From the head to the heart: Everyday safety tips

Susan Cunningham
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Editor’s Note: This story is Part 1 of a two-part series recapping our favorite health tips from 2021. Part 2 will focus on tips for self-care.

Small steps can make a big difference in fostering good health, as local providers shared this past year. Check out a few of our favorite safety tips below.

Wear your helmet

Sports such as biking and skiing can be risky. But there’s one piece of gear that can significantly decrease your chances of suffering from a serious head injury: a helmet.

“Hitting your head, even one time, can cause a brain injury that may increase your risk for headaches and issues with sleep, learning and balance,” said Dr. Michelle Jimerson, a family medicine physician in Steamboat Springs and a member of the medical staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “There can be a lot of long-term consequences.”

No matter your age, if you’re riding a bike, a skateboard or scooter, or are skiing or snowboarding, you should have a helmet on.

“People do lots of things to keep themselves safe, such as wearing seatbelts, going to the doctor, wearing sunscreen, getting their colonoscopy — helmets should be a standard, too,” Jimerson said.

Take chest pain seriously

Never hesitate to seek help if you have any signs of a heart issue, as time is of the essence.

“Symptoms of heart conditions are often described as heaviness, pressure, squeezing or indigestion-like, to name a few,” said Dr. Will Baker, a cardiologist with UCHealth Heart and Vascular Clinics in Steamboat and Craig. “The discomfort is usually vaguely located in the center or left side of the chest and not usually described as having a discrete location that could be pointed to with a finger.”

In general, severe symptoms that don’t resolve in a few minutes or new symptoms that occur repeatedly or are persistent should always be evaluated immediately in the emergency department.

“Symptoms of heart disease are rarely like in the movies when an individual clutches their chest with a fisted hand and collapses,” Baker said. “Be proactive and get evaluated if you are even slightly concerned.”

Protect those fingers

It can happen in a flash: You’re chopping vegetables for dinner or clearing snow from your snowblower, and suddenly, you’ve cut through a finger.

Dr. Patrick Johnston, a hand and elbow orthopedic surgeon in Steamboat and a member of the medical staff at Yampa Valley Medical Center, encourages patients to keep fingers safe with common-sense precautions: never unclog your snowblower with your hand, be careful when using knives and always use a guard with a table saw.

And don’t hesitate to seek help if you do injure yourself.

“Something as innocuous as a small cut on the side of the finger can still mean big surgeries and problems for the finger,” Johnston said. “It’s always important to get it evaluated right away.”

Be prepared for the worst

You never know when a hike with a friend or a drive to work is going to turn into a life-threatening situation.

“Life just happens. Sometimes, you’re minding your own business, and you’re the first one on the scene or the only one available to help someone who’s injured,” said Dr. Nathan Anderson, an emergency medicine physician at YVMC.

Be ready for action by taking a class on First Aid and CPR.

“You have to prepare before the need arises,” Anderson said. “It’s very empowering to have that knowledge of what to do. You’re not going to come out a trauma specialist or an ER doc, but that’s not the expectation. The expectation is that you’re going to buy time for this person until someone with more training can take over.”

Local hospitals, including YVMC, often offer classes that will give you hands-on experience and training so you can learn the basics, such as securing the scene to ensure you and the victim are safe, calling for help and assessing the victim.

“It’s easy, it’s accessible, it’s inexpensive and it’s geared toward the lay person,” Anderson said. “What’s not to love?”

Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

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