Natasha Richardson

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tonight, I am extremely saddened to learn of the death of actress Natasha Richardson.

Natasha Richardson dies after ski fall

I honestly am not all that familiar with her. When I heard the news of her head injury earlier this week, I knew who she was, but I have only ever really seen her in a couple of things (The Parent Trap, Nell). I'm also a huge fan of Top Chef, and she served as a guest judge on one of the episodes earlier this year.

From what has been said, it sounds like she was a wonderful person. Someone who, despite her background (famous family), her celebrity, and a "Hollywood marriage," somehow managed to stay grounded. Her focus was on family, and it seems as though she had a healthy and happy marriage. I am even more heartbroken to learn that her sons are just 12 and 13 years old. What a devastating blow to her entire family; she was only 45!

I think there are three things that strike me most about this story:

1) It's a reminder of how easy you can lose someone you love. She was on a bunny slope, for crissakes. It really can happen at any place, any time, and in any way.

2) It's amazing how actually uncommon this type of thing is. When I heard rumors on Tuesday that she was likely brain dead, I thought to myself--Wow, freak accident. As it turns out, it's not so "freak" at all. In fact, had I been less lucky, this could have been me about 5-6 years ago.

3) This was so preventable.

I have been skiing since I was about 9 or 10 years old. I'm not the best skier out there, but over the years, I've gotten to the point where I can ski down pretty much any slope... sometimes it's just a matter of how fast and how well I can get down it. :) Anyway, in January 2003, I went to Vail, Colorado for the first time. My mom and her coworkers were in Denver for a conference, and when it was over, they all stayed on for a few extra days to drive up to Vail. I flew out to meet them all there.

If I remember correctly, we only skied for two or three days. On our last day, in the afternoon, we skied over the other side of the mountain to run the back bowl. The back bowl is generally less groomed than the front side of Vail, so trails aren't as easily marked. It's pretty much an open mountain covered in snow, and you can cut and ski down at any point.

I was following my mom and we cut down a part of the mountain that had very few tracks. I was loving it, but after a few days of skiing, and having skied all morning, my legs weren't as "fresh" as they had been. On one of my turns, one of my skis got caught in the deep snow, and since I had been going pretty fast, my ski stopped and the rest of me kept going. I ended up in an all-out yard sale situation, and when I landed, my head snapped back and I pounded the back of my head on the slope.

I'm not going to lie. It hurt like a bitch.

Not only did my head hurt, but my ego was bruised a bit as well! Some of my mom's coworkers, who had been skiing behind me, stopped to help me gather my equipment and get back up on my feet. My head hurt, but I felt OK. Everyone asked if I was OK to keep going, and I said I was.

We skied for another couple of hours, and by the end of the day, I started to feel pretty out of it. My head just felt strange. The only thing I really remember specifically was when we were getting into the car. I was standing at the back of the SUV with the trunk door open, and I was holding my skis waiting for my mom's coworker to load them on the roof rack. He turned to me and said, "You don't look so good. Why don't you give me your skis and just get in?" I, very seriously, said, "No, thanks. I'd prefer a seat, thank you."

In my messed up state of "out of it," I THOUGHT HE WAS TELLING ME TO RIDE IN THE TRUNK. Um, hello!

In the end, I am about 98% sure I had a concussion, and I definitely had whiplash (I couldn't move my neck for 2-3 days after that). What I know now is how completely STUPID it was for me to not go to the hospital. But thankfully, I was lucky.

What I'm saying is... I can understand why Richardson didn't go to the hospital. You fall and hit your head, and you think, OK, that hurt. And wow, how embarrassing. But it never crossed my mind that my fall could have killed me, and I was on an advanced trail and was skiing with quite a bit of speed. I'm sure that in a lesson and not skiing with much speed, Richardson never gave it a thought, either.

What really bugs me is that she wasn't wearing a helmet. I'm not blaming her, because there are a lot of people who don't wear ski helmets. And even those who would wear helmets wouldn't necessarily think to wear them on the bunny hills. But after my crash landing on that slope in Vail, I made sure to ask for a ski helmet the following Christmas. Now, I wear it every single time I ski.

The thing is, I think everyone should be required to wear them. In smart most states, it is against the law to ride motorcycles, or even bicycles, without a helmet. Can't a law be put into place for ski resorts as well? It seems to me it would be pretty easy to enforce. They don't let you into the lift line without a ski pass, why don't they just expand that and not let you in without a helmet? Skiing is a dangerous sport, and you can hurt yourself in many different ways. I'm just shocked that more people don't protect the most vulnerable part of their bodies--their HEADS.

Interestingly enough, my mom and I were just talking about this on Tuesday morning (prior to hearing about Richardson's accident). This past weekend, one of my mom's ski buddies crashed on a slope that he's been down a thousand times, at a ski resort they all go to every single weekend during ski season. His bindings released, but he kept flying, and he slammed right into a tree. Broke his ribs, ruptured his spleen, bruised his lung. He had to be airlifted to the hospital.

