Abuse victims are being diagnosed with concussions

It's not just football players

Concussions and brain injuries are usually associated with veterans and athletes, but new information is uncovering some unexpected victims.

Research shows a startling number of abuse victims are suffering from injuries that could make it harder for them to get help.

It's been three years since Michelle Plastow lived in Wisconsin.

“Looking back I don't know why I didn't call the police right away,” Plastow said.

To understand why she left, we have to start well before that.

“The first time he choked me it was actually til I passed out,” Plastow said.

And that was only the beginning; Michelle says her boyfriend was abusive.

“I mean I didn't really think that could happen. I didn't think any of it could happen, but not a concussion,” Plastow said.

She was hit so severely she got an injury usually associated with NFL football players, college athletes, and military members.

“It's very common for our clients,” Carmen Pitre, President and CEO of Sojourner Family Peace Center, said.

A report from the Journal of Family and Community Health suggests as many as 60 percent of domestic abuse survivors are also recovering from traumatic brain injuries, like concussions.

“It's been of growing concern for us here at Sojourner,” Pitre said.

“Some of the immediate effects are difficulty concentrating, memory, you can have physical effects, like vision problems, balance problems, hearing problems,” Aurora Health Care Neurologist Dr. Jauntia Celix said.

Celix diagnoses those injuries. She says oftentimes women who are physically abused can have 10, 20, even 30 smaller brain injuries before coming in for medical help and that can be debilitating, making it harder for women to leave.

“More severe injuries need serious kind of brain rehab. How to get about in the world, occupational therapy how to take care of things at home, create a shopping list, plan your life,” Celix said.

“It took me a long time to heal from that, a really long time, probably about 6-8 months,” Plastow said.

For Michelle it was her first and only concussion, but it was so intense, she eventually quit her job.

“It was difficult to ask for help because you know, I've been in the military for a long time. I’ve always been a very strong female and I pride myself on that and the realization that I allowed that to happen was harder, I think the hardest thing,” Plastow said.

New information about these injuries is changing the intake process at the Sojourner Family Peace Center and Dr. Celix wants to see similar changes in the medical field.

“One of the problems is that we don't ask the questions, how did this injury occur, have you ever been hit in the head before, pushed, slammed into a wall, strangled,” Celix said.

It's been years since Michelle got her concussion, but even now, she can't believe what she survived.

“I think just the fact that I let it get to that point, kind of allowed it. I allowed him in my house that day,” Plastow said.

It's important to know, it's not just blows to the head that cause traumatic brain injuries. Strangulation can also lead to TBI's and have the same serious side effects concussions do.

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