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HBO’s “The Crash Reel” – A real depiction of the devastating effects of brain injury

August 22, 2013 by Steven M. Gursten

The HBO documentary The Crash Reel has been called the “definitive film on brain injury” in Forbes magazine. As an auto accident lawyer who helps many people who suffer from the devastating results of  traumatic brain injury (TBI) from car accidents, I couldn’t agree more.

The Crash Reel performs a great service by helping to make TBI and the challenges it presents more understandable.  The biggest challenge I’ve found as a lawyer is that traumatic brain injuries are usually very difficult for even many injury lawyers, let alone juries and the public, to understand. It isn’t like Hollywood movies, where people get whacked, lose consciousness and then are are just fine the next day.

The sad reality is that TBI can be a devastating and debilitating injury. But TBI is also often called the “invisible injury,” as people with TBI may appear and speak “normally” and many of the most devastating aspects of the injury are not readily apparent.

Unlike say, a broken leg, which is obvious and  usually heals if treated appropriately, brain injuries are  complicated. Many brain injuries are not immediately apparent: They can evolve in the days and weeks that follow as a result of chemical, hormonal and organic changes that take place in the brain.

TBI symptoms are cognitive, and can involve basic communication skills and comprehension.  But serious TBI also has an emotional subcomponent that often creeps up on accident victims, and that includes depression and fatigue as the challenges become more apparent.

Many brain injuries do not get better. There’s a “miserable minority” of TBI accident victims that do not have good results, and seem genetically resistant to good treatment outcomes.

The Crash Reel captures the breadth of this insidious injury by telling the story of up and coming U.S. champion snowboarder Kevin Pearce. An escalating rivalry between Kevin and his nemesis Shaun White in the run-up to the 2010 Olympics leaves Shaun on top of the Olympic podium and Kevin in a coma following a training accident, and then with a life-changing traumatic brain injury as he relearns how to walk and talk.

The film combines 20 years of action footage and interviews as it follows Kevin. We hear from his doctors, who explain the permanent damage he’s done to his memory and vision, and the potentially fatal risk of another blow to his head. We hear from Pearce’s family as caregivers and protectors, and his cognitively impaired little brother who is terrified to lose him.

Snowboard or car accident, traumatic brain injury can be equally devastating.  The good news is that many people with TBI do heal and go on to have fulfilling lives, but as Kevin Pearce demonstrates, there are also a substantial amount of people who do not.

Fortunately for him, he did not suffer the additional insult and injury of being called a faker or malinger or exaggerator, as so many insurance doctors who examine these people for one time IME examinations so often attack TBI victims.  Hopefully another film will one day cover the way meritorious and legitimate car accident cases are routinely defended by the insurance industry.

The Crash Reel puts a face on TBI, and really shows the difficulty that so many TBI victims must endure every day as they rebuild their shattered lives. It remains a heartbreaking, inspirational and important film.

I would call the Crash Reel a  a must see for doctors, lawyers who help people with traumatic brain injury, TBI survivors, and anyone who wants to better understand this complicated injury through the courageous eyes of Kevin Pearce and his family.

Related information:

The cost of TBI on society: $76.3 billion per year in lost productivity

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