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First Public Case of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Linked to Domestic Violence Sheds Light on Hidden Danger
(Boston) – The family of a woman diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) caused by domestic violence is publicly sharing her story for the first time. María Pánfila, a California mother of seven, suffered decades of abuse by her husband and, by her mid-40s, experienced memory issues and other symptoms consistent with those caused by repeated brain trauma. She passed away at age 69, and following a post-mortem analysis, Dr. Ann McKee, chief of neuropathology for the VA Boston Healthcare System and director of the Boston University CTE Center and UNITE Brain Bank, diagnosed María Pánfila with severe CTE.
CTE is a progressive neurodegenerative disease caused by repeated hits to the head. Dr. McKee has confirmed hundreds of post-mortem diagnoses, often in contact sport athletes and military veterans. After studying Pánfila’s brain tissue in 2019, McKee concluded the extent of degeneration was more severe than that of any previously examined athlete or soldier.
“[Alzheimer’s and CTE] were both very severe by the time of death, and then compounding that is just this incredible loss of nerve cells and white matter fibers, the likes of which I’ve never seen in CTE or in Alzheimer’s disease,” said McKee.
The call between McKee and María Pánfila’s family, in which McKee disclosed her groundbreaking findings, is a key scene in the documentary film, “This Hits Home,” which also features Concussion Legacy Foundation co-founders Dr. Chris Nowinski and Dr. Robert Cantu. The film is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Click here to watch a trailer.
While María Pánfila’s diagnosis is the first public case of CTE linked to domestic violence, her daughter knows there are millions of women worldwide who suffer from similar brain trauma. Dr. María E. Garay-Serratos is the founder and CEO of the Pánfila Domestic Violence HOPE Foundation, and during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, she wants her mother’s story to open a lifesaving global conversation.
“At a minimum, we need governments, media, and the medical community to begin educating women and men about the health risks of domestic violence and the necessity of seeking treatment after a violent attack involving the head,” said Garay-Serratos.
Throughout “This Hits Home,” director Sydney Scotia features Garay-Serratos’s search for scientific answers to her mother’s neurological decline. The film also calls for more scientific and medical awareness for the estimated 75% of domestic violence survivors who suffer single or repeated traumatic brain injuries.
“We know domestic and intimate partner violence are tragically underreported, but this type of brain trauma is also under-researched,” said Scotia. “The link between these injuries and neurodegenerative diseases like CTE and dementia is an urgent research priority.”
The CLF HelpLine is here for domestic violence victims suffering with brain injury symptoms. The free service provides personalized support to individuals and families navigating the outcomes of concussion and suspected CTE.