Following the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) has become an all too familiar medical condition. The afflicted range from my fellow service members on the battlefield, to crash, sports and other head injury victims at home. For decades, common wisdom held that TBI was beyond treatment. But every day at six special centers (and soon, hopefully, four more) on military bases around the country, the conventional wisdom is being proven wrong.
Researchers and clinicians at these Intrepid Spirit Centers (ISCs) report success rates as high as 92 percent in returning TBI sufferers to full duty status and resume their regular duties. They are showing beyond any doubt that the injured brain, like other parts of the body, can repair itself.
A remarkable non-profit -- the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund – designed and paid for the building of the ISCs currently under construction at Fort Bragg (also on military bases in northern Virginia, Southern Kentucky and soon in Texas). They apply the findings of an associated research and treatment facility -- the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICOE) -- on the campus of Walter Reed National Medical Center near Washington. That is where my story begins.
When I returned from Afghanistan, I was different, but I did not realize how much my injuries affected not only me physically but how these injuries impacted everyone else. My physical and mental deterioration hit a defining moment as I watched my three year old cower down and cover his ears to silence my verbal assault on my wife over a simple pizza topping. Of all the things I have forgotten on a daily basis, that is a lasting image I cannot shake. I knew I was losing my family and needed help. With the support of my Command I found myself among NICOE’s first patients.
At NICOE, I was diagnosed with a TBI. The medical treatment I received was like nothing I had ever seen. It began with the clinical team interviewing me at length, identifying the physical, physiological, psychological, social and spiritual elements contributing to my symptoms and conditions. Then they developed a comprehensive, goal-directed treatment plan, which they implement.
In the weeks that followed, the caregivers coupled mainstream medical and therapeutic techniques with such non-traditional treatments as acupuncture and even aroma-therapy. Everything, I learned, was linked to new findings about the operation of the brain.
They made sure my family was involved with me every step of the way. At the end of four weeks, I was back invigorated and recharged with a renewed spirit, a diagnosis and a plan for continued treatment back at my command. The program saved my marriage and probably my life.
I am not an isolated case. The ISCs are reporting impressive numbers across the board numbers. Dr. Bret Logan, director of the ISC at Fort Campbell in Kentucky reports that, the center’s success rates are “determined by a battery of standardized neuro-cognitive tests that certify a soldier prepared to return to active duty.” All ISC success rates for TBI range from 85-92 percent. These numbers are comparable to penicillin’s in stopping infections when introduced in World War II.
Since my treatment, I have met hundreds in and out of the military who suffer from as I did. I have realized how important it is to speak out about the ISCs’ success and how important it is to get treatment.
Two more ISCs will open this year. Fundraising has begun for a final four at Joint Base Lewis McChord (Army and Air Force; Tacoma), Camp Pendleton (Marine Corps; California), Fort Carson (Army; Colorado Springs) and Fort Bliss (Army; El Paso).
Our heroes in uniform and their families aren’t the only beneficiaries. The science and clinical techniques of the Intrepid facilities will soon be used to treat sports and other civilian TBI. Meanwhile, NICOE and ISC researchers are making connections with other brain conditions including multiple sclerosis, strokes, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson disease.
I’m grateful to the Intrepid facilities for giving me my life back. I look forward to their helping millions more, civilian and military.
Maj. Steve Taylor, USMC, is from Winston-Salem.