Guest post from Mark A. Spatola, MD, FAANS
Chair-elect ThinkFirst Board of Directors
Orange Park Neurosurgery
Orange Park, FL
Each year, millions of people in the U.S. sustain a brain injury, and thousands more sustain a spinal cord injury. In fact, injury is the leading cause of death among people between the ages of 1 and 44. Traumatic injuries are an epidemic.
August is AANS Neurosurgery Awareness Month, and it allows us to highlight the many ways neurosurgeons have had a positive and meaningful impact on society. While neurosurgeons are primarily associated with the treatment of traumatic injuries, many neurosurgeons go beyond that and focus on prevention as the better way to serve our patients. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) remains a leading cause of morbidity in the U.S. — especially for younger people — and the long-term effects are even greater, despite decades of effort to exert change and improve outcomes.
To add prevention to the armamentarium of the practicing neurosurgeon, in 1986 the AANS and CNS founded the ThinkFirst Foundation as a nonprofit organization. ThinkFirst’s mission is to prevent brain, spinal cord, and other traumatic injury through education, research, and advocacy.
Focused on America’s most cherished resource for the future — our youth — ThinkFirst is about to turn 30! Over the years, ThinkFirst has grown and currently there are 150 chapters in the U.S., and 36 chapters in 16 countries. Each chapter has a sponsoring physician, injury prevention coordinator and Voice for Injury Prevention (VIP) speaker. VIP’s are the heart of ThinkFirst programs, as they share their personal story of how one decision led to a brain or spinal cord injury and changed the course of their life. Collectively, chapters in the U.S. give an average of 6,000 presentations a year.
Programs have been developed for all ages to teach the importance of the brain and spinal cord, utilizing classroom presentations to help students learn the importance of making safe choices to prevent injuries. Topics covered range through:
- Vehicle safety;
- Bicycle and roller sports safety;
- Pedestrian safety;
- Playground safety;
- Water safety;
- Violence prevention, including shaken baby syndrome; and
- Fall prevention.
Along with education, ThinkFirst chapters advocate for safety-related legislation. Success has resulted in:
- Strengthening laws for seat belts;
- Enhanced child passenger safety; and
- Limits on texting while driving.
Over the years, ThinkFirst initiatives have been effective. Several published studies demonstrate increased awareness about brain and spinal cord injuries. The programs have influenced positive changes in behavior and attitudes regarding injury prevention through the use of seat belts and helmets, driving safe and sober, reducing driver distraction and other safety habits. Fast Facts handouts promote awareness of the consequences of high-risk behavior and reinforce safety and prevention messages.
Unlike most epidemics, traumatic injuries are preventable. The message is simple: Use your mind to protect your body! Drive safely, buckle up, wear protective sports gear, avoid violence, don’t dive into shallow water and avoid falls. Think first!
To learn more, visit here.