Silent Epidemic

© David L. Goldin, J.D., M.B.A.

What do Steve Young, Troy Aikman, Stan Humphries, Eric Lindros, Pat LaFontain, Dale Ernhardt, Jr., and George Clooney all have in common?

All have suffered a traumatic brain injury or concussion. Any concussion is a brain injury, a short paralysis of the brain, although many do not realize that. With the exception of George Clooney, all of these football, hockey and NASCAR stars were wearing state-of-the-art helmets when they sustained their brain injuries. 

George Clooney, who received his concussion while filming the movie, “Syriana,” may have struck the back of his head when the chair he was tied to in a scene in the movie was kicked over. According to George Clooney’s father, the physicians have concluded his son’s brain injury occurred not when the chair toppled over but in the snapping of his head back and forth taking simulated punches. In any event, a couple of days later, George Clooney started to suffer excruciating headaches and serious memory loss. This went undiagnosed for almost a year until one of his neurologists found spinal fluid leaking from Mr. Clooney's nose. George Clooney reports that his pain was so unbearable he wanted to kill himself.

According to the Center for Disease Control, in its August 2005  publication, “Facts About Brain Injury,” 1.4 million people sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI) each year in the United States; 50,000 die; 235,000 are hospitalized; and 1.1 million are treated and released from an emergency department. The number of people with TBI who are not seen in an emergency department or who receive no care is unknown. There are currently 5.3 million Americans living with a disability as a result of a TBI. (CDC: "Facts About Traumatic Brain Injury.") 80,000 to 90,000 of those suffering TBI each year experience long term or lifelong disability. (CDC: "Living With Brain Injury.")

TBI is the leading cause of death and disability in persons under 45 years of age, occurring more frequently than breast cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury, combined. (Brain Injury Association of America: "TBI Incidence.") These results are also described and graphically illustrated in a report from the University of Pennsylvania, “Traumatic Brain Injury: A ‘Silent Epidemic.’” 

Children are at particular risk. As reported by the Council for Exceptional Children, approximately one million children and adolescents receive a head injury each year. Of these injuries, 16,000 to 20,000 will be serious enough to cause lasting effects, and one in 500 will be severe enough to cause hospitalization. As the CEC describes:

Because the effects of traumatic brain injury often resemble that of other disabilities such as learning disability, Attention Deficit Disorder, behavior disorder, or mild mental retardation, children with traumatic brain disorder are often misdiagnosed. Or, they may not be diagnosed at all. This, combined with the high but often unrecognized, number of children with traumatic brain disorder, gives rise to the disability’s alternative name-‘Silent Epidemic.’ "Traumatic Brain Injury - The Silent Epidemic." 

Loss of consciousness or even impact of the head against a hard surface is not required to suffer a traumatic brain injury. Such injuries can occur where there is a “whiplash” or other sudden movement of the head causing the brain to move rapidly within the confines of the skull, tearing, shearing and bruising areas of the brain with the inside surface of the skull. It appears that George Clooney’s brain injuries likely resulted from this whiplash-effect as his head snapped back and forth from simulated punches.

Further, on rapid deceleration, the brain, connected to the skull by numerous vessels, membranes and nerves at the base, tries to pull away from all those attachments, leading to significant deformation of the front of the brain. This finding was discussed at the annual meeting of the National Neurotrauma Society in Washington, D.C., on November 10, 2005. How such “invisible” injury occurs is discussed in more detail in my article, “Mild Brain Injury Litigation: Making the Invisible Visible.”   

The importance of the front of the brain, the area of highest human intelligence, was intuited by Michelangelo almost 500 years ago.  His panel on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel, "Creation of Man," depicts God and surrounding angels in a swirling cloak in the shape of the cerebral cortex.  God's arm is extended towards Adam thorough the area of that "brain" corresponding to the frontal lobes.

A traumatically brain injured individual may appear normal and not exhibit any obvious signs of a brain injury. But, if after having suffered trauma to your head, you feel differently about your ability to resume normal life activities at home, school or work, you should insist that your medical treaters pay attention to your complaints. 

If you have difficulty with concentration, organization, managing multiple tasks simultaneously, memory, relationships with family or others, or personality changes, you may need help. It is not embarrassing or “weak” to acknowledge a brain injury even if others do not notice it. In fact it is courageous to seek and obtain professional help from those who understand this terrible harm.

If I can answer your questions, please call (619) 235-6344 (1-866-headlaw) or email me to set up an appointment for a free consultation.