Healthy Living in the North

Mikaila’s Story – Gear Up for Winter

Mikaila was only 13 years old when a family ski trip to Nelson, BC took a turn for the worse. She recalled the weather conditions at the mountain being very windy and icy that day. She was also not very familiar with her surroundings as it was her first time at this particular location.

snowboarder on a hill

“…the decisions you make about your safety can prevent serious outcomes.”

The last thing Mikaila remembered was waiting in line for the chairlift with her sister, from that moment on her memory was wiped. She was told by her sister that it was going to be their last run of the day, and then the crash happened. Mikaila had lost control. She was headed off the trail weaving quickly through the trees. She believes she most likely hit a patch of ice and was trying to slow down. She turned to carve but crashed right into a tree. Unfortunately, Mikaila was not wearing a helmet.

After the impact from the crash and taking a blow to the head, she was unresponsive and in a coma. Once help had arrived and she was stabilized, Mikaila was flown by an emergency helicopter to BC’s Children Hospital in Vancouver. The doctors found a significant amount of intracranial bleeding and debated whether surgery would be necessary or if the bleeding would resolve itself. Mikaila remained on a respirator for 2 and ½ days. Her total hospital stay was 6 days; 3 days in the intensive care unit and few on the ward with her family at her side. The doctor believed that a helmet would have deflected the impact of the crash and protected her brain.

Mikaila shared that the first thing she remembered was the breathing tube being pulled from her throat accompanied by a couple flashes of her family nearby. Her recovery continued at home with a long stretch of time spent on bed rest. Although she is an active individual, involved in many sports, Mikaila was unable to get back into all of her activities for some time following the crash. When she was allowed to play soccer again she was advised not to head the ball and had to be very cautious. Mikaila was very fortunate but the impact on herself and family has had lasting effects.

Mikaila received a helmet that following Christmas as a gift and encourages everyone to wear one as well. She stated, “To this day I have never been able to remember the crash or even the recovery in the hospital, so it almost feels like it didn’t happen to me. I still go snowboarding as often as I can and I’m committed to wearing my helmet on every run. If I forget, my mom is sure there to remind me of the dangers and how lucky I am to be here today!”

What is the take-home message to Mikaila’s story? Injuries happen in predictable patterns and the decisions you make about your safety can prevent serious outcomes. Wearing a helmet can make a difference in reducing the risk of a head injury while keeping you active and having fun on the hill with your family and friends, doing what you love. So next time you hit the slopes, take a minute to remember Mikaila’s story and your safety. Gear up for winter!

You can win a new winter sport helmet by entering your favourite place to ‘gear up’ on northern BC – check out our Facebook page (by 2pm, Thursday, Jan. 28) for more details!


Alandra Kirschner

About Alandra Kirschner

Originally from Abbotsford, Alandra moved to northern B.C. in 2012 to pursue schooling to become a Registered Nurse. A 4th year UNBC student (BS, Nursing), Alandra is passionate about her field, especially acute care and mental health/addictions. In her free time, you’ll find her practicing yoga, watching movies, camping, and travelling.


It’s a no brainer!

Skier sliding on a rail.

No-one looks uncool wearing a helmet and doing a rail slide… Gear up!

When I was a teenager I used to think that wearing a helmet was pretty much the dorkiest thing that I could possibly be seen in; was I ever wrong. One day I was snowboarding at Powder King and I was approaching a flat part of the hill. In order to make it to the lift, I had to build up my speed and before I knew it, I had tumbled head over heels about 6 times. My whole body was stiff and I was black and blue all over, but thankfully I was wearing a helmet. This got me thinking, “Why is it so dorky to protect myself?”

As Canadians we don’t let much hold us back. We spend time outside in all 4 seasons and have fun doing it but we need to keep safety in the sport to keep it fun. Did you know that head and spinal cord injuries are increasing? The majority of head injuries are concussions. Traumatic brain injuries account for 50-88 per cent of deaths for both skiers and snowboarders (Parachute Canada). Simply wearing the proper safety equipment, including a helmet, can prevent many of these fatalities. In fact, wearing a helmet can reduce the risk of head injury by 35% while skiing and snowboarding.

