Mum calls for compulsory helmets

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A Tauranga mother whose son nearly died after a minor skateboarding accident wants helmets to be compulsory for skateboarders and scooter riders.

Anna Dixon came perilously close to losing her son Joel to injuries she said could have been prevented had he been wearing a helmet.

Mrs Dixon's comments are in response to a Bay of Plenty Times article which reported a huge increase in children's scooter-related injuries. ACC last year received 373 claims from Western Bay parents for their children's scooter-related injuries. In 2008, there were 29.

The article stirred painful memories for the mother-of-five whose son suffered brain bleeding after being knocked over at Arataki skate park two-and-a-half years ago.

"It was a minor collision, he wasn't going at a great speed, he just bumped into someone who was coming back down the ramp. The thing that made it serious was that his head hit concrete."

At Tauranga Hospital, less than 30 minutes later, Joel was slipping in and out of consciousness. An MRI scan confirmed bleeding on the brain and the prognosis was dire.

"We were told his chances weren't great. He was put into an induced coma and they said if we wanted to say our goodbyes now was the time to do it. That was the hardest thing, asking my other children if they wanted to say their goodbyes. In the end they said collectively, whatever happened, they would rather remember Joel as he was."

The teenager was airlifted to Auckland's Starship Hospital for specialist care. His mum travelled with him.

"Every minute counts with a brain injury so the hour to Starship was an agonising journey. There were a couple of moments on the helicopter where it wasn't going very well."

At Starship, Joel underwent an operation cutting into his skull to release the pressure on his brain.

"He has made pretty much a full recovery but there are still some side effects such as problems with concentration and mood swings. He was one of the lucky ones."

Mrs Dixon praised ACC and Tauranga Boys' College for their respective parts in aiding Joel's recovery. The 17-year-old student is now in his final year at school.

"A helmet would have prevented the cost both personally to us and financially to the country," said Mrs Dixon, who is an arts specialist at OfficeMax. "Joel's injuries could have been prevented. The helmet would have taken the brunt of the impact, not his skull. They see this sort of thing all the time in A&E; departments. Small concussion can cause bleeding and permanent brain damage.

"I was appalled recently to go to a primary school where children were allowed to ride their scooters in a designated area without helmets. Does a child have to be permanently impaired or die in a school before school management or the Government think about the consequences of a fall without a helmet?

"If helmets are not made compulsory for scooters - and I would like this to include all wheeled vehicles - then it won't happen, in most cases children will not choose to wear a helmet. It has to be forced upon them by the law.

"If we can prevent accidents such as my son's and the countless others... then we have made this a better place for everyone."

Mrs Dixon said signage regarding the use of protective headgear at skateparks and a similar enforcement in school playgrounds could be a first step towards improving safety.

Tauranga City Council spokesman Marcel Currin said it was not a legal requirement for the council to put up such notices, it had not done so in the past and had no plans to do so in the future.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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