A New Treatment Helps First Responders Save TBI Victims

Did you know that falls and vehicle crashes are responsible for most traumatic brain injuries?

A new procedure developed at the University of Arizona helps victims of severe TBI survive in the “golden hour” that follows the onset of an injury.

Understanding the problem

There are two forms of traumatic brain injury: open and closed. In the open form, a foreign object penetrates the skull and lodges in the brain. The closed form, which is the most common by far, results from a blow to the head, such as when the impact of a vehicle crash causes a driver to strike his head on the steering wheel or windshield. He might be fortunate enough to come away with a concussion, but often the result is a severe traumatic brain injury. When emergency personnel respond, they have what University of Arizona professor Dr. David Spaite calls a “golden hour,” referring to the period of time in which a victim has the most favorable chance of survival. Once that time elapses, brain cells begin to die, a circumstance that medical personnel cannot reverse.

Fixing the problem

Dr. Spaite and his fellow university researchers teamed up with 130 fire departments and EMS agencies throughout Arizona to test an initiative that was deceptively simple but extremely effective in treating TBI victims. First responders are accustomed to hyperventilating patients, but research shows that this procedure deprives the brain of oxygen and blood. The new procedure uses breathing bags equipped with lights that flash and give first responders the signal to place high-flow oxygen on patients. Spaite believes that the new procedure will soon change emergency care for TBI worldwide. The trial period of the EPIC Project involved 21,852 patients. After implementation of the new procedure, the rate of survival to hospital discharge statewide doubled. Among the TBI patients who needed airway/ventilation assistance, survival rates tripled.

Looking ahead

Car crash victims who suffer TBI may require lifelong care and financial compensation sufficient to cover their current and future medical expenses. The success of the EPIC procedure offers an encouraging glimpse into the new age of traumatic brain injury treatment.

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