Turn the Lights On!, New Book by Dr. Gordon, Shines a Floodlight on TBI

Over the last 36 months, according to the Department of Defense, more than 54,000 service members have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Additionally, reports indicate that approximately 750,000 veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts are struggling with service-related TBI and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a form of brain injury). Healing and recovery are possible for these veterans – but diagnosis comes first, and this is a difficult process that requires an increased awareness of what TBI looks like to healthcare providers and first responders, as well as employers, family members, friends, and community leaders. The fact that only 8-10% of all health care providers have training on TBI diagnosis and treatment certainly complicates the issue of rapid diagnosis and treatment.

Resurrecting Lives Foundation (RLF) was born in 2012 in order to drive advocacy and raise awareness for returning military members and veterans who have suffered from TBI. RLF founder Chrisanne Gordon, MD, has now published the story of her recovery from TBI – including the defining moment that launched her drive to change the system – in a new book, Turn the Lights On!, available through Amazon.

Researchers have now proven the link between TBI (a physical injury to the brain) and PTSD, (a chemical injury to the brain); these injuries share many of the same symptoms of hypervigilance, avoidance of persons and situation, isolation, and depression. This also complicates diagnosis. Dr. Gordon credits a young veteran with opening her eyes to this dilemma, and sparking the ember that eventually led to the foundation. Here’s an excerpt from her book.

While recovering from a TBI, it is difficult to become introspective. You spend so much time and energy just getting through the day’s reduced activities that there is no energy left for reflection. Nearly a decade later in my recovery I finally had the room for reflection and realized that my recovery was also my boot-camp for my work with veterans struggling with TBI.
Like the injury itself, the realization dawned on me rather abruptly while I was evaluating my first veteran at a VA outpatient clinic in Ohio. After requiring the young soldier to complete a computer-based, multiple-screen evaluation, I chose to take it too, out of curiosity. To my surprise, according to the VA program, I was diagnosed as having PTSD, not TBI. I related to my patient in that I shared many of his symptoms of hypervigilance, avoidance of crowds, lowered frustration threshold, and decreased tolerance to noise and light. I then explained that I sustained my injury while putting up Christmas lights, and his immediate reaction ultimately changed my life. I’ll never forget it.
No sooner had I muttered the words, “decorating the house for Christmas,” he seized my wrist, looked me squarely in the eye and proclaimed, “So what you mean, Doc, is that I’m not crazy!”
Wow! That hit me like a Humvee. Here, staring at my face for a reaction, was a young soldier who had survived serving two tours of duty in Iraq and eight IED explosions asking me — no, begging me – to legitimize his condition as a physical injury, not a mental illness. In that moment, I asked myself two questions: (1) just how many thousands of patients with brain injuries think they’re crazy? And (2) how can we, as physicians, correct this stigma of hopelessness?*

Read more of this riveting story of “hope, healing, and recovery” in order to raise your understanding of the symptoms, diagnosis, recovery, and support possible, especially for our veterans; an order placed here through Amazon Smile will return .05% of the purchase back to RLF.

 

From the Board: Owen Lee, Col (USA, Medical Corps, Retired), MD, RLF Board Vice Chair

 

Col. (Ret.) Lee, Vice-Chair of the RLF Board, served 22 years in the US army reserve from a private enlisted soldier during the Vietnam War era to a Colonel as an AMEDD officer, until his retirement in 2010. Additionally, as an Interventional Radiologist, he has worked at Licking Memorial Hospital in Newark, Ohio for many years. Lee has always felt a close bond to his band of brothers and veterans that served in the military.

 

Practicing medicine and serving in the military are the two significant achievements in my life. Medicine was already a part of my life as I grew up with an invalid father. My mother took on the role as the sole bread earner for our family. She was fortunate to be able to work at the USIS library in my native country Burma. Little did we know that her 19 years of service would allow us to emigrate to a new country called USA.

In 1962 a coup by the Burmese military overthrew the civilian government. I found myself in school being indoctrinated with socialism, and all private enterprise overnight became state property. The freedom that we all took for granted disappeared with the military junta which ruled the country for the next 50 years. They still rule with a quasi-civilian government. The Burmese jails were filled with students, journalists and political opponents who publicly disagreed with the military junta.

During my teenage years I knew a war was going on in Vietnam. It was only two countries away. That Vietnam War became more personal when my draft number was 21. Although not a citizen yet, I was going to serve in the US military. I was a student at University of Maryland and saw antiwar protests on campus and huge crowds of antiwar protestors converging in the D.C. area. That fall, 1972, I was called to basic combat training in Ft. Polk and later Army Medic training in San Antonio, Texas. The Vietnam War was unpopular and it was soon erased in public memory, along with the valor of the soldiers who paid with their lives and health. I still see patients who suffer from PTSD from that war and only lately from Agent Orange; its adverse health effects now being acknowledged by the VA administration.

