This past weekend another TBI made the news in the NFL. The sad part about this story is that it did not occur from a helmet to helmet hit, an unexpected hit from behind or even a borderline aggressive hit. In fact, the injury didn’t happen to a player, coach or a person on any team’s payroll. The senselessness of child abuse induced Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) was introduced to the NFL with the reports of the tragic death of 2013 NFL MVP Adrian Peterson’s 2 year old son. It was reported that the infant died after being violently shaken by the boyfriend of the baby’s mother. Sadder yet, the reported abuser had a history of domestic abuse against the mother of one of his biological children.
When it comes to child abuse, abusive head injuries are the most common cause of death. Some reports indicate lives could be saved in 4 out of 5 Infant TBI cases with the proper reporting of signs and symptoms of infant head trauma. The term “Shaken Baby Syndrome” was coined in 1972, yet 40 years later, almost 1300 infants experience a severe or fatal TBI each year. I cannot help but compare this to the NFL where there are about 1800 players who are protected and know the risks for TBI in their environment. In the NFL, those at risk are protected by equipment, game rules, training regiments and techniques to protect themselves. A great research site for Pediatric Acquired Brain Injury (PABI) is the Sarah Jane Brain Project, driven by the efforts of Sarah’s father Patrick Donohue. Sarah is a PABI survivor after being shaken by her caregiver at 5 days old.
When is it time to start protecting our most vulnerable and defenseless victims of TBI? The first step involves having the courage to take action. A couple of the early warnings include excessive bruising anywhere on the infants body, not only around the head and neck. If the bruises have a variety of colors from black, blue, green, yellow and so on, this may be a sign of long-term abuse. Changes in responsiveness in the eyes and retinal eye damage are other indicators. Most of all, when in doubt, take action. How often do we find out after the fact that the perpetrator in the death of a child had a past history of domestic abuse and family violence?
With 785,000 children visiting emergency rooms every year due to TBI’s, recent reports and focus on brain injuries from the NFL, and the massive outreach and education efforts on combat related brain injuries, the opportunities to learn the signs and symptoms of brain injury are literally at our finger tips. Neighborhood watch groups train themselves on identifying criminal activity. How can we know the rules of a simple game and get excited about a perceived missed call, or misinterpretation of a rule, and take action by throwing objects, yelling at the rule enforcers, or communicating our frustration through blogs and the internet, and, yet, do nothing when it comes to protecting an innocent and defenseless child? When will we as a society create the “Rules” of battling Traumatic Brain Injuries which plays its game every 40 seconds in our nation’s emergency rooms. When does taking preventive measures to the lives of 785,000 children and the deaths of 1300 infants become more important than a game?