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“At least 20 million women in the United States are walking around with undiagnosed TBI.”
Dr. Maria Garay-Serratos says brain trauma in domestic violence victims is pervasive. In fact, her own mother passed away from head trauma, she says, after suffering abuse over the course of 40 years.
Garay-Serratos has only recently started talking openly about her family’s painful story. In her case, they were able to break the cycle of abuse. “My siblings and I live wonderful lives free from domestic violence,” she says, “We are on a mission forever.”
Garay-Serratos’ mission brought her from Los Angeles to Phoenix. She now serves as Chief Executive Officer of the Sojourner Center where they provide services and shelter for thousands of women and children fleeing from domestic violence.
“I call the folks who are walking away with silent stories of domestic violence our silent champions. We are only touching the tip of the iceberg with domestic violence. We only hear about the sensational cases and we need to go deeper.”
One way the Sojourner Center is trying to go deeper is with a treatment program called “Sojourner BRAIN Program”. Sojourner teamed up with the CACTIS Foundation to focus on undiagnosed Traumatic Brain Injuries. They are working to develop tools to diagnose TBI in women and children and develop treatment programs.
And they have a growing number of high profile partners in this effort. Barrow Neurological Institute at Phoenix Children’s Hospital and The University of Arizona College of Medicine have teamed with Sojourner.
“If you think of a woman or a child in a domestic violence situation, most of them don’t speak about the issue or ask for help,” Garay-Serratos says. “Thousands of kids are not able to read and perform in school.”
She draws comparisons to what members of the military and football players are going through.
“Everything you see on a football field, everything you see in warfare… shaking, choking, throwing things at the head… there is a deep correlation.”
It is a subject that will continue to dominate the headlines as more football players go public with their personal stories. A new movie, “Concussion” starring Will Smith also takes on the hot-button issue of brain injuries in the NFL.
For her part, Garay-Serratos says she applauds the NFL because they have brought attention to the issue of Traumatic Brain Injury and what she calls a public health epidemic.
“I believe that a lot of great work has been done, but if we look at how deep this goes, we can do better.”