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Baylor College of Medicine students introduced to ACEs science


“I was one of those statistics that ACEs scientists and researchers talk about,” Dr. Gregory Williams, an administrator in the Baylor College of Medicine, told the school’s first-year class.

Williams’ presentation about the science of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and his own experience as a trauma survivor, was organized by Dr. Reena Isaac of Texas Children’s Hospital for her class, "Hiding in Plain Sight: Understanding and Identifying Victims of Violence.”

Williams regularly speaks about the impact of childhood trauma and the importance of bringing to light many of the problems that cause serious physical and emotional trauma, but are not usually addressed in the medical curriculum.

The author of Shattered by the Darkness, a memoir describing his life at the hands of an abusive father, Williams speaks — in his talks, interviews, and in his book — to the need for physicians to learn about their patients’ trauma histories to be able to deliver the best care.

“ACEs” comes from the CDC-Kaiser Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, a groundbreaking public health study that discovered that childhood trauma leads to the adult onset of chronic diseases, depression and other mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence, as well as financial and social problems.  

As your ACE score increases, so does the risk of disease, social and emotional problems. With an ACE score of 4 or more, things start getting serious. The likelihood of chronic pulmonary lung disease increases 390 percent; hepatitis, 240 percent; depression 460 percent; alcoholism, 700 percent; attempted suicide, 1,220 percent. People with an ACE score of 6 or higher are at risk of their lifespan being shortened by 20 years.

“The brainstorming of the course included having community experts speak on the various topics — i.e. child abuse, interpersonal violence, trafficking, elder abuse, etc. — each week,” said Isaac. “The greatest impact and, I believe, the true lesson for the course, always lay in the course's panel of survivors.”

“That you spoke of your hidden, chronic abuse but were able to perform and project a ‘normal’ facade over all of those years, yet harbored true festering medical and psychological conditions, was an extremely important point to convey to our future physicians, and that's a lesson that ‘experts’ could never adequately relay,” Isaac told Williams.

In 2010, Williams himself had a trauma-related medical crisis when a valve in his heart stopped working. He says this was likely result of having internalized childhood trauma, and not breaking his silence about it for more than 30 years. He says he scored an eight out of 10 on an ACEs questionnaire, with 10 being the worst.

Williams, whose position involves hiring physicians for Baylor College of Medicine’s obstetrics and gynecology department at Texas Children’s Hospital, is also community manager for the new Baylor College of Medicine ACES Connection.

Gregory Williams, Ph.D., holds a copy of his book, Shattered by the Darkness.

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