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Jack Sisson's TBI Blog

A hug is duct tape for the soul.

 

NY Times, August 26, 2007 --
WHEN Charline and Dan Truitt of Irvine, Calif., owners of a company that audits mortgage lenders, started misplacing their keys and blanking on names, they made all the usual jokes about senior moments. But it was no laughing matter when Mrs. Truitt, 62, started forgetting client appointments.

“I was honestly wondering if we would have to sell the company,” she said. Instead, she started using Brain Fitness Program, a software product that says it can improve brain power through its regimen of mental calisthenics. After about six weeks, she said, “I could suddenly remember where things were and remember appointments, and didn’t have any problem recalling conversations.”
But on the other hand...
“The scientific evidence for those commercial products is still very weak,” said Timothy A. Salthouse, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. “Manufacturers and companies have jumped into this without doing the research” to prove that their products enhance cognitive function or delay mental decline, he said.

It’s not that you can’t teach an old brain new tricks, Dr. Salthouse said — in fact, you can. Recent research in neuroplasticity — the brain’s ability to change in response to information and new activities — shows that brain cells and new pathways continue to develop throughout life. A 2003 study found that people older than 75 who danced, read, or played board games or musical instruments faced a lower risk of dementia.

Unfortunately, translating this research into specific mental workouts to postpone cognitive decline may be far from easy.
Keep reading.

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U.S. Army Sgt. Frank Sandoval
It's hard to believe that, at this late date, certain people still accuse those of us opposed to the Iraq War of not supporting our troops. How in the world can they construe supporting our troops to mean sending them back into that escalating quagmire for repeated (and extended) tours of duty where over 3,700 have died and approximately 1,800 have suffered traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)?

According to the Washington Post, "...neurologists worry that hundreds of thousands more -- at least 30 percent of the troops who've engaged in active combat for four months or longer in Iraq and Afghanistan -- are at risk of potentially disabling neurological disorders from the blast waves of IEDs and mortars, all without suffering a scratch." A study by researchers at Harvard and Columbia predict that brain injuries from the Iraq war will cost the government at least $14 billion over the next 20 years.

Here's one more recent story:
CAMP WILLIAMS, Utah (ABC 4News)- A voluntary assignment to help the people of Afghanistan develop new agriculture skills turned into a life long sentence for a Utah man, who joins an increasing list of returning soldiers who suffer from traumatic brain injuries caused by roadside bombs.

"I remember leading up to it, the event, most of the explosion, no," said Highland resident Doyle Peterson.

A roadside bomb destroyed Peterson's vehicle in rural Afghanistan two years ago on August 21, 2006. He is recovering physically, but like many roadside bomb survivors Peterson sustained permanent damage to his brain.

"It's a blank spot. I do remember some of the things that happened when we were being evacuated to the field hospital," he said.

Brain injures are now the signature injury of the Iraq war according to former Secretary of Army, Martin R. Hoffman. Hoffman came to Utah to meet with members of the Community Based Health Organization (OBHCO) located at Camp Williams.
Continue reading.

The photo accompanying this post was honored in The Best of PhotoJournalism 2007. Go here to see this picture and other winners.

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Courtesy movieprop.com
The Murfreesboro Post By Dr. MARK KESTNER
A savant is a rare individual that possesses an extraordinary ability to perform mental tasks that seem superhuman. Savants are typically autistic people that are limited in some aspects of intellectual capacity, but perform like a genius in others. The most widely known example of a savant is the real person that inspired the movie, “Rainman.”

The movie was based upon a real man named Kim Peek...Now in his fifties, Kim is the most famous savant in the world. He can read a page of text in about 10 seconds.
( Click here to watch a short documentary on Kim Peek. If the link doesn't work, just go to www.youtube.com and type Kim Peek in the Search bar.)
Darold A. Treffert, a leading medical expert on autism, states that savants tend to have exceptional abilities in one of five areas: music, art, lightning calculations, calendar calculating and mechanical or spatial skills. Savants may be able to play a complete symphony after hearing it only once or draw an exact rendering of a city skyline with only a brief glance to record the vision.

