The sudden and tragic death of Beverly Hills 90210 star, Luke Perry, has hit my generation hard. However, it lends itself to an educational opportunity about brain injuries.

I grew up with Perry’s character, Dylan McKay, and the rest of the 90210 gang — tuning in every week all the way through college. Was it going to be Dylan and Brenda, or Dylan and Kelly this week?

At the age of 52, Perry suffered a massive stroke that he wasn’t able to recover from, causing a ripple of grief to wash through those who graduated in the 90’s. 

While tragic, his death is a prime example that brain injury can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime. 

March is Brain Injury Awareness month — with over 3.5 million Americans sustaining a traumatic brain injury each year, its important to note that other types of brain injury include: stroke, tumor, brain cancer, aneurism, infections, loss of oxygen, and more. Additionally, shaken baby syndrome and domestic violence can cause traumatic brain injury.

It’s also important to note that a concussion is a traumatic brain injury and should be taken seriously — it’s not “just” a concussion, and you can’t simply “shake it off.” 

Often called the “invisible injury” because many who have suffered a brain injury are able to walk and talk and look mostly “normal,” yet they are struggling with constant cognitive challenges.

Perry’s death sheds light on strokes, and that it truly can happen at any age. I have met stroke patients as young as 8 years old who are rehabbing their way back to a new normal. 

It’s also important to understand that neuroplasticity can allow patients to recover — no matter their age or how long it’s been since their injury. 

Dr. Jeremy Schmoe from Midwest Functional Neurology Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, specializes in working with patients who are recovering from all types of brain injuries. Dr. Schmoe is the doctor who finally helped me in my recovery. He stated, “The brain has the ability to recover lost function and rebuild neural networks after injury. In our work with patients recovering from brain trauma and stoke we have been utilizing virtual reality in our functional rehabilitation. With the use of Virtualis VR we have been using virtual reality mirror therapy, head-eye target tracking and other forms of non-invasive neuro-modulation to activate the central nervous system to help reintegrate movement and function that have been affected by brain injuries. There is hope for improving function with targeted rehabilitation to build plasticity.”

There are signs to watch for, and the acronym to remember is:
Balance (loss of balance)
Eyes (vision) 
Face (one-sided droop)
Arms (weakness or loss of feeling)
Speech (difficulty, slurred, wrong words, mumbo jumbo)
Time (call 911 right away)

If any of the above symptoms come on suddenly, seek medical attention right away. It’s possible to have mini strokes that you recover from quickly, so even if the symptoms subside, you should still seek medical assistance. 

If you have sustained a brain injury and would like to find resources in your area, please contact the Brain Injury Association of America.