A year after ski accident, she's convinced of need for helmets

MINDEN - Almost a year after a snowboarding accident that brought her precariously close to the end of her life, 16-year-old Becci Nealy says she can't wait to get back on the slopes.

But from now on, she says, she'll always wear a helmet.

In January, Nealy, then 15, and some of her friends were enjoying a day of riding at Heavenly ski resort when she was involved in an accident that crushed the left side of her skull and left her with some temporary neurological damage.

To repair the broken bones and swelling of her brain, doctors at Washoe Medical Center had to cut into the side of her head (from which she still has a 4-inch scar hidden under her hairline), remove a dangerous blood clot and insert several titanium plates.

Recovery has been a long slow road, Nealy says the worst part has been the frustration of short-term memory loss.

"I'll study hard for something and I won't remember it the next day," she says. "And for awhile I was getting bad headaches all the time."

Friends Arielle Finch, 16, and Jamie Yered, 15, laugh off Nealy's persistent forgetfulness. But their concern and thankfulness for Nealy's welfare shines through the playful sarcasm.

"It was so hard seeing my best friend lying there motionless," Finch says about the first time she visited Nealy in the hospital. "I was so shook up just seeing her, and I walked out and almost passed out."

But despite first appearances, the healing had already begun - and with so much momentum that doctors were amazed at her recovery, say her mother and father, Charlie and Pat Nealy, who live in Johnson Lane.

Becci says the support she received while lying in her hospital bed played a big part in her quick recovery.

"The doctor thought the reason I recovered so fast was all my friends coming to visit," she says. "There were lots of people who helped me out."

Fortunately for Nealy, who likes to lead an active and athletic life, she is finally back in the swing of things, playing soccer and regaining abilities the accident took away.

"I thought it wouldn't take so long to recover," she says. "It seems like forever."

As she prepares for the first good snowfall, she vows that this time she will have a helmet on her head.

"We talked about a helmet a couple of weeks before (the accident) and just never got around to getting it," she says.

Snowboarders and skiers have started to warm up to the idea of wearing a helmet, mostly because of advances in the helmet design and because of the high-profile deaths of Sonny Bono and Michael Kennedy.

Monica Bandows, director of communications for Heavenly Lake Tahoe, says she has noticed a jump in the number of people using helmets at the ski resort.

"Helmets are much more common, probably because they are much more comfortable than they used to be," she says.

Although the rental shop at Heavenly sells and rents helmets to children who are learning to ski, Bandows says it doesn't yet rent helmets for adults.

Eric Robie, who sells helmets at Out of Bounds, a Carson City snowboard shop, says he has seen more people come into the shop interested in helmets.

"Over the last few years, there are probably 10 times as many people in here because they see their favorite snowboarders wearing them and it's not embarrassing like it used to be," he says.

Robie says his shop carries three different brands of helmets ranging in price from $70 to $150. Single-impact helmets, designed to withstand one good hit are at the lower range, while multiple-impact helmets are more expensive.

Robie says the multiple-impact helmet is more desirable in an accident because a snowboarder might hit his or her head a number of times during a single fall.

"If your helmet is cracked and you hit your head again, it's like you're missing that layer of protection," he says.

Even with the comfort of a helmet as protection against having another accident, Nealy says she is still nervous about getting on the snow again.

"I'm a little scared, but I'm looking forward to it," she says. "I think that will all go away once I'm out there again."


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