Aspen trauma surgeon: Ski helmets save lives |

Aspen trauma surgeon: Ski helmets save lives

Dr. Joe Livengood is in his first winter as trauma surgeon at Aspen Valley Hospital but he said he has already seen four or five cases this season where ski helmets prevented a death or more severe accident on the slopes.

“It’s very common to see a helmet completely split open,” Livengood said.

He stressed that the helmets didn’t necessarily prevent injuries. “These people still had head injuries, but less severe,” he said.

In other words, the helmets are doing exactly what they are designed to do.

AVH Trauma Program Manager Melanie Crandall said the vast majority of patients that suffer injuries severe enough to be seen by the trauma team were wearing helmets at the time of their crash. Those that don’t don the lids get a scolding from Crandall.

The trauma team’s goal is to prevent injuries so they have participated in a program for several years to provide free ski and bicycle helmets to people who ask, while supplies last. The Regional Emergency Tactical Advisory Council mountain region for six Colorado counties provides grant money for the purchase of the helmets. AVH and the Aspen ambulance district team to give the helmets to anyone who asks.

“If they’re in the emergency room and they cracked a helmet, we give them one,” Crandall said.

They also give away bicycling helmets during summers.

Helmet use has become the norm among skiers and riders. Nearly three out of four skiers and riders wore helmets during the 2013-14 season, according to an in-depth study by National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), a Lakewood-based trade association. That was a record and up from 70 percent the season before, according to the association.

Helmet use climbed from 25 percent of skiers and riders in 2002-03 to 73 percent last season.

The national association said research is clear that helmets reduce all head injuries and particularly serious head injuries. “Researchers studied 17 seasons of ski helmet usage data from 1995 through 2012, and concluded that as helmet usage increased, potentially serious head injuries dropped from 4.2 percent of all injuries to 3 percent,” according to research cited by NSAA.

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