The death of Australian test batsman, the 25-year-old Philip Hughes, has sent shockwaves through the cricketing fraternity and beyond, evoking an unprecedented wave of grief from around the world. The question on every one’s mind is: Could his death have been averted? The answer is yes.
The dynamics of a head injury are complex and dependent on the force of an impact. A blow to the head generates shockwaves which travel through the brain, leaving behind a trail of damaged neural tissue and blood vessels. In serious injuries this is often fatal with rotational forces causing further complications, medically described as shearing effects. Though small, a fast moving cricket ball is a deadly object capable of causing a high energy impact.
The images of Hughes’ injury suggest that he took the blow straight on his brain-stem, which lies roughly behind the ear. The brainstem controls vital functions of the body like heart rate, breathing and other autonomic functions of the body.
I have treated several cases ranging from scalp injuries and depressed skull fractures to extra- and sub-dural hematomas, and brain contusions caused by hits from a cricket ball. It is clear that in the case of Hughes the force of the impact was tremendous and directly on the brainstem causing instant loss of consciousness and eventually, death.
Only properly designed gear that offered complete protection to the batsman’s face, head and vital areas around it including the ear and the neck could have prevented his death. Such a helmet would have absorbed some of the impact reducing the damage considerably.
Safety has to be a serious concern in sport and well-designed helmets must be made mandatory even if it is at the cost of comfort or is a hindrance to performance. Compromising on safety can be disastrous resulting in the loss of precious lives and talent. Safety gadgets need to be designed, tested and worn properly. Otherwise they are merely of ornamental value.