By Kristina Houck
Just seven months ago, Carmel Valley teenager Alex Hargis was in a coma. Now, he’s recovered and talking about the importance of helmet safety to help prevent others from also sustaining traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
“Why should you wear your helmet? Because you don’t want to die or be a vegetable for the rest of your life,” said Alex at a May 14 presentation to his seventh- and eighth-grade peers at Carmel Valley Middle School. He has made a similar presentation at Solana Pacific Elementary School.
“If my accident and this presentation saves one person’s life, or keeps them from going through what I had to go through and what my family had to go through, then this is all worth it.”
An eighth grader at Carmel Valley Middle School, Alex, then 13, was skateboarding without a helmet in front of his house on Sept. 19 when he fell and hit the back right side of his head, the same spot where we was injured as an infant and had multiple surgeries. He was knocked unconscious and suffered a seizure, which caused him to repeatedly hit his head on the street.
A CT scan showed Alex suffered a fractured skull and brain damage. Doctors placed him in a medically-induced coma to minimize swelling. For weeks, he remained in a coma in the intensive care unit at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego.
Then Alex woke up.
On Oct. 14, with his great aunt by his bedside, he opened his eyes. He said, “I love you.”
Alex had to learn how to talk and walk again. He still has no memory of the accident.
“Every day I pushed myself hard so I could be normal and not live in the hospital for months or even years,” Alex explained in a video he created for his presentation. Following the video, he answered questions from his classmates.
After spending 61 days in the hospital and totaling $2 million in medical bills, Alex finally got to go home. He has since returned to school, but he can’t play team sports for a year.
Although Alex recovered from his fall, he made it clear that not everybody survives traumatic brain injury accidents.
“I was lucky,” said Alex, who is now 14 years old and will soon attend Torrey Pines High School.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1.7 million people in the U.S. sustain a TBI annually. Of these, 275,000 are hospitalized and 52,000 die.
Children up to 4 years old, adolescents ages 15 to 19 years old, and adults ages 65 years and older are most likely to sustain a TBI, according to the CDC. Falls are the leading cause of TBI, and result in the greatest number of TBI-related emergency department visits and hospitalizations.
To prevent traumatic brain injuries, Alex encouraged his peers to wear their helmets when skateboarding, as well as when using bikes, scooters, roller skates, rollerblades and snowboards. He reminded his fellow students that in California, anyone under the age of 18 must wear a helmet when riding a bicycle, skateboard, scooter or skates.
“A split second decision can change or even end your life forever,” Alex said. “Wear your helmet.”