ABU DHABI and AL AIN // Hospital staff are witnessing an unprecedented number of patients with significant brain injuries as reckless driving and a culture of speeding takes its toll on the health service and the lives of young motorists.
Surgeons said they were seeing up to 20 patients a day with substantial brain trauma in the emirate of Abu Dhabi alone.
Of those, in 80 per cent of cases the patient will either not survive, suffer brain damage, paralysis or permanent disability. In almost all cases, the causes are road accidents.
The capital’s tragedies are not unique –the death of Emirati twins and a 15-year-old in Sharjah on Friday were caused by speeding, police said.
Last week, The National spent several days in trauma units, witnessing the cases medical staff struggle to deal with.
On Wednesday alone, Seha’s Al Ain Hospital received 12 patients with severe brain trauma.
Seha is the company that operates Abu Dhabi and Al Ain’s publicly-owned hospitals.
Each general hospital in the emirate sees three to five such cases per day.
Later, many of the patients are sent to long-stay recovery wards, where about 50, all Emiratis, lie in comas or attached to ventilators.
“In its most devastating form, brain injuries can result in an individual who could be totally dependent on others for care and activities of their daily living for the rest of their life”, said Dr Howard Podolsky, chief of Cambridge Medical and Rehabilitation, which works with the government hospitals.
“Seatbelts and car seats could reduce, if not prevent, the large number of cases doctors and rehabilitation centres see each day.”
Dr Mohamed Baguneid is consultant vascular surgeon and chairman of the surgical institute at Al Ain Hospital, one the two main trauma hospitals in the emirate.
He said that in one year working at Al Ain Hospital, he had seen more torn aortas – the valve attached to the heart – caused by speeding cars smashing into solid objects than he had seen in his seven years at a trauma hospital in the UK.
Often, this injury is suffered when hitting the steering wheel because the driver is not wearing a seatbelt.
“We probably get two to five significant trauma injuries related to traffic accidents on a daily basis,” he said.
Seha’s Mafraq Hospital receives more, he said.
“In the UK, I would say somewhere between five and ten per cent of all the trauma in all the hospitals would be the high-end trauma and here I would say somewhere between 10 and 20 per cent is high-end trauma.
“The number is almost double, proportion wise. The score is based on the severity of the injury.
“When you categorise all the trauma cases, we in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain will see almost twice the proportion of the high-risk injury trauma than we would see in some western healthcare economies.”
According to Abu Dhabi Health Authority (Haad), crash injuries are one of the leading causes of death for children and two out of every three fatally injured children die because of road traffic crashes.
This is around three times the global average.
In spite of concentrated efforts by the Government to raise awareness about the importance of wearing seat belts for children, Dr Baguneid said the message has been slow to get through to the population.
“The major issue we see is car roll-overs, which are basically related to speed and clearly not wearing a seatbelt. This contributes to the severity of the score,” he said.
“A lot of these injuries would be lower scoring had they been wearing seat belts and that is probably the difference between UK trauma and UAE trauma in road traffic accidents.
“We do have an issue here with wearing seatbelts.”
Two major trauma units will soon open up in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain because of the number of patients that hospitals see.
“Some days we could see around 12 patients a day – nearly half the emergency general surgery work load is trauma related,” said Dr Baguneid.
“For sure we need more resources and there is a commitment from Seha to manage major trauma.
“We are now trauma centres but in terms of designation and rehabilitation, there is still work to be done. But we are working towards achieving that and becoming level one trauma hospitals in the near future.”