It is even more astounding to realize that there is another type of savant … those known as acquired savants. These individuals were born and developed normally. They acquired astonishing skills usually after a traumatic brain injury. [emphasis added] Often they are left with a mental impairment, but are able to do calculations and exhibit near perfect recall of certain types of memory.

A most unusual case involved Orlando Serrell. Orlando was a normal 10-yeaold boy until he was hit in the head with a baseball. Within a few months of that injury Orlando began recalling such things as every license plate of the cars that had passed. Or, if you mention a date since his accident, he can effortlessly recall the weather and his whereabouts for that day. Unlike many autistic savants, however, Orlando still retains normal brain function.

Keep reading.

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Meetup.com logo
Dealing with a traumatic brain injury is difficult enough without dealing with one all by yourself. An obvious question, then, is "What support groups or online communities are there to help me cope?" And the answers are often obvious enough, too: Check with your local hospitals. Ask your doctor or other healthcare professional. Contact your local social-services organization for leads. And, of course, consult Google.

But there's one possibility you may have overlooked.

Meetup.com first achieved significant notice during the 2004 US Presidential campaign, particularly when Joe Trippi so brilliantly led Howard Dean's Democratic primary campaign straight to the people via the Worldwide Web. But it -- Meetup -- isn't and never was primarily a political tool; it just lent itself handily to that use. The idea is simple, on the face of it (from the "About Meetup" page at their site):
Meetup.com helps people find others who share their interest or cause, and form lasting, influential, local community groups that regularly meet face-to-face. We believe that the world will be a better place when everyone has access to a people-powered local Meetup Group. That's our goal.

Meetup Groups help people:
  • Find others who share their interests
  • Get involved locally
  • Learn, teach, and share things
  • Make friends and have fun
  • Rise up, stand up, unite, and make a difference
  • Be a part of something bigger — both locally and globally
We're proud to give more power to the people and we believe it's possible to make a profit and make a difference.
In general, Meetup provides a software and networking framework which makes it easy for people sharing similar interests to find one another. Of course, there are plenty of online fora, bulletin boards, newsgroups, and similar resources which serve as gathering places for like-minded groups. But importantly, the gathering places for meetups are off-line: in homes, meeting and conference rooms, schools... All that Meetup itself provides is a simple means to organize the gatherings.

After you've browsed around Meetup.com for even a few minutes, it becomes obvious how and why it's become a popular tool for this purpose; it becomes especially obvious how diverse are the interest groups that have come to depend on it.

So maybe it's not too surprising then to find that there are a lot of TBI-related meetups, not just in the United States but around the world.

Now, don't expect to find hundreds of participants in your city. You may find tens, or even less. (Here in our city, currently only a single person is seeking a meetup.) But such things always start small. And sharing with -- and supporting -- one another (to say nothing of not getting lost in a crowd) is a heck of a lot easier with smaller numbers anyway.

If your locale does not yet have a TBI meetup group of its own, consider starting one. Be patient. Someone out there, just a few miles away, is likewise hoping to meet you.

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April Textures, photo copyright 2007 by Jason Antony (vancanjay) of sxc.huThe New York Times has established a "wall" around some of its content, requiring that you pay a fee in order to see that content. This brief article is behind the TimesSelect wall, but if you can get to it, it's an interesting illustration of how suddenly, unexpectedly, and, well, weirdly TBI can strike.
[A decade ago,] Philip Vanaria had gone for a walk in Greenwich Village, where he had lived most of his adult life. A friend wanted ideas for his birthday, which was coming up. At the corner of Hudson and Morton Streets, he called her from a pay phone.

"Hello," she said.

Something jolted Mr. Vanaria’s elbow. Then it shot into his arm. Waves of pain ran along his arm. He nested the phone on his left shoulder, cranked his ear down.

"I said, 'I think I’m having a heart attack,'" he recalled this week.

He was just about to turn 47, the hour of life when the body becomes a permanent suspect in acts of treachery. To calm himself, Mr. Vanaria reached for one of the posts next to the phone, and gripped it. He screamed. Someone was shooting him dead, a machine gun, it was the tail end of an era of drive-by killings, he was being riddled with bullets. He looked into the street to see his murderers.

No car. No gunmen. No one.

Then he realized that he could not let go of the post. Panic and pain ripped through his body. His arm fought with his fingers, which were locked onto the post by an invisