By 2020, the Leading Cause of Death and Disability Will Be. . . - - Bismarck/Minot/Williston/Dickinson-KXNEWS,ND

By 2020, the Leading Cause of Death and Disability Will Be. . . .

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It's a national problem that's particularly bad in North Dakota.  What it is -- and the reason -- might surprise you.

"By 2020, the leading cause of death and disability.  Brain injury," says Mary Simonson, President of the Head Injury Association of North Dakota.  In North Dakota, there are about 13,000 people living with a traumatic brain injury.  For some, the signs are obvious.

"My memory, I forget a lot and my leg and arm's been paralyzed because of it," says Carlos Joseph Garza, Brain Injury Victim, Bismarck.  Carlos was in a motorcycle accident in 1984.  For him, the effects are lasting, but brain injury can be a well-hidden disability.

"It's not new.  It's been around for a long time, but people are just starting to get conscious of it; largely, because of professional athletes," says Richard Ott, Executive Director of Head Injury Association of North Dakota.
Of increasing concern is head injury in the military.  If a solider is within 50 meters of a blast, they can sustain a brain injury similar to a football player.  "If they take the time to recover from it, if they take the time to do the proper things to be able to rest, that, in fact, the evidence shows, the research shows, that they should have a complete recovery," says Dr. (LTC) Alan Fehr, North Dakota Representative, District 36, Dickinson.   

The problem escalates when a second concussion happens before the first is healed.  "So the emphasis is trying to make sure we don't allow anyone to go back to duty until they're fully recovered from the first concussion, because we're concerned that if they get a second or third concussion before they're recovered from the first, they could have lasting, permanent neurological damage," says Dr. Donald Marion, Academic Neurosurgeon at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Washington, D.C.
It isn't just high-risk physical and military activities that cause brain injury.  One in two individuals who suffer brain injuries have substance abuse problems.  "North Dakota stats among abuse and dependency, among alcohol and drugs, are higher than that of the United States -- in fact, they're second.  So there's a huge alcohol and drug problem in North Dakota and there's a huge brain injury population in North Dakota," says Annette Pearson, Outpatient Services Manager, Vinland National Center, Minneapolis.

For all the bad news, head injuries are treatable.  "Almost all traumatic brain injuries are preventable. . . .  Slow down.  If people would just slow down a little bit," says Richard Ott, Executive Director of Head Injury Association of ND.

  Advice from the experts is to do what the military does:  If you have a head injury -- no matter how minor -- rest and get an evaluation.  For more information, go to


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