Political events change our lives, and 9/11 was that event for many of us. When I was in advanced officer training before 9/11, I saw footage of the operations in Somalia and of the gaping hole on the side of the USS Cole destroyer. I knew then that our soldiers would be called to fight an “asymmetrical” warfare. We would have to follow rules while the enemy does not have any rules. The stress on our soldiers would be high as they engaged our enemies who use civilians, even women and children, to their advantage.

I was in Ft. Hood, Texas, at Darnell Army Hospital serving with the First Calvary Division. We lost many soldiers in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those that survive deal with the lingering effects of IEDs and PTSD. As a radiologist I am aware of the trauma from these IEDs and their effect on the brain. Some of these effects cause us to continue to lose our veteran soldiers through suicide, drug use and incarceration. It is in my DNA, and my calling in life, to take care of our soldiers.

Serving on the Board of Directors at RLF seems to be an extension of my interest. I hope to increase understanding and awareness of TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and PTSD in the community by serving on the Board. I hope also to educate the community and research the most effective treatment for those two areas that effect our soldiers. I am actively involved with the local Gulf War Veterans group “Buddy Group of Licking County” and WW II group “Battle of the Bulge Association.” By being engaged with these veterans’ groups I hope to bring to the Board perspectives from the veterans on how best to meet their needs and also how RLF can reach its objectives.

RLF Grant Enables a PINK Voice

In December, 2017, RLF provided a grant to enable a young US Army/US Air Force veteran, Harmony Allen, to attend and participate in the panel discussion Faces of Female Brain Injury, sponsored by PINK Concussions at the National Institutes of Health Workshop: Understanding Traumatic Brain Injury in Women.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My name is Harmony. I originally joined the military in 1999, and served in both the US Army and the US Air Force. I had a great love for the military and aviation. I first started as an aerospace medic. Later in my career I discovered a love for skydiving and found that there was a position opened at the Air Force Academy as a jump instructor. I started to do training jumps to meet the requirements and obtain the licenses I needed. Around my 100th jump I had a hard opening and a high-velocity skydiving accident on December 30th, 2006. In simple terms, I jumped at 18,000 feet and broke my neck at 5000 feet, going 120 mph. If not for the quick action of my fellow skydivers, I would have died before reaching the hospital. I was intubated and in a coma for a week, rated at a 7 on the Glasgow coma scale, which is the most severe head injury possible. I don’t remember much about the two weeks after the accident. As you can imagine, it was a tough time for me and my family. Once my physical injuries healed, I stayed in the military and I continued skydiving because no one told me not to, no one told me there was anything wrong with me. They were wrong. Way wrong.

I was left with frontal lobe damage with deficits in attention control, emotional control, social behavior and judgment. I had problems with decision-making, voice volume control, and a subsequent unexplained blown pupil left me virtually blind in my right eye. But none of that was diagnosed for almost 3 years. I went from doctor to doctor, looking for answers as to why I couldn’t remember things, why I wasn’t the ‘same old Harmony.’ Finally, in 2010, I was diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury. But with the relief of that diagnosis, came the pain of being discharged from the military. My dreams shattered, hopes of a 20-year military career following in my dad’s footsteps ended as abruptly as my parachute had opened.

I’m now a veteran rated at 100% disability. After months, years really, of treatment at the TBI unit of the Tampa VA, I learned of the PINK Concussion group, a non-profit focused on female brain injury. Upon joining, I was opened to a world of thousands of women with head injuries and now had a support network that would help me forever. The co-founder, Katherine Snedaker, asked if I would be willing to tell my story at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as they were having a symposium to talk specifically about female brain injuries and part of it would include a section on military. I thought, this was an opportunity that I could serve my country again and help other females with head injuries like me. I knew I had to get there, but I live in Florida and the NIH is outside of Washington DC! I felt a calling to do this and especially to represent women military on the PINK panel. Katherine worked very hard to find a group that would be able to help me get there. That’s when I met Resurrecting Lives Foundation, who offered to help me make it to the NIH.

I was speechless! Without RLF I would not have been able to make it to the PINK panel to help other women with concussions! While I was at the NIH I was able to bring awareness to the fact that as veterans we need to look outside the box of just IEDs and Humvee rollovers, that there are many ways military members experience brain damage, including our paratroopers, who can receive their injuries from parachute accidents. I was also able to bring up the idea that there should be a ward made for female veterans with TBIs since most of the members are males who receive brain damage and it can be hard to find space for the female injured. I also brought up the idea to include questions for providers to ask specifically related to head injuries as a lot of the symptoms can look like mental health symptoms, resulting in missed diagnosis like mine. My ideas were heard and actually included in the white pages by the NIH. I would never have been able to bring these ideas up if it wasn’t for the PINK Concussion organization asking me to join the PINK panel. I would never have made it to the PINK panel if it wasn’t for Resurrecting Lives Foundation! I owe you guys somuch and thank you again for giving me that opportunity!

