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.