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Port Stanley family turns tragic loss of son into call to action on helmet use

Branden Pettit in an undated photo shared online by his family.
Branden Pettit in an undated photo shared online by his family. Facebook

The family of a Port Stanley, Ont., teen who died in hospital days after falling from his skateboard and hitting his head is using the tragedy as a call to action for the community when it comes to helmet use.

“You don’t want your family to have to go through this. My sister is devastated. We’re all devastated. This is a very hard time,” said Daniel Ralf, the boy’s uncle, in an interview Wednesday.

Branden Pettit, 15, had been riding his skateboard down a hill along George Street in Port Stanley on the evening of Saturday, Oct. 3, when he fell off his board, struck his head, and became unresponsive.

Branden, who had not been wearing a helmet at the time, was rushed to hospital for his injuries, which also included a collapsed lung.

“Please please make your children wear there [sic] helmets,” wrote Branden’s mother, Ange Ralf, in a public Facebook post about an hour after her son’s fall.
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Branden was pronounced brain dead at the hospital the following Monday.

“My first born, I love you to the moon and back. You were eager to come being 3 weeks early, yet you didn’t stay near long enough,” she wrote shortly after Branden’s death.

“I still had plans for us. I will never get to see you graduate High School, or see you go on to college. It isn’t fair, the world had other plans for you and I will never understand.”

Read more: Brain injury pushes Toronto doctor to promote brain-healthy lifestyle

In the days since he died, the local community has rallied around Branden’s family, who have taken their pain and sadness and channeled it into a safety campaign and message they want everyone to hear: Lid Up 4 Branden.

“What we’re doing is promoting the wearing of helmets in all sports, not just cycling and skateboarding and scootering,” Daniel Ralf told Bill Kelly of Hamilton’s 900 CHML this week.

“We want to get the awareness out there for children and adults. Adults are the biggest ones that don’t wear them.”

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As part of the Lid Up campaign, Branden’s family have launched a fund in his name with the aim of promoting helmet safety in sports and recreation. They’ve also been out in the community handing out free Lid Up stickers to area residents.

Ralf says they’ve received as many as 18 helmet donations as part of their grassroots campaign that have since been handed out. And they’re expecting more donations to come, he adds.

“I talked to a young lad yesterday and he got a little emotional about it. He had recently taken a fall and banged his head and ended up having convulsions from it,” he said.

“He was actually in tears because he didn’t wear his helmet that day and he said, ‘I won’t forget it next time.’ And I gave him stickers, he put them on his bike, and he was going home to get his helmet.”

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Click to play video 'Calgary man thankful for help after suffering head injury after falling on slippery sidewalk' Calgary man thankful for help after suffering head injury after falling on slippery sidewalk
Calgary man thankful for help after suffering head injury after falling on slippery sidewalk – Jan 21, 2019

According to Statistics Canada figures from 2017, some 17 per cent of males and 24 per cent of females aged 12 and older reported not always wearing a helmet while skateboarding.

For bicycling, the percentages were 42.6 and 49.3, respectively, while for downhill skiing, the figures were 74.4 and 84.0.

“It can happen as soon as you step out your front door,” Ralf said of suffering an injury like the one Branden did.

“You step on your scooter and you slip and bang your head on a curb. That’s all it takes is one bang on the head.”

Read more: December 2019: Half of homeless people have experienced traumatic brain injury: study

A report released in August by the Public Health Agency of Canada found more than five million head injury-related emergency department visits were recorded in Ontario and Alberta between 2002 and 2018, with falls and sports and recreation incidents being the leading causes overall.

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Among people aged five to 19, sports and recreational activities were the leading cause of hospitalizations and emergency department visits for traumatic brain injuries, the report said.

More information about the Lid Up campaign can be found on its Facebook page or by emailing lidup4branden@gmail.com.

Branden’s obituary can be read here. Branden’s family is planning to hold a drive-by vigil at the George Street roundabout around 8 p.m. Saturday.