ThinkFirst Northern Nevada reduces brain injuries by encouraging thinking before risky actions

Nonprofit Spotlight | Northern Nevada Business Weekly

ThinkFirst Northern Nevada, started in 2011 by local neurosurgeon Dr. Lali Sekhon, is a nonprofit 501c(3) organization whose mission is to spread awareness and prevention of brain and spinal cord injuries to Northern Nevada’s youth. Dr. Sekhon’s passion for safety and injury prevention inspired him to establish ThinkFirst Northern Nevada, an independent local chapter of the ThinkFirst National Injury Prevention Foundation. Colleagues describe Dr. Sekhon as a passionate physician who not only works tirelessly for his patients, but who also has dedicated himself to the mission, vision and values of the ThinkFirst National Injury Prevention Foundation.

ach year, an estimated 1.7 million persons in the United States sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and 12,000 to 20,000 sustain a spinal cord injury. In fact, injury is the leading cause of death among people between the ages of 1 and 44. Fifty-two thousand people die yearly of TBI, 80,000 TBI’s result in disabilities, and 5.3 million people are living with permanent disabilities from TBI. Fifty-thousand children sustain bicycle-related brain injuries each year, and 400 of them die.

Traumatic injuries are an epidemic. The most frequent causes of these injuries are motor vehicle crashes, violence, falls, and sports. The good news is that most injuries are preventable! The ThinkFirst National Injury Prevention Foundation’s award-winning, evidence-based programs are aimed at helping people learn to reduce their risk for injury.

ThinkFirst Northern Nevada’s Chapter Director and Health Educator Kathy O’Sullivan, MS, PT, CBIS is a physical therapist with Rehab Without Walls, a neurorehabilitation company specializing in the treatment of brain injury. Kathy received her master’s degree at Duke University and has been practicing physical therapy, specializing in neurorehabilitation since 1988. Brain injury prevention and treatment are Kathy’s passions, both professionally and personally. She has a son with an acquired brain injury and lives with its consequences daily.

ThinkFirst programs educate young people about their personal vulnerability and the importance of making safe choices. The message is: You can have a fun-filled, exciting life, without hurting yourself if you “ThinkFirst.” Buckle up. Drive safe and sober. Avoid violent situations. Wear a helmet. Check the water before you dive. Use your mind to protect your body!

The school-based educational programs are aimed at helping the highest-risk age group, which is 15-25. This upbeat program educates high school students about personal vulnerability and risk taking. Teens relate to VIP speakers — Voices for Injury Prevention — who share how traumatic injuries changed their lives. A VIP who has sustained a brain or spinal cord injury describes how the choices made changed his/her life since the injury.

This is the key component of the program, as it shows the students that these injuries can and do happen to people just like them while engaging in typical teenage activities, but that safe choices can prevent most injuries from occurring. ThinkFirst Northern Nevada’s ongoing educational programs visit 12 local high schools twice a year, and have reached 9,490 students to date, 3,378 of those in the 2015-2016 school year.

The following are some written comments from teens who have heard the presentations:

“The most important thing I learned today is to always wear a helmet or a seatbelt because it can be the difference between life and death. You never know when and where an accident will happen.”

“Today I learned that these injuries can happen to anyone. Oftentimes people believe their situation is different but it can happen to anyone if precautions aren’t taken.”

Finally, and probably most important, ThinkFirst of Northern Nevada reaches our community through free helmet giveaways. They partner with local community events such as Kids on Big Rigs and the Run for Education and provide a booth where parents or teachers can bring their children and receive a free, properly fitted bicycle helmet. They even provide free helmets for parents so they can be a good example to their children. ThinkFirst of Northern Nevada has held seven helmet giveaways, handing out a total of 1920 properly fitted helmets and will continue to do so in 2017 and beyond. Helmets save lives.

To make a donation or for more info, please visit the ThinkFirst Northern Nevada website at