Serial Killer Whisperer: Tony Ciaglia

Next on The Doctors, we meet a man named Tony Cigalia. He was a normal teenager until age 15 when he was in a serious accident where he hit the back of his head on a fast moving jetski. The accident left him in a coma for more than a month. When he awoke, he was more aggressive. His entire personality had changed, and he could no longer recall basic information, including the names of the seasons, or the correct order of the days of the week.

While Tony made good physical recovery, he was still having problems with his mental recovery. His psychologist suggested he pick up a hobby. He chose to look deeper into serial killers and the crimes they committed. He wrote to many of them in prison and received thousands of letters and works of art, and even a tooth from one inmate.

Neurosurgeon Dr. Ian Armstrong and Dr. Travis joined Tony on stage.  Tony says he started writing to serial killers for nothing more than a hobby. He wanted to reach out to murderers, because he understood how isolated they felt. After his accident, he was incredibly isolated from his family, friends, and other loved ones. He said the communication with them enabled him to gain their trust, at which point they started to tell secrets. He started using the letters to aid police in investigations.

He says he has been able to solve a cold case in Alaska, and is currently working with the  National Federation of Missing and Exploited Children on a few other cold cases.

What Causes a Traumatic Brain Injury

Dr. Armstrong tells us what causes a traumatic brain injury. He says it is caused by a sudden back and forth movement of the brain up against the skull. When this happens, some of the more than 100 billion gray matter nerve cells in your brain, that make up your personality and some of your memories, die off. Dr. Travis says this why some people who suffer a brain injury will forget some things, and may even have an entirely different personality at the end of recovery.

Some injuries won’t be visible by traditional scans such as MRI and CT scans. We see a comparison scan of Tony’s brain before and after the accident. We see a comparison between the normal areas of the brain, and the areas of Tony’s brain that are now damaged. Several things can be associated with brain injuries, including agression, loss of social cues, memory problems, and apathy. Tony says he doesn’t feel disabled compared to someone who is in a wheelchair and has a visible injury.

Dr. Travis says you cannot really predict what a personality change will be, but with an injury severe enough like Tony’s you can make a pretty good guess. He commends his family for sticking with him and supporting him through it, because it can take years for a “full” recovery from a brain injury, and even then there will be things that are never the same.

A book, The Serial Killer Whisperer by Pete Earley, explains Tony’s story and connection to serial killers in more depth.

photo by: Liz Henry

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