Thankfully, he was wearing a helmet…

Shortly after getting home from work yesterday, I got a scary call from a neighbour one street over from my house. “Is this Rylan’s Mom?” she asked, as my blood chilled. “Rylan has crashed his bike coming down the hill, and I think you had better come get him. And he might not look how you are expecting, but don’t worry, he seems OK.” I grabbed my First Aid kit and jumped in the car.

One minute later, I was kneeling next to my boy, who was sobbing and bloody on the sidewalk around corner. His face and shoulders were raw and bloody, his t-shirt ripped, his bike a tangled mess on the ground. I saw a giant chip out of his front (adult) tooth. My neighbor explained how, as Rylan accelerated down the hill, his right foot somehow got caught in the spokes of the front wheel, catapulting my son over the handlebars, directly down onto his head on the cement road. He apologized that he had to cut several spokes on the wheel to free Rylan’s foot. I thanked them profusely as I tended to my son.

Then I took a close look at the helmet he had been wearing. My first thought was that I couldn’t believe it wasn’t in worse shape, considering the impact it had sustained, although it did have a scuffed front edge.

Then I looked INSIDE the helmet. The thick layer of foam had actually compressed at the point of impact, where his helmet had smashed against the road, while he was going at least 20 km/hour. This foam had absorbed the force of the impact and had spread it around the structure of the helmet, sparing my son’s skull and his brain inside. Had he not been wearing the helmet….well, I can’t even imagine. It must have been quite an impact to crush foam like that.

Considering I work at Child Safety Link, the injury prevention program at the IWK Health Centre, I try not to get too preachy. But, did you know that in places, the human skull is only as thick as two pennies? It does not take much force to cause a skull fracture, or worse. Rylan was very lucky and I am so thankful he was in the habit of wearing a helmet.

I’ve seen several stories like this through my work, and I know that kids without helmets do not always get up and walk away. So, I have always done what I can to make sure my boys are as safe as possible as they tear around our neighbourhood on various wheeled contraptions. I always make a point of ensuring they wear helmets — in fact, it is a family rule and we all wear them. I also insist that these helmets be fitted properly, with the 2V1 rule. What’s the point of wearing one if the chin buckle is undone, or if it is so loose that it’s riding up above the hairline? The 2V1 rule stands for: 2 fingers above the eyebrows, the straps should form a V under the ears, and 1 finger only should fit between the chin and the buckle. A well-fitting helmet, is an effective one.

There have been many times over the years that my boys have been annoyed with Mom and her helmet rules. There was the time I delayed a group bike ride by several minutes to fix the straps on a little friend’s helmet, and the time I made my boys wear helmets while biking around a campground, when no other child there was wearing one.

Later last night after we were back from our trip to the emergency dentist, Rylan asked me he could still wear his cool purple helmet. I told him that we would be getting a replacement, that the helmet had done its job. He said “Well, I guess a broken helmet is better than a broken head.” Then he told me how glad he was that I got him into the habit of wearing one. It was his “a-ha” moment and I know he now fully believes in the importance of wearing a helmet.

Child Safety Link is not trying to prevent every bump, bruise and chipped tooth during childhood. But hopefully by spreading real-life stories like this one, we can help prevent major injuries that could forever change a child’s life. Do you have a near-miss story like this that you would like to share with us? Please email us at childsafetylink@iwk.nshealth.ca …we would love to hear from you re. your personal brushes with children’s injury prevention. It sometimes takes a village to keep our children safe, and we can do better when we know better.

For more information on helmet safety and the 2V1 rule, visit Child Safety Link’s website at www.childsafetylink.ca and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.