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Groups hand out hundreds of helmets

| Sunday, Oct. 20, 2002, 12:00 p.m.

Eight-year-old Nicholas Morgart wears a helmet whenever he goes for a ride.

"They keep me safe," explained Nicholas, of North Huntingdon, Westmoreland County.

He received a free helmet Saturday — his birthday — at the Pittsburgh Zoo. UPMC Rehabilitation Hospital and the Brain Injury Association of Pennsylvania distributed 340 as part of Brain Injury Awareness Month.

"Of all the active sports people engage in, riding a bicycle has the highest number of injuries associated with it," said Dr. Gary Goldberg, director of brain injury rehabilitation at UPMC Rehabilitation Hospital.

Bike accidents kill about 900 people a year, including 200 younger than 15. About 150,000 children are hospitalized every year because of bicycle mishaps.

"We know from scientific research that the risk of serious brain injury from bicycle accidents is reduced by 85 percent if the child is wearing a helmet," Goldberg said.

Nicholas' mother, Pam, 41, said the giveaway was a perfect opportunity for him to replace the one he outgrew.

"He wears a helmet every single time he rides a bike, every single time he rides a scooter, and now that he's rollerblading, he wears a helmet then as well," she said.

Dr. Yesh Navalgund, 31, Downtown, adjusted the strap of a free helmet for his 3-year-old daughter Naina.

"We just got her a three-wheeler," he said.

Navalgund said his wife Brinda is a big supporter of wearing helmets because she is a rehabilitation doctor.

Melva Ledbetter, 42, of Penn Hills, brought her 3-year-old son Lamar to the zoo to get a helmet, too.

She said, "If every parent would encourage their children — rather, make their children — wear a helmet when they ride a bike, scooter, skateboard, we would have fewer incidents of brain injury."

Ed Crinnion, coordinator of the Pittsburgh Area Brain Injury Alliance, knows well the effects of brain injuries. He has had three.

The most recent and most severe was in 1989 when a tractor trailer struck the van he was driving near Harrisburg. The injury left him clinically dead.

"The danger part of any body is the head," he said. "If it is not protected, impact can cause serious damage."

Since his latest accident, Crinnion has been advocating helmet use and discussing brain injuries.

"One of the most serious traumas for children is in sports activities," he said.

Alcohol or assaults used to be the biggest killers of teenagers and young adults, he said. Now it's excessive speed.

Goldberg said bike accidents are most likely to occur within five blocks of home and nearly half happen in driveways or on sidewalks.

Nationally, helmet awareness is increasing. Goldberg said bicycle helmet use has soared from 18 percent in 1991 to about 50 percent now.

"If you are a parent," he said, " and you wear a helmet, you are setting an example for your child."

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