Backus emergency doctor raising awareness about strangulation victims

Old Lyme — Dr. William Horgan is on an educational mission.

Horgan, associate chief of the Emergency Department at The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich, has been working over the past year to spread the word that victims of domestic abuse who have been strangled by their partner are at seven times higher risk than others of a future homicide attempt.

“After I learned about it, I was actually embarrassed because of how little I knew about it and how often it’s overlooked,” he said. “I felt we needed to do an educational program.”

At 7 p.m. Thursday at Old Lyme Middle School, Horgan will talk about how to recognize strangulation victims, who often don’t show physical signs of the abuse, and how to offer support and referrals to agencies that can help them. Joining him in the talk will be Kathy Verano, executive director of Safe Futures in New London, and Sarah Steere, prosecutor for New London Superior Court. Admission is free.

It will be the fourth program on this topic for Horgan since early 2016, when he attended an event about domestic violence at Connecticut College and learned about the connection between strangulation and homicide.

Law enforcement and emergency personnel, along with nurses and doctors, he said, need to learn the subtle signs that someone has been the victim of strangulation, which can include changes in voice, confusion, dizziness and memory problems, all of which can be caused by having their air supply forcibly constricted. Awareness of the problem is crucial, he said, because few victims report that they have been strangled to police or other authorities.

Victims then can be directed to agencies such as Safe Futures for help. Safe Futures is a nonprofit agency that provides services each year to hundreds of domestic violence and sexual assault victims.

Horgan said he is hoping for a good turnout of paramedics, emergency medical technicians, emergency dispatchers, firefighters, police, physicians, nurses and others at the talk.

Since staff at Backus became more aware of the problem, he said, two victims have been identified and referred to Safe Futures.

j.benson@theday.com

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