Surviving Domestic Violence

Intimate partner violence can involve various physical injuries —including repeated concussions and strangulations— as well as emotional abuse; when you add in misconceptions and stigma, it’s a real resilience challenge. Neurologist Kristen Dams-O'Connor, PhD, joins Road to Resilience to discuss her research and advocacy in addressing brain injuries brought about by domestic violence. Dr. Dams-O'Connor is joined by Elizabeth DeJesus, a mother, director of a children's learning center, and a survivor of domestic violence.


[00:00:00] Stephen Calabria: From the Mount Sinai Health System in New York City, this is Road to Resilience, a podcast about facing adversity. I'm Stephen Calabria.

[00:00:10] On this episode, in honor of March being Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month we're first joined by Kristen Dams O'Connor, Ph. D.

[00:00:18] Stephen Calabria: She's a clinical neuropsychologist, the director of the Brain Injury Research Center at Mount Sinai, and a professor in the Departments of Rehabilitation Medicine and Neurology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

[00:00:31] Dr. Dams-O'Connor discusses the vital research she and her team lead into the traumatic brain injuries brought about by intimate partner violence. We're also joined by Elizabeth DeJesus, a mother, director of a learning center for children, and a survivor of domestic violence.

[00:00:48] Together they illustrate the perseverance required of both domestic violence survivors and their caretakers and the monumental challenges they and their communities must endure.

[00:00:57] We're honored to have Dr. Dams-O'Connor and Ms. DeJesus on the show.

[00:01:01] Dr. Kristen Dams-O'Connor, welcome to Road to Resilience.

[00:01:07] Kristen Dams-O'Connor: Thank you.

[00:01:07] Stephen Calabria: Could you give us an overview of your background?

[00:01:10] Kristen Dams-O'Connor: Sure, I'm a clinical neuropsychologist who specializes in traumatic brain injury.

[00:01:16] I'm the director of the Brain Injury Research Center at Mount Sinai, where I'm the Vice chair of research in the Department of Rehabilitation and Human Performance and a professor of Rehabilitation and Human Performance and Neurology.

[00:01:31] Stephen Calabria: The types of brain injuries you study. Are there a specific kind or is it just generally traumatic brain injuries?

[00:01:41] Kristen Dams-O'Connor: Well, a traumatic brain injury is one that typically results from an external blow to the head, face, or neck, as opposed to an acquired brain injury, which is a broader term that includes things like stroke, brain cancer. So, we focus primarily on traumatic brain injuries.

[00:01:57] Stephen Calabria: So we've talked about neurodegenerative brain disorders. What are some of the ways that people develop neurodegenerative brain disorders?

[00:02:07] Kristen Dams-O'Connor: I wish I had an answer because then we would be able to treat them. There are many ways, a person can develop a neurodegenerative brain disease. Some are genetic, and even those that are genetic have a large environmental component.

[00:02:24] So there are certain environmental and lifestyle risk factors that can increase a person's risk for the development of a neurodegenerative disease like dementia.

[00:02:35] Stephen Calabria: In your work, what is your understanding of resilience?

[00:02:40] Kristen Dams-O'Connor: I think I have two answers to that. The first is that after surviving a trauma, such as a traumatic brain injury, resilience is the ability to live well. To live a good and meaningful life as is, after an injury.

[00:02:57] My second answer is that I hate that term. I don't like that the term resilience would ever imply that a person who is not able to achieve the level of recovery they had hoped for is somehow weaker than others who were able to achieve a more favorable recovery. Resilience is, if anything, a muscle. That we can train. It's an opportunity and everyone I think is capable of becoming more resilient.

[00:03:27] Stephen Calabria: Amen. Now you study brain disorders stemming from intimate partner violence, is that correct?

[00:03:36] Kristen Dams-O'Connor: We study the implications of traumatic brain injury that results from intimate partner violence.

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