Bicycle helmets: Learning from Jordan
     August 26, 2009 — David Wong - Guardian Aug 26th

That day in early September 2008 started just like any other day. He went for a bike ride. Somehow he fell, not unlike any other falls that he had before. But this time, when he got up, he was dizzy and couldn't remember his name or where he lived. A motorist passing by saw that he was disoriented, picked him up, and took him home.

When he got home, he had a severe headache, vomited, and became drowsy. His parents knew something was seriously wrong and took him to Western Hospital, where his long medical journey began. A visiting doctor recognized that he had a skull fracture and likely hemorrhage in his brain. He was taken to Prince County Hospital where a CT scan confirmed the diagnosis. He was then transferred to Moncton, where a neurosurgeon operated on him immediately to remove the blood clot that was putting pressure on his brain and almost killed him. Unfortunately, Jordan never regained consciousness since then. He was transferred back to Prince County Hospital after a few weeks and he is still in a coma 11 months later.

If police had enforced the bicycle helmet law, and if Jordan had worn his bicycle helmet properly, the helmet most likely would have protected his skull and prevented such a serious injury from a simple fall off the bicycle. As his parents and grandparents have said repeatedly: their ordeal could have been prevented if Jordan had worn the helmet.

Jordan's situation is not unique. Every year, many children and adults across Canada suffer similar injuries when they fall from their bicycles and hit their heads. There is a big difference in the severity of head injury: the bicycle helmet is designed to absorb most of the force of impact and protect the skull and the brain.

Although P.E.I. has a bicycle helmet law, none of the police around the province were enforcing it. As a result, many children and adults are still riding their bicycles without their helmets.

Thanks to the Island Network for Injury Prevention (INIP) and the Brain Injury Coalition of P.E.I., the P.E.I. Operation Headway officially began last month with a number of partners across the province. Police departments from Charlottetown, Summerside, Kensington and Borden-Carleton are involved. For the first time the bicycle helmet law is being enforced: those without a bicycle helmet will receive a ticket, and those who wear their helmets properly will be given rewards. The ultimate goal of Operation Headway is to educate cyclists about the importance of bicycle helmets in preventing serious head and brain injury. Those ticketed can choose to attend an educational session in September instead of paying the fine or going to court.

This is only the beginning. It is important to notice that RCMP, which patrols the rest of the province, is not one of the partners in Operation Headway. We cannot speculate the reason why it has decided not to participate at this time. However, until all the police forces across the province are enforcing this law, there are cyclists who will take the chance and not wear their helmets, putting themselves at risk of serious head injuries. Every person like Jordan costs the whole health-care system millions of dollars, not to mention about the loss of his potential contribution to the society (he could have been our future prime minister) and the suffering that his family has to endure.

We hope that the Operation Headway will become an annual event, similar to the seatbelt campaigns that remind Islanders about the importance of seatbelt use. We can never prevent all bicycle injuries, but if we can prevent even one child and one family from a tragedy similar to Jordan's, the operation will indeed be a success.

Dr. David Wong is chief of pediatrics at the Prince County Hospital in Summerside

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