Head injuries often go unnoticed since there is often no visible evidence and many people don’t notice obvious symptoms. Indications of head injuries may not be open wounds or bruises; however, a possible head injury can occur when either the head is bumped or jolted directly (blow to the head) or indirectly (blow to the body causing the head to be jolted or whipped) in a way that causes the brain to bounce around in the skull.

The British Columbia Injury Research and Prevention Unit has created the Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT) for coaches, parents and players to learn more about concussion awareness. CATT was developed to raise awareness including causes, signs, and how to care for someone who is suffering from a concussion. If you could prevent injury by taking a simple step-by-step guide about concussion awareness, why wouldn’t you? Be the leader and educate yourself so you can educate others. You could save a life. You can check out the training tool at CATT online.

Next time you’re out enjoying your winter activities, think to yourself, “What’s more important, how I look? Or whether or not I am safe?” Concussions matter, wear a helmet & gear up for winter!

You could win a new ski/winter sport helmet! Enter the Gear Up for Winter contest!

Check out the awesome YouTube video we made!

Learn more:

Kimberlee Hrabinsky

About Kimberlee Hrabinsky

Originally from Prince George, Kimberlee has returned to her hometown via stops in North Battleford, Calgary, Dawson Creek and Quesnel to attend the Nursing program at UNBC. Outside of school and practicum work, Kimberlee enjoys going to the lake, taking pictures, camping, and being outdoors.


Prince George Cougars trainer talks concussions

Canada's game - a risky one.

Canada’s game – a game that sees many headlines for its dangers.

The overarching theme of my youth was sports: I played baseball, hockey, tennis, volleyball, basketball and golf. Those activities were accompanied by a lot of great friends, a competitiveness that helps me succeed to this day, and, unfortunately, injuries. There are a couple injuries that stand out more than others, but the one that always comes to mind when I think about my injuries is the first time I was concussed.

I was playing midget hockey in Port Moody, where I grew up. As I tried to fish the puck out from between my skates, a taller player skated past me, landing a hefty elbow to my jaw. Despite the fact that I was wearing a cage, I dropped. This happened around 1997, when the mentality of head injuries was changing from “you just got your bell rung” to the concussion culture we know today. I vividly recall opening my eyes, seeing green spots and thinking to myself, “Oh, so this is a concussion.” Luckily for me, it wasn’t significant and the recovery time was only a week.

Today, most people have either had a concussion or have seen a highlight of someone who’s suffered one. For instance, Sidney Crosby getting blindsided in the Winter Classic was played over and over again as his highly anticipated return from the resulting concussion drew near. Because sport and concussion is so closely linked, I spoke with Ramandeep “Chico” Dhanjal, Head Trainer with the Prince George Cougars, to discuss concussions and Canada’s game.

Chico, are they any exercises a person can do to limit their chances of suffering a concussion?

There are no exercises that can prevent you from getting a concussion.

What hockey-related suggestions would you give a person to help avoid concussions?

Be aware of your setting and know where you are on the ice – are you close to the boards or in open ice? Also, make sure that you are properly fitted with equipment like helmets and mouth guards.

What tests do you do to determine if a player is concussed?                                       

A player must do a baseline online concussion test every year at the beginning of the season. If a player is hurt during a game or practice we use the new sport concussion testing called the SCAT3. If a player shows any symptoms of having a concussion that are revealed on the test then he is subject to rest until symptom free.

Are you noticing a changing culture in hockey around playing with a concussion?

There is certainly a change. The game has changed so much; players are getting bigger, faster, and stronger. But we are also seeing symptoms sooner and faster. Players are getting smarter now in recognizing that if they are not feeling like their normal self and have symptoms to let someone know sooner than later.

What risks does a player subject themselves to by playing with a concussion?

