The “Natasha Richardson” effect

March 31, 2009

The recent death of actress Natasha Richardson, after what initially seemed just a minor bump on the head, was tragically sad.

However, researchers are seeing evidence now that her untimely passing at the age of 45 has provided a valuable public health lesson.

For example, CNN reported a story about a 7-year-old girl in Ohio who was hit in the head while playing baseball with her father. Two days later, she complained of a headache. Her parents, who had just learned what caused Natasha Richardson’s death, immediately called their pediatrician and took their daughter to the hospital. Doctors now say the girl would have died in her sleep that night if her parents had not sought treatment when they did.

Researchers working for NC DETECT have found a similar reaction in hospital emergency departments across North Carolina. Several members of UNC’s Department of Emergency Medicine help run NC DETECT along with the NC Division of Public Health. NC DETECT tracks visits to 111 of the 112 emergency departments statewide in the hope of catching potentially deadly outbreaks of disease in their earliest stages, when there’s still time to stop them.

The day after Natasha Richardson’s death, there was a statistically significant increase in the number of people seeking treatment for head inuries, and that continued to be the case for five of the six days immediately thereafter. There were 96 such visits on March 18, the day Natasha Richardson died. That jumped to 144 visits the next day. Three days later, the visits peaked close to 160 and then dropped back to 144 on the fourth day.

“We think many of these were the ‘worried well’ who otherwise wouldn’t have sought treatment,” said UNC’s Dr. Matt Scholer. “There was a similar increase in chest pain visits noticed after Bill Clinton’s heart attack.”

But if even one of these visits saved a life, as was the case in Ohio, then surely the “Natasha Richardson effect” has been a good thing.
Source: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine

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