An autopsy performed on actress Natasha Richardson confirmed what millions feared: Richardson died of a brain hemorrhage caused by her fall on the slopes of Montreal. The official cause of death is an epidural hematoma.
Though her fall on the slope was a minor one, Richardson suffered from what is called “talk and die” syndrome, a period after her fall in which she was lucid and showed no signs of injury. Though Richardson was talking, joking and acting normally, the autopsy suggested that the fall tore an artery in her skull, which caused bleeding in an area between the skull bone and the lining covering the brain. As the bleeding continued and the clot grew large enough to press on the brain, Richardson began complaining of an excruciating headache.
Emedicine states that an epidural hematoma is usually caused by a “focused blow to the head” and though the hemorrhage can be fatal, if treated immediately via surgery, patients can survive the incident. Mortality rates range from 5-43%.
If someone has received a blow to the head, it is important that they receive medical attention immediately. The “lucid interval” is deceiving and those suffering from an epidural hematoma may or may not lose consciousness. Individuals may complain of a severe headache, dizziness and may be subject to vomiting or seizures. Another sign of a possible epidural hematoma is the increased size of one pupil or abrupt weakness in an arm or leg. Later signs may include an inability to stay awake, drowsiness, confusion or shortness of breath.
An epidural hematoma can be successfully treated if the individual is given medical attention as soon as possible, though a great deal of that success depends on the size of the clot and where in the brain it is located.
Sadly, with Natasha Richardson, her death could have been avoided if small incidents hadn’t occurred. When Richardson fell on the beginner’s ski slope on Monday, she was not wearing a helmet, did not appear to have hit her head and did not lose consciousness. Though she joked about the fall, she was immediately accompanied back to her hotel room by her instructor and the ski patrol.
Further, Richardson was encouraged to see a doctor, but she refused. An hour later when Richardson was beset with a painful headache, she was taken to a small hospital via ambulance. Unfortunately, the hospital only had a CT scanner and not an MRI scanner, nor does the hospital treat trauma cases. Therefore, Richardson was sent to a larger hospital 50 miles away later in the day. She was later flown from the Montreal hospital to Lenox Hill Hospital in New York on Tuesday, where she died the next day.
It is truly unfortunate that if things had gone just a little differently, Richardson might still be with us today.
Anahad O’Connor and Denise Grady, Richardson Died of ‘Blunt Impact,’ Medical Examiner Says, The New York Times
Daniel D. Price and Sharon R. Wilson, Epidural Hematoma, Emedicine
Epidural Hematoma, University of Missouri Health Care