The major risk of playing with a concussion is having yourself injured for a longer period of time. A concussion can slow down your reaction time, thinking and awareness of your surroundings on the ice, putting yourself at danger and risk of further injuring yourself. Also, your recovery time can be increased by playing with a concussion and you will be out for a longer period of time.

For more information on concussions, please visit Northern Health’s concussion page.

You can also find more hockey-related concussion information at Hockey Canada.

And don’t forget to show us how you’re preventing concussions by entering our Falls Across the Ages page (Editor’s note: the contest is now closed).


Mike Erickson

About Mike Erickson

Mike Erickson is the Communications Specialist, Content Development and Engagement at Northern Health, and has been with the organization since 2013. He grew up in the Lower Mainland and has called Prince George home since 2007. In his spare time, Mike enjoys spending time with friends and family, sports, reading, movies, and generally nerding out. He loves the slower pace of life and lack of traffic in the North.


The long-term toll of concussions

Andrea downhill skiing

Andrea Cochrane competes in downhill skiing – an activity that would result in several concussions and long-term health effects.

After learning about the Falls Across The Ages contest and concussion prevention week, I couldn’t help but think of my friend Laurie Cochrane, a fellow nurse, audiology technician, and retired Northern Health employee after 38 years of service.

Last year, Laurie shared with me her powerful and tragic story of how she lost her beautiful and athletic daughter, Andrea Cochrane. In her teens, Andrea was a downhill ski racer who suffered three concussions in eight months and two more as an adult during her working year as a geophysicist. Although a diagnosis of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) could not be confirmed due to the poor integrity of the brain tissue received for research, Laurie had no doubt that her daughter’s concussions had altered her brain over time and led to symptoms resulting in the very sad and untimely death of her daughter in 2011.

Laurie’s story had a profound impact on me and I’ve learned a lot from her about the importance of taking sports falls and concussions very seriously. Laurie is a remarkable and passionate woman and I thank her for finding the strength to share her story and knowledge with me. Laurie was kind enough to answer some questions regarding concussion awareness.

What message do you have for people dealing with concussion injuries or for parents of children with concussion injuries?

The single most important thing I would like to convey about concussion injuries to parents, the person suffering the concussion, coaches, medical caregivers – everyone – is that concussions MUST be taken seriously. We know so much more now than we did even five years ago and it is vital that we inform ourselves and others about the potential for long-term effects of concussions. It is important to know that the term “concussion” does not mean what it used to mean to us years ago, when it was thought the effects were short-term and returning to the activity soon after was not a problem.  This is simply no longer the case and returning too soon creates the very real probability of another head injury. I wish with all my heart that we knew then (when my daughter suffered her concussions ski racing) what we know now. She may still be alive today.

What does “just a bump on the head” mean to you today?

 The statement “just a bump on the head” has such a different meaning to me now than it did even only a few years ago.  The knowledge that has been gained by dedicated research around the area of concussion tells us that you don’t even have to show signs of concussion to have suffered one! That is really something we need to pay attention to and use it as a huge red flag in our growing awareness around head injuries.

Is there anything else you would like to share with people about concussion prevention awareness?

Like most things, the more you inform yourself, the better you can protect and take care of yourself. If you are an athlete, be smart about concussions. As a parent or a coach, learn about the implications of concussions and the potential seriousness. Concussions affect the brain inside our skull – you can’t see the injury so obviously! Pay attention to head injuries as it could allow you to be active for many years to come, and indeed, even save your life.

To learn more about Andrea, please visit the Sports Legacy Institute.

For more information on concussion awareness and prevention, visit Northern Health’s concussion awareness and prevention page.


Sarah Brown

About Sarah Brown

Sarah Brown was born in Zambia, Africa and has lived and worked in many small rural communities across Canada. Prince George has been home for the past 20 years with her husband, two children, cat and dog. Sarah is a graduate of UNBC and a Public Health Nurse Practice Development Leader. She has many interests in the field of preventive public health. Sarah love’s being outdoors (even in the snow!) and is often out hiking, appreciating the beautiful trees, birds and blue skies of the north. Sarah is passionate about learning, reading, gardening & watercolor painting!