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CONTACT 13: Domestic violence victims suffer similar injuries to NFL players

Posted at 6:00 PM, Oct 13, 2016

Concussions and brain injuries are usually associated with veterans and athletes. But Contact 13 is uncovering some unexpected victims.

As Contact 13 continues our commitment to raising awareness about domestic violence, we've discovered research showing a startling number of abuse victims are suffering from injuries that could make it harder for them to get help.

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It's been three years since Michelle Plastow moved out of state and away from her abuser.

"Looking back I don't know why I didn't call the police right away."

To understand why she left, we have to start well before that.

"The first time he choked me it was actually until I passed out."

And that was only the beginning.

"I mean, I didn't really think that could happen. I didn't think any of it could happen. But not a concussion."

Plastow was hit so severely she suffered an injury usually associated with NFL football players, college athletes and military members. 

A report from the Journal of Family and Community Health suggests as many as 60 percent of domestic abuse survivors are also recovering from traumatic brain injuries, like concussions.

"Some of the immediate effects are difficulty concentrating, memory, you can have physical effects, like vision problems, balance problems, hearing problems," said Dr. Juanita Celix, a neurosurgeon who diagnoses those injuries.

She says women who are physically abused can have 10, 20 and even 30 smaller brain injuries before coming in for medical help. And that can be debilitating -- making it harder for women to leave.

"More severe injuries need serious kinds of brain rehab. How to get about in the world. Occupational therapy.  How to take care of things at home, create a shopping list, plan your life."

"It took me a long time to heal from that," Plastow said. "A really long time. Probably about six to eight months."

It was Plastow's first and only concussion, but it was so intense, she eventually quit her job. 

Clark County Family Court Judge Frank Sullivan says situations like that can put victims in a financial trap.

"Many times the batterer -- the perp -- controls the money too," Sullivan said.

This makes it even harder for victims to leave. But he warns of an even greater danger.

"The most dangerous time -- the risk goes out the ceiling when you're getting out, you're separating. You're breaking that power and control."

For Plastow, "It was difficult to ask for help because, you know, I've been in the military for a long time. I've always been a very strong female and I pride myself on that and the realization that I allowed that to happen was harder -- I think the hardest thing."

Dr. Celix wants to see changes in the medical field to allow earlier intervention in domestic violence situations.

"One of the problems is that we don't ask the questions -- how did this injury occur, have you ever been hit in the head before, pushed, slammed into a wall, strangled?"

It's been years since Plastow got her concussion, but even now, she can't believe what she survived.

"I think just the fact that I let it get to that point kind of allowed it."

It's important to know, it's not just blows to the head that cause traumatic brain injuries.

Strangulation can also lead to traumatic brain injuries and cause the same problems concussions do. 

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, please refer to our list of resources to reach out for help.