It's a dangerous world out there, but if you use - and protect - your brain, you can have a lot of fun without the danger.

Kids of all ages got the message loud and clear on Sunday at the Safe Kids Missoula fair hosted by Community Medical Center.

Poking at a life-sized replica of a human brain made of Jell-O, which has the same consistency of a real brain, 7-year-old Nya Meeder said: "I didn't know how soft brains are. I see why it is important to wear your helmets.

"I am going to tell my friends to wear their helmets, too," she said. "If you break your brain you could kill yourself."

Such revelations took place by the hundreds to the great satisfaction of event organizers.

"This is all about teaching our kids and their parents about keeping kids safe," said Mary Windecker, director of strategic planning at CMC.

Consider these facts: Each year in the U.S., 1 million people sustain a traumatic brain injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 52,000 die. In Montana,

50 percent of traumatic injuries happen on weekend nights and involve alcohol and/or drugs.

Robertson knows the data inside and out, but she relies on good cheer, not scare tactics, to relay the information, which she shares in special presentations at the hospital and in local schools.

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On Sunday, Robertson had all kinds of fun examples that kids could understand.

The Jell-O brain was a big hit, particularly with the grade schoolers, and so was the murky pool of water filled with unseen hazards that were only apparent if someone - a kid - stuck a hand in the tub and went exploring.

Sarah Voss's eyes lit up when she realized what the message was.

"If you go diving into the river, even if you cannonball, you better make sure the water is at least 10 feet deep and check what's under the water," said the 11-year-old. "Otherwise," she said, touching a sharp rock her eye couldn't detect, "you could really hurt your spine, and get really hurt."

While it makes common sense to be careful, people aren't using common sense, and they don't fully understand what a bad decision can do, Robertson said.

Nationwide, distracted driving due to texting, talking or dialing causes 4,000 to 8,000 daily traffic crashes and 16 percent of traffic fatalities.

"There are so many traumatic brain injuries in this country that it is in epidemic proportions," she said. "If traumatic brain injuries alone, we aren't even talking spinal injuries, were a disease,

it would be a public outcry."

The fair included dozens of community organizations and experts who helped parents and their children learn about a wide range of public safety issues, every thing from preventing ear infections to the importance of wearing seat belts.

"This is all about keeping our community healthy and safe," said Windecker. "Our kids and families are so active in Missoula, and we want them to keep being active - and safe."

Being safe, Robertson said, is being smart.

"We have helmets for our heads, but there's no gadget for our spinal cords," she said. "The best gadget is to use your brain."

Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at bcohen@missoulian.com.

 

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