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The occurrence of a traumatic brain injury in a traffic accident is devastating; life changes for that person in an instant, often due to circumstances beyond the victim's control. Whether an animal ran out onto the road or another vehicle suddenly collided with the victim without warning, there's usually little that can be done to stop the accident from happening.

But when the brain injury is caused as a result of a hospital or nursing home staff's negligence, it's even harder to accept the victim's fate. Medical errors or lapses in care are inexcusable when the patient expects to be in good hands. The state of California appears to agree, having recently fined the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center $100,000 -- the maximum fine allowable under state law -- for an error that led to the severe brain injury of a patient.

The patient was a vibrant man in his early 80s who was taken to the hospital after a fall at his home. Once admitted to the transitional care neurosurgery unit, he was hooked up to a heart monitor. But somehow the man fell out of his bed and landed facedown on the floor. Nine minutes passed before a nurse discovered him, even though a technician who kept track of the man's monitor signals paged for help as soon as he fell and became disconnected from the monitor. Getting no response, the technician made a second announcement on the overhead page system, right around the time the nurse found him.

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A new study by a leading neurological care center reveals new insights for brain disease. This study may give some hope to California residents who have experienced a brain injury or suffer from brain disease related to impacts to the head.

The study revealed that five former NFL players have signs of a brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is related to concussions. This study, though small, is the first that might help doctors detect the illness while the patient is still alive.

Previous CTE studies had been done only in autopsies, in which brain cells would be stained and contained in cross sections of the brain to be viewed under a microscope. Signs of CTE would include a buildup of protein clusters.

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When a person is seriously injured in an accident, life changes dramatically not just for the victim, but for his or her entire family. For victims whose families depend on their income, an accident can lead to worries about how they will survive if they are unable to work. When the victim is a child, parents may have to quit their jobs to take on the specialized care that seriously injured accident victims need.

These problems can be magnified for traumatic brain injury sufferers. Brain injuries can range from mild to severe, and it's sometimes hard to accurately place the injury on that spectrum. Memory problems, for example, may not be immediately apparent. It's also nearly impossible to tell how quickly a TBI patient will recover, and to what extent. These great unknowns can quickly add to existing financial worries over affording the medical care itself.

A Gilroy, California, teen and his family know the struggles associated with brain injuries all too well. The boy, who turned 17 this week, suffered a TBI when he fell off his skateboard last summer. Half a year later, the family is still learning to cope. Now in a wheelchair, the teen is trying his hardest to overcome severe memory loss and regain the ability to walk. Meanwhile, his parents have become completely focused on caring for him and helping him to recover.

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While most car accidents have the potential to cause serious injuries, those involving pedestrians carry a much higher risk. With no protection against the force of a motor vehicle, people who come into contact with one usually suffer debilitating injuries. A recent pedestrian accident in San Francisco's Anza Vista neighborhood was no exception.

A woman was crossing the street one Friday evening a couple of weeks ago when a car drove through the intersection and hit her. But rather than stopping to check on the woman, the driver left the scene immediately. The woman, 50 years old, lay there until she was discovered and someone called for help. She was rushed to a San Francisco hospital with serious brain injuries that were said to be life-threatening.

Police don't appear to have found the person who caused the Dec. 28 accident, which must be frustrating for the victim and her family. An update hasn't been provided on the woman's condition, but severe brain injuries tend not to heal quickly. On the contrary, they can take months and even years to fully recover from. In many cases, brain injury victims never fully recover and often deal with radical life changes as a result. These can include regular therapy, a job change or even the inability to work at all. Many brain injury victims need medical care and assistance with basic daily tasks for the rest of their lives.

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A young California man who was once a promising 4.0 student continues to seek success in life despite a traumatic brain injury he suffered in a car accident more than eight years ago. Although he maintains a positive outlook on life, his injury has forced him to change many of the plans he'd made before the crash.

The accident happened in July 2004, the summer before his senior year of high school. The 17-year-old student was traveling home on a highway from his internship at a law firm when an oncoming car trying to pass a semitrailer obstructed his lane. After swerving to avoid a head-on collision, he wound up on the shoulder of the other side of the road. That's when a pickup truck swerved and crashed into his car.

Ambulance medics had to resuscitate his heart on the way to a Fontana hospital, where he remained unconscious with a traumatic brain injury. He says that by the time he finally became aware of his surroundings, it was October. He still gets frustrated thinking about how difficult his first months of recovery were.

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John J. Garvey, III
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