Death of referee illustrates dangers of head injuries


The recent death of a man in Salt Lake City, Utah provides an important reminder that closed head injuries can have serious, even fatal, consequences.


Ricardo Portillo was a referee in a recreational soccer league. During a game, a 17-year-old player, apparently upset about a call, began arguing with Portillo and punched him once in the face. Initially, it did not appear that Portillo had suffered any serious injury. Indeed, he did not seem to have suffered any visible injury at all. After time passed, however, he became dizzy and even began vomiting blood. He was admitted to the hospital, where doctors believed his condition to be fair. He soon slipped into a coma, however, and died. Doctors discovered that swelling in Portillo's brain, caused by the 17-year-old's punch, was responsible for his death.


Any blow to the head can be dangerous


Any blow to the head - no matter whether it seems insignificant at the time - has the potential to cause a traumatic brain injury. When blunt force is applied to a person's head, the brain can strike the inside of the skull, which can cause severe swelling. When there is too much swelling in the brain, it can cut off blood flow, which prevents the brain stem from receiving enough oxygen. This can cause a patient to lose consciousness, slip into a coma, and even die. A blow to the head can also cause bleeding in the brain, which can lead to additional problems.


In some circumstances, injuries that do not result in any visible damage can prove to be the most dangerous. As in Portillo's case, a lack of visible injury may cause a person to delay a trip to the hospital or even lead doctors to overlook otherwise serious symptoms. No matter the cause, any delay in treatment can exacerbate the problems caused by intracranial swelling and can lessen a person's chances for recovery. Depending on the severity of the swelling, a person may suffer long term cognitive problems or permanently lose some functionality.


In some respects, Portillo's injury was unique. It is important to remember, however, that people across the U.S. suffer from potentially deadly head injuries each day under more mundane circumstances. For example, the most common causes of traumatic brain injuries in the U.S. are car accidents and falls. Recognizing that even simple injuries can be serious can, in fact, save lives.