Johnny Lewis and Brain Trauma

B&W closeup from Hayley taylor

Traumatic Brain Injury and its related afflictions which come about from severe blows to the head have recently come into the public’s awareness, thanks to the recent film, “Concussion,” which tells the story of Dr. Omalu’s courageous efforts to make the NFL aware of the deadly condition at their doorstep, ruining players’ lives and destroying their families.

 

At the time of Johnny’s motorcycle accident Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) was regarded as a “walking illness.”  The victim displayed no outward symptoms of  injury,  except sensitivity to light.      Because of its covert nature it often went unnoticed, undiagnosed.  As the symptoms include illogical, sometimes violent behavior, the individual was simply regarded as having “gone insane” or on drugs, and was treated accordingly.

That was the story of Johnny’s final year.

On the night of October 30, 2011, two months prior to his first arrest, Johnny crashed his motorcycle rounding a curve at over 60 mph.   His head absorbed most of the impact.  Did his helmet stay on or fly off?  Was he even wearing a helmet?  No one knows. He should have but did not receive an MRI.  Just how serious were his head injuries?  Is it coincidence that his behavior became increasingly odd and unpredictable after that late October night?

On January 3rd 2012, the date of his first arrest, the man who had called 911, sat on Johnny and pounded him in the face 14-17 times while waiting for the police to come, according to his own testimony later.   I saw the man in court.   He was twice Johnny’s size.  More brain injuries.

In jail more injuries followed.  Johnny banged his head against a concrete wall repeatedly to attract the guards’ attention that his cuffs were digging into his skin and needed to be loosened.   He later fell from a second tier ledge.   Deliberate?  Pushed?   It was even diagnosed as such by the prison medics: “Ecchymosis, periorbital. ” Literally, “raccoon eyes,” a symptom of basal skull fracture coming from  head trauma. Traumatic Brain Injury.

Out on bail briefly, his whereabouts unknown to us, he was discovered walking into the ocean and disappeared beneath the waves.   Rescue came from an alert swimmer.  Near-drowning halts the blood flow and hence oxygen from getting to the brain.   Another trauma.

These injuries are only the ones we know about.  What additional abuse and injury he sustained in his subsequent jail stays, we will never know nor do we really care to.

Neurologist Dr. John W. Campbell, in his revelatory book, “Mindstorms — The Complete Guide For Families Living With Traumatic Brain Injury,” states:
“. . .violent behavior associated with TBI can lead to prison.  One study found that 82 percent of the prisoners doing time in our jails had had at least one TBI before their incarceration, and 65 percent of these prisoners had lost consciousness more than once as a result of a traumatic head injury.   More troubling was the finding that the prisoners who’d experienced prolonged loss of consciousness (usually for a period of more than thirty minutes) had gotten treatment, while those with mild brain injury had not.  In other words, the majority of prisoners were suffering from a mild brain injury that had remained unrecognized and untreated.”

The “experts” knew best.   Even with the written diagnosis of the prison medics; even with negative drug tests,   it was still “He’s crazy and on drugs.”    No brushes with the law previous to his injuries.    A successful up and coming young artist — and then suddenly 180 degrees south?   The well-intentioned yet blind medicos, psychiatrists and law enforcement people had no problem making that logical leap, as long as it conformed to their rule book and allowed them not to look any further.

Thank goodness for pioneers like Dr. Cassidy and Dr. Omalu.    Hopefully someday soon others won’t need to go through what our son went through.

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11 Responses to Johnny Lewis and Brain Trauma

  1. wtfKirstyn says:

    I am so sorry to hear about your son’s misfortune. My hope for people like your son and myself is that tbi will continue to be studied and awareness brought to the public/medical field. I recently watched a ted talk where they hosted a psychiatrist requesting that brain scans be taken of patients, his argument: other doctors look, why can’t psychiatrists look? How are they to properly diagnose without looking at the organ they study? Valid argument. After my head injury the doctor only did a ct scan then sent me home, charting a traumatic head injury but only telling my family to watch for concussion, which at the time was not considered a “serious” injury. My life fell apart and I couldn’t even figure out why or what was wrong with me. It wasn’t until 9 months after the injury that I received proper medical treatment, but the struggle continues years later. Thank you for your honest blog, hopefully knowledge of these injuries will continue to grow and unfortunate stories of lives shattered will decrease.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Johnny's Dad says:

      Thank you for your kind thoughts and for sharing your own experience. Johnny also simply got a ct scan, whereas a full MRI apparently would have told the full story. Psychiatrists — and I’m generalizing here from my own experience — prefer not to look, but to prescribe. What’s scary about them, among other things, is the amount of invented “disorders” generated each year to garner insurance money. I wish you all the luck in the world and I echo your hope that we are among the last to suffer the effects of this “walking illness.”

      Like

  2. kim says:

    I can’t even imagine…I am sooo very sorry to hear about Johnny..I loved watching him in SOA.. He was a great actor and when he was killed in the show and they had the funeral I cried.. It was hard losing him.. I can’t believe he’s really gone ..
    Know your son is a true angel and may he R.I.P.
    Sending huge hugs… Kimmers

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kaitlyn says:

    I loved watching Johnny on TV even before Sons of Anarchy. I didn’t even start watching until after it had finished airing because I didn’t think it would be my cup of tea. I got bored one day and thought, “Why not?” It was fine. The reason I kept watching was because of your son. He was a joy to watch. You could tell that he really was sweet and kind and that he loved life. When I looked him up on imdb to watch more of his filmography and learned of his death. It felt like my heart had been ripped out. I burst into tears. No one that good should die that young especially from something like that. May he forever rest in peace and joy and may his memory be eternal.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Johnny's Dad says:

      Thank you so much for your kind thoughts, Kaitlyn. He was all those things you described and more, and we are grateful that we had him in our lives, even though it was just for a teaspoon of time.

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  4. juliannaeve says:

    It breaks my heart to ever here of a father and mother losing a child. A heart break so devastating most could never recover from. I am so happy to see you working through this loss in such a beautiful and healthy way. You are an inspiration. I loved watching your son on Sons of Anarchy. You couldn’t help but fall in love with his character that he portrayed so well. I hope one day SOON brain trauma will get the attention and research it deserves so we can prevent the unknown suffering of others who unbeknownst to them are not going “crazy” but are actually suffering from a brain injury. I will keep you and your family in my prayers. Johnny is with you everyday waiting till the day you will meet each other again. Hugs xoxo

    Like

  5. Lisa says:

    Loved your son on SOA. He was always my favorite. I was saddened to hear of his death when it happened and even more so now about what led up to it. Thank you for sharing.

    Like

  6. tina eaton says:

    I had a horrible car accident last year. My concussion progressed
    To TBI.
    I. Don’t wish it on anyone. I loved johnny in SOA. I only started research on TBI recently when my diagnosis was changed.
    Prayers to you all.

    Like

  7. Christy says:

    I am a nurse and a mother to 8 children. I honestly can not imagine that pain that you, as parents, feel after losing a child. My heart goes out to you. The first show I ever watched with Johnny in it was Raise Your Voice. I absolutely fell in love with the character. Of course, I don’t get to watch a lot of tv or many movies because I work a never ending job, but when I saw him again in Sons of Anarchy, I fell in love all over again. It wasn’t just the character he played, it was the talent that he possessed that gave each character their own unique qualities and brought them all to life. He somehow managed to give each character a quirkiness that was both loveable and endearing. I can only imagine that being around him would have been the same. He was undoubtedly a wonderful person, and the world is far worse for having lost him. Thank you for sharing your memorial video. My prayers are with you.

    Like

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