Ignored, Dismissed, and Misdiagnosed: Eight Things Every Parent Should Know About Traumatic Brain Injury

Style Magazine Newswire | 1/11/2018, 12:16 p.m.
Luke Galloway died at age 22 by suicide, 19 years after being struck on the head by a playground swing. ...
A Call to Mind: A Story of Undiagnosed Childhood Traumatic Brain Injury (Brandylane Publishers, 2017, ISBN: 978-1-939-93094-1, $16.95) is available at bookstores nationwide and from all major online booksellers.

Charlottesville, VA (January 2018)—Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) can be devastating. When a person suffers a blow to the head—due to sports injury, military combat, a car crash, a fall, a violent attack, or some other accident or event—it can alter his or her brain function and behavior. For some, the change is temporary. For others, it never goes away. And for some, whose injuries remain unidentified and untreated, it can set off a spiral into depression, substance abuse, criminality, homelessness, or—most tragically of all—suicide.

Yet, as dire as TBIs can be—and as common as they are (1.7 million per year, estimates the CDC)—there's a shocking lack of knowledge and resources around them.

"I know firsthand how life-shattering unidentified TBIs can be," says Claire Galloway, author of A Call to Mind: A Story of Undiagnosed Childhood Traumatic Brain Injury (Brandylane Publishers, 2017, ISBN: 978-1-939-93094-1, $16.95). "And I also know how ill-equipped our healthcare system, education system, and the public in general are to detect, diagnose, and treat them. This has to change. Our children deserve better."

Galloway's book tells the story of her son, Luke, who suffered a closed-head TBI at a park playground at almost three years old. As she and her husband were spreading out blankets by the pool, they took their eyes off Luke for a few seconds. He darted away and into the descending arc of a child on a hard plastic swing. It struck him on the head and sent him flying. As Galloway rushed to him, she feared he might be dead. He wasn't. But he was forever changed.

"The child who ran away from that blanket never returned to me," she says. "I waited, hoped, and prayed for the next 17 years, but he was like a different child."

Luke was visibly dazed from the blow. But because there were no other obvious signs of concussion or external injury, the pediatrician advised against an emergency room visit. But even as the family waited out the recommended 24-hour observation at home, it was clear to Galloway that something was seriously wrong. Her happy-go-lucky little boy had transformed into an anxious and easily agitated child.

As the days went by, Luke's brow never unfurrowed. Suddenly, he was fearful of going to bed. He clenched his fists and shook his arms in what were later (much later) diagnosed as mini-seizures. And as he grew up, different symptoms appeared. He complained of noises in his head. He experienced synesthesia. He got "stuck" in thoughts he couldn't move through. He struggled in school (despite his high IQ). He became socially isolated. He began to act out impulsively, and, eventually, depression set in.

Throughout his childhood—and despite Galloway's many pleas for help to physicians and teachers and her certainty that her son's problems stemmed from his playground accident—Luke wasn't diagnosed with a brain injury until he was 18 years old. By then, years of psychological overlay, frustration, and shame had taken their toll. When he finally lost all hope, he bought a gun, put it to the exact area of his head that had suffered the injury, and pulled the trigger.