendously grateful. Without modern drugs she would be tortured all her remaining days. 

Katie dodged a bullet, again with help of medical science. 

But Katie’s injury wasn’t foreordained for a good outcome. At the night of her accident, her surgeons told us her outcome could just as easily be death as any other outcome, and her recovery could range anywhere from severe mental degradation to a full reboot. Katie won that gambit for many reasons, much of it her own will and tenacity – mixed with good fortune. But for so many others, life is permanently shattered or lost when delicate craniums run into immovable objects like sidewalks, streets, walls, cars… and motorcycles. 

The odd thing about brain trauma (TBI) is that any given impact or collision might result in not much more than a headache, but also maybe to a damaging concussion, or to a deadly brain bleed. It depends on the person, the circumstances, and the angle and speed of the hit.  

This much is certain: Unprotected heads hitting concrete or asphalt or motor vehicles is extremely risky, very dangerous, and never good. No good comes from helmetless kids’ heads hitting hard objects. Life is hard enough without losing IQ points or worse – from parents failing to equip their kids with protective gear in sports and on bikes and scooters and whatever else is currently being invented in the kid-locomotion labs.  

And the same goes for adults, only more so, as our brains are far less plastic and more prone to traumatic brain injury. 

This, therefore, is my heartfelt, personally experienced, yuletide public service announcement ahead of all the wheeled toys and goodies under Christmas trees. Giving a bike or a scooter? Give a quality helmet, too. Got a roller skater or skateboarder? Give a helmet and wrist guards. The bone breaks we get now that heal so fast as kids come back to haunt as arthritic pain come that kid’s 50s, 60s and 70s. Protect our kids and improve their lives. 

Kid safety isn’t “girlie” or chicken or dumb looking. Kid safety is the smartest gift we might give our kids. Or our grandkids. Or friend’s kids. Or any kid. And, if you’re an adult who rides anything on one, two, or three wheels, this message is as much or more for you. 

Brains are delicate instruments. The downside of a traumatic brain injury is tragic beyond your belief. Please believe me if you’ve never been there. 

This holiday, keep your kids and loved ones safe while they enjoy all the fantasy and fun on the run that childhood offers.  

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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