Alcohol – Violence – Injury – LIFE!

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Meagan Norbury, 10 January 2014

There is a discomfiting regularity in the way stories highlighting alcohol-fuelled violence surface in our media. Invariably the trigger is a tragic and unnecessary death or a violent attack so horrifying as to warrant public attention – the victim’s life lying in the balance in an intensive care unit in a city hospital.

Tony Abbott’s decision today to call attention to the issue of alcohol-fuelled violence encourages debate about cause, an important precursor to change, but what of the effect of such violence? How much do we know about those victims who survive, but effectively lose their lives nonetheless? What is their story and what can our governments, state or federal, do to change the outcome for them?

One punch can travel at up to 40km per hour, impact with 400 kilograms of force and damage or kill in seconds. The force of the punch renders the victim unconscious. Their head hits a hard surface, causing their brain to bounce around inside the rigid cage that is their skull, resulting in bruising, bleeding, swelling and for many, permanent injury or death.

More than seven years since his alcohol-fuelled violence assault injury, James Macready Bryan – formerly a vibrant, sporty and talented young man – lives out his daily life dependent on the care of others, unable to speak, or move or eat independently, partially blind and deaf and vulnerable to infection. Another example, Ben Thompson, over the course of three years has painstakingly regained the ability to speak, though it’s not easy to make himself understood. He’s continuing to work on re-training his body to stand unassisted.

Both these young men were in the prime of their lives, preparing for productive futures as citizens and members of their communities. Their futures have been stolen by willful acts of violence that will cost their families and their communities millions of dollars for their care over an average lifespan. Access Economics estimates the lifetime cost of a severe traumatic brain injury is $4.8 million and a moderate injury $2.5 million (Access Economics Pty Ltd, 2009. The economic costs of spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury in Australia.)

Violent acts take lives. This is a fact. The injured may live on but their lives, and those of their families, medical staff, police attending the scene, friends and neighbours are irrevocably changed. The emotional trauma and the living legacy of senseless loss linger.

No safety net exists for victims of Acquired Brain Injury where their injury is sustained other than through road accident or in the workplace. In some Australian states, road accident isn’t covered either. These are random events, that can’t reasonably be planned for, or warded against. The JMB Foundation raises money in an attempt to bridge the gap and provide financial support for young victims of ABI with no safety net and great need. We strongly support the push for a national disability insurance scheme that will more effectively provide for rehabilitation and care for young sufferers of ABI.

The JMB Foundation is happy for our nation’s Prime Minister to bring focus to the problem of alcohol-fuelled violence. Alcohol-fuelled violence is an entirely preventable cause of Acquired Brain Injury that steals lives and leaves a legacy of lifelong pain and disability. The financial cost is enormous; the emotional cost is devastating and unquantifiable. Don’t let it happen to you.