David A. Winters: Facilities at Fort Bliss, elsewhere will offer hope for traumatic brain injury
For elpasotimes.com By David A. Winters / Guest columnist
Returning Navy SEAL Lt. Pete Scobell remembered, "I couldn't read emails let alone write them. My wife would ask me to run to the grocery store, and I would find myself sitting in the parking lot at work. I was taking six Excedrin a day to cope with my headaches. The herniated discs in my neck would keep me up all night unless I drank myself to sleep.
"I'll never forget my first consultation and Dr. Robert Koffman (at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence) saying to me, 'Pete, you're broke, but we can fix you.' In an instant I had hope again!"
The hope is real at three dedicated clinical facilities attached to military bases in northern Virginia, southern Kentucky and North Carolina, and the NICoE research and treatment facility on the campus of Walter Reed National Medical Center outside the nation's capital. Future sites include Fort Bliss.
These facilities are estimated to be six to eight years ahead of any others in the world in treating traumatic brain injury, the signature wound of our country's current cycle of war.
At Fort Campbell, Ky., (opened less than a year ago), TBI-treatment responses approach or exceed the advances against infection after the introduction of penicillin to our forces in World War II, the first conflict in which fewer of our combatants died from disease than battle wounds.
As determined by a battery of standardized neuro-cognitive tests that certify a soldier prepared to return to active duty, the center's success rate is 92 percent.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are 2.5 million new cases of TBI in the United States each year.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have brought home the severity and scope of traumatic brain injuries. What has not been noticed is that, as a result of the Intrepid Spirit Centers and NICoE, the injuries can now be diagnosed and treated.
This remarkable progress didn't happen on its own.
Since 2008, a non-profit organization — the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund — has worked with teams of military and civilian brain specialists, as well as with architects and builders, to design and construct the special-to-the-purpose centers for brain research and rehabilitation.
Two additional centers will open this year. The fund has just launched a campaign to raise money to build the final four centers by the end of 2016.
In addition to Fort Bliss, these four planned facilities will be Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, Camp Pendleton in California and Fort Carson in Colorado.
Each will treat at least 1,000 patients a year and incorporate a new, fully interlinked research information network.
Clinical readouts on every patient will flow directly into a system-wide data center, turning the Intrepid Spirit Centers and the NICoE into a unified "central nervous system" for brain trauma analysis.
The cost will be $12.5 million for each facility and $50 million for all four. A $25 million national fund will be created to match $6.25 million that each of four regional committees will raise to create the center in its area.
In a very few years the Intrepid Spirit Centers have proven that, like the rest of the body, if properly exercised, the brain can repair itself.
Already their innovative research and treatment techniques are being applied to civilians suffering from injuries received in football, hockey, snowboarding, rodeos, and car accidents.
Intrepid Spirit Center doctors believe that these advances could soon unlock the secrets of strokes, Parkinson's, MS, autism, Alzheimer's, attention deficit and other brain disorders, "teaching the brain to fight back."
David Winters is president of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to serving United States military personnel wounded or injured in service to our nation, and their families.