When she told me this, the first thing I asked her: Was he wearing a helmet?

The answer was no. In this case, a helmet wouldn't have helped him avoid the internal injuries he suffered. But what if he had flipped around slightly differently? What if he had landed a foot to the left, or a foot to the right? His HEAD would have hit that tree.

My mom says that some of their friends (including my mom's boyfriend) won't wear helmets because they think it makes them look stupid. These are people in their 50s, still concerned over what they look like while skiing. My response to that has always been--Better to look stupid than to be dead.

Natasha Richardson's death is a terrible tragedy, and I am absolutely crushed for her family and friends. And the truth of the matter is, you can't walk around your whole life wearing a helmet. This could have happened anywhere. You can roll out of bed, you can fall in the shower, you can slip on some ice. Accidents happen, and unfortunately, death can result. But I really, really hope that something good can come out of this.

Yesterday, on the Today Show, the doctor was talking about Richardson's injury (before she had passed away), and Matt Lauer asked whether a helmet would have prevented this. The answer? Absolutely.

All of this (if you've gotten this far) to say: If you can prevent it, you should. To all my fellow skiers/snowboarders out there... Please. WEAR HELMETS.


Jen March 19, 2009 at 10:34 AM  

I completely agree with what you're saying. I had a similar scary incident in January.

My husband and I tried snowboarding for the first time ever (we've never skied either). Our beginners lesson included a rental, but no helmet. I didn't even think about it. I had a hard core wipe out and hit my head very hard. It was the same as you mentioned, I felt fine but a little out of it, but I ended up just sitting out the rest of the class. I definitely had whiplash because I couldn't move my neck for about 4 days.

When I read about the accident (before she died), I talked to my husband about how scary that is. I don't understand why the mountains don't offer helmets to beginners. If they had said "your lesson includes all your equipment but a helmet and you can rent one for $X" I completely would have gotten a helmet, but they didn't mention it, and I had no idea they were even normal since I'd never been on a mountain before.

Since then, my husband has been snowboarding a lot and he wears a helmet every time. He agreed that it wasn't good that we didn't have them in the class. I think my fall scared the crap out of him because he was behind me and he heard my head hit the ground. We both agreed that if the snow hadn't been so soft, I probably would have gotten seriously hurt.

Very scary to look back and think that it could have killed me...

Becky D. March 19, 2009 at 11:26 AM  

I have had some pretty nasty falls too and have never thought about going to the hospital. Just a few months ago DH was learning how to snowboard and he fell a ton! This story just makes me super nervous about falling the next time I ski.

Anonymous,  March 19, 2009 at 12:10 PM  

I totally agree with you on this one. My boys have always had to wear helmets for trikes, bikes, skateboards and scooters. It is the (my) law. I would replace the helmets after a hard head bumb as well, because I couldn't tell if the helmet sustained damage. Last summer my youngest hit is head on the cement and even though he seemed okay, we took him to the ER. Neg CT scan. I still woke him up every hour at night just in case even though they didn't think it was necessary.

Not only should you wear helmets, they should be replaced if involved in an accident!

West Coast Friend

Anonymous,  March 19, 2009 at 12:34 PM  

Helmets only help at low speeds. At higher speeds helmets don't prevent head trauma. Don't take everything you see on TV at face value, especially when the doctor they interviewed wasn't privy to the patient's records, etc...

Heather March 19, 2009 at 12:49 PM  

Obviously, most people know not to believe everything they see/hear on TV. Contrary to what some may believe, I am not an idiot.

Helmets may not prevent ALL trauma when traveling at high speeds, but it's certainly better to have one than to not have one, yes? That is just common sense. Someone speeding down the highway at 70 mph on a motorcycle, of COURSE may still die from head injury if they were to crash, even with a helmet. But without a helmet? Head, meet pavement.

And if we're just talking about skiing, I have actually read studies in the past that concluded helmets, especially at high speeds, do not necessarily protect you. BUT THEY CAN. And if we're talking specifically about Richardson, of course we don't (and might not ever) know the whole story, but I think it's safe to assume she wasn't going very fast. The doctor on the Today Show was probably correct in her conclusion that a helmet could have helped her. But so could early treatment, which was unfortunately refused. I think if anything, this story will educate people about the potential seriousness of even the most minor head bumps. No one should be running off to the ER every time they hit their head, but maybe now people will be more aware of the signs of serious head injury.

Anyway, the whole point of my post was that wearing a helmet certainly doesn't hurt. If you can take such a simple precaution to help potentially save yourself, why wouldn't you?

It's like the people who argue that in certain cases, seatbelts harm you rather than help you. So... what, we shouldn't wear them?

MarriedBliss March 19, 2009 at 1:44 PM  

I see both sides of the story. I think a helmet may have helped, but at the same time we will never know. I have read multiple stories that have said a helmet probably would not have made a difference in her case. I have read that a helmet is only designed to protect up to 14 miles per hour...that's not really that fast. I would imagine even going down a bunny slope that it would be easy to get to a speed above 14 miles per hour. I don't know about ski helmets, but often times motorcyclists will get a concussion and a fracture in their neck from their helmet if they were involved in a crash. The helmet prevents further damage, but it still injures them. My husband and his best friend both suffered concussions and C7 fractures in their necks. So maybe she still would have had head trauma if she was wearing a helmet.

Regardless of the stats, helmets can save lives. We will never know if a helmet would have saved her life. I think it is heartless of the media to assume otherwise. Her family is grieving and they don't really need to hear the media criticize her for not wearing a helmet. Let them grieve. Don't use her as an example because no one can say "Yes a helmet definitely would have saved her" or "No a helmet wouldn't have made a difference". There may have been an underlying issue in her brain and it only took a small bump to set it off. We will never know. May she rest in peace.

Here is where I read about helmets are good, but that they aren't necessarily reducing fatalities.,2933,509691,00.html

Amanda,  March 19, 2009 at 1:52 PM  

This is such a tragic story. Thank you Heather for sharing your experience with us. This is going to open my eyes for the next time I go snowboarding, that's for sure.

On a side note, there's a posting on the Baking Gals website about the next round. Not sure if you were aware of it or not. They said they're having trouble contacting people to let them know about it. I'm excited for it!

Lesley Rae March 19, 2009 at 2:00 PM  

I agree! I went skiing for the first time with Steve two seasons ago and I had never been on skis in my life. No helmets either. After reading all of this in the news, I really can't believe that helmets weren't even brought up when we went. No one mentioned anything to me. I took one nasty fall, but my body took the force, not my head. I was lucky too.

And YES, DEFINITELY replace helmets after they have experienced impact. Even dropping the helmet on the ground means you need a new one. (We learned this when Steve got his motorcycle)

Heather March 19, 2009 at 2:05 PM  

I have honestly not been paying much attention to the media coverage of her death. I read the initial story on CNN and that is it. What else is there to say? But I agree that this is really not the time to be placing blame, or even lecturing, "She should have been wearing a helmet."

In the grand scheme of things, yes, my view is that people should wear helmets. But what good does it do to judge someone who has died?

What I'm saying is that people need to be more aware of the risks and how helmets can potentially help. Most skiers/snowboarders still do not wear helmets, so it's not as if Richardson was behaving wrecklessly, throwing caution to the wind.

I think the reason the media might focus so much on the helmet thing is because this story is just SO sad, SO sudden, SO tragic, and to think it possibly COULD have been prevented is horrible. The speculation about it is inevitable. Look back a couple of weeks ago, when those NFL players went missing at sea. People started talking about what "idiots" they were to take such a small boat that far out into the ocean.

Honestly, when experiencing such tragedy, I think all anyone could ever hope to get out of it is that maybe other people can learn from it. I can't speak personally, but I think there might be some comfort in knowing that perhaps the loss of my loved one's life could help someone else save theirs.

Unfortunately, no matter what the media does/doesn't say, Richardson's family will always live with the "what if" scenarios. Don't you think they themselves are asking why? Why not a helmet? Why didn't she go to the hospital? It's not just this death and this situation, that's really with almost any loss of a loved one. And it's a horrible thing to go through. Although it's annoying and they should be left to grieve in peace, I would assume what the media is saying is likely the least of their worries at this point. I just hope the media aren't camping outside of the family's homes.

You do make an important point, however. Until there is an autopsy (if there is one), no one knows with 100% certainty whether she had some kind of pre-existing condition. As you say, unless they release more information, we will never know.

Helmets are something I have always felt passionate about. About 3-4 years ago, I wrote an editorial for my local newspaper in response to someone else's editorial about how bike helmets shouldn't be mandatory.

I honestly just don't understand the argument. It seems like a no-brainer to me.

Vanessa March 19, 2009 at 7:55 PM  

Completely agree. What a beautiful, smart, lovely woman - an example of how to be down to earth and balance ambition with family. She is very mourned here in the U.K. Tragic.

kressley March 20, 2009 at 1:19 AM  

Thank you so much for stressing the need to wear a helmet. I've been skiing since I pretty much could walk and started wearing a helmet when I was about 14. I still can't believe how many people let their children and themselves go out on the trails without them. Even the most experienced skiers can have one accident. One of my friends who is on the ski patrol came across a man who had crashed into a utility box and completely scalped himself. Had he been wearing a helmet, he probably would've bumped his head and been fine.

I also would like to stress to new skiers, who hopefully after this have seen the importance of wearing a helmet, that it is okay to take it slow and stick to the trails that you can handle. It endangers all skiers if you are on a trail that you cannot manage. Skiing can be dangerous and people need to remember to respect the mountain.

Alana,  March 22, 2009 at 8:25 PM  

From what I read, they [the doctors] said that wearing a helmet wouldn't have made a difference because it was a direct hit.

I still don't understand why you wouldn't have one in the first place, though.

coffee maker March 31, 2009 at 1:56 AM  

Natasha Richardson really was a charming actress; she will be missed

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