Katherine Snedaker, LCSW, and Executive Director of PINK Concussions, also thanks RLF “for their grant to help Harmony travel to the PINK Panel at the NIH Workshop…. Harmony shared her incredibly moving story at the PINK Panel with the 150 members of the conference at our lunch meeting, and really was able to connect the participants of the medical conference with the true purpose behind the research – the need to help female veterans.”

RLF is pleased to have helped Harmony and Katherine to impact the future of TBI research for female veterans.

 

 

RLF in the Community

Cardinal Health presented RLF with a donation of $35,400 in December as proceeds from the 2nd annual RLF Charity Golf Outing, held in August 2017 at Golf Club of Dublin.
The event was sponsored by Cardinal Health Veteran & Military Advocate Employee Resource Group (VMA ERG). 140 golfers participated, with more than 30 Cardinal Health and RLF volunteers. Events on the day included putting and course contests, a silent auction, and lunch with featured speaker Matt Gossard, former 82nd Airborne paratrooper, who shared his path to recovery through RLF from TBI and addiction, and is now Champions Network Director for The Refuge.

In the photo above are, from left to right, Dr. Chrisanne Gordon (RLF founder), Alison Albers (VMA member/golf outing committee), Tonya Minor (VMA member/golf outing committee), Stan Crader (RLF Board member), Skylar Burgess (RLF Board member), Jon Giacomin (Cardinal Health CEO, Medical Segment, and Executive Sponsor VMA ERG), Scot Lindsey (Executive Sponsor VMA ERG), Sam Tucci (VAM member/golf outing committee).

Sixty-four corporate sponsors, in addition to Cardinal Health, included Honda, Advizex, Deloitte Consulting, VMware, VirtusaPolaris, Pace Harmon, TCS Consulting, Cognizant, Witron, L&T Infotech, Fast Switch, Centric Consulting, Red Planet Golf, CA, Oracle, PCM, Cheryl’s Cookies, Apex, HP Enterprise, CDW, NEC, Spectrum Sports. Cardinal Health Foundation contributed a grant of $5,000.

Cardinal Health VMA is already planning the 3rd Annual RLF Charity Golf Outing for August 26, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RLF was represented at the Wedgewood Golf and Country Club (Powell, Ohio) 2nd annual Health and Safety Fair on February 24 by volunteers Jessica Nixon and Jim Hrivnak.
More than 100 attendees of the Fair, including several veterans who spoke about their experiences, had a chance to chat and ask questions about RLF, pick up a brochure, and learn about the organization.

 

 

Wendell Guillermo and Chris Lawrence Honored as TBI Champions

RLF veteran ambassadors Wendell Guillermo and Chris Lawrence will be featured as TBI Champions on A Head for the Future, a U.S. Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) website that focuses on resources aimed at the prevention, recognition, and recovery of traumatic brain injury in the military.

U.S. Army Airborne infantryman Sgt. Wendell Guillermo’s video story is to be published during March; Marine Sgt. Christopher Lawrence will be featured during April.
Wendell says, “I was wounded by an enemy grenade during my first combat tour in Iraq. After separating from the service, I enrolled into the VA system and started to receive treatments from the VA through their Poly trauma unit. The VA provided me with techniques and strategies in helping my cognition and physical well-being. I was also furnished with a recorder to help with lectures in school, and a PDA to help with daily schedules. Today, I work as a Software Developer, mainly with data. What readers should be aware of regarding military TBI is that those who have TBI need to be persistent in their treatments, and will get better.”

RLF salutes Wendell and Chris for their service, persistence, and accomplishments

RLF to Join 4th Annual Run Down the Demons® 5K Obstacle Event April

Run Down The Demons®, a Columbus, Ohio nonprofit organization which advocates for education, awareness, and reseach into PTSD, TBI, and mental health issues faced by veterans and their families, will host its fourth annual 5K obstacle event on April 7 at Remembrance Park at the Ohio State University in Columbus. Resurrecting Lives Foundation will be present at the event in order to share information and support.

Run Down The Demons® has designed its course to challenge, in much the same way that mental and brain injuries challenge, but is not overly physically taxing. The course will be populated with statistical and informational boards about veteran-related health complications. The event is aimed at raising awareness about veteran PTSD and suicide prevention, and at lifting the stigma linked to these issues. Events for the weekend include:

Friday, April 6, 2 pm: screening and panel discussion of the film “Thank You for your Service”, based on the book of the same name by reporter David Finkel

5 pm: reception and networking with Finkel

Saturday, April 7, 9 am: race registration

10 am: obstacle event begins

For more information, see the organization’s website. https://www.rundownthedemons.org/