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Preventing Head Injuries

Brittany's best friend was hit by a car while riding her bike without a helmet. She survived the accident, but still won't bother with safety measures.

"The little girl still isn't wearing a helmet," said Brittany's mom, Joy. "Brittany has talked to her, but she won't listen. She told Brittany wearing a helmet is just not cool."

This is especially frustrating for 12-year-old Brittany. She and her twin brother, Brandon, suffer from hydrocephalus, a condition that causes excess cerebrospinal fluid within the ventricles of the brain.

Spending Time at the Hospital

When Brittany began having vision problems and headaches five years ago, she had a VP shunt surgically implanted into her brain. The shunt is a flexible tube that carries the fluid away from the brain, where it safely goes into the blood. Brandon also has a shunt, and both children receive regular treatment through Barrow Neurological Institute at Phoenix Children's.

"We've been at Phoenix Children's so much, everyone knows us by name," said Joy. "We could never repay those wonderful people."

During the holiday season, the family visited the Critical Care Unit to deliver cookies and toys to staff and patients. Joy believes such visits have taught Brittany valuable lessons of gratitude and empathy. They've also given her a sobering look at children with serious head injuries - and with that comes exasperation with friends who don't protect themselves when they ride their bikes.

Advocate for Bike Safety

"I wonder if they had seen the things I've seen at the Hospital - children hooked up to all these awful machines, maybe they would feel differently," she said. "It's just horrible, and most of the time preventable."

Brittany has become an advocate for bike safety.

"She's learned how important it is to protect your head and what's inside it," Joy said.

Head injuries account for more than 60% of bicycle-related deaths and more than 350,000 injuries each year. Bicycle helmets are proven to be the single most effective device available to reduce such injuries. But according to a study by the Injury Prevention Center at Phoenix Children's, only 15% of children in the Phoenix metro area wear helmets. The study reported peer pressure and concern about looking "cool" are the main reasons children do not wear helmets.

In an effort to raise the "coolness" factor, the SAFE KIDS Coalition of Maricopa County with the Arizona Diamondbacks held a bicycle helmet coloring contest for fourth through sixth graders. More than 1,000 kids participated and Brittany was a finalist.

"I believe there was a reason Brittany was a finalist in that contest," Joy said. "She feels very strongly about the subject. It was meant to be."

Children's Program Celebrity

Since then, Brittany has appeared on ABC's children's program "What's Up" to talk about bicycle safety, and she plans also to speak about the subject in an upcoming school assembly. She wrote an article for her school newspaper about the importance of wearing bicycle helmets.

"Are you embarrassed to wear a helmet because they aren't cool-looking?" she asked in the article. "Do you think you will never have an accident? Accidents happen. How cool will you look when you get your head shaved so the doctor can treat your head injury? It's not a pretty thought, and it's not a joke either.

"Be safe. Wear your helmet every time you ride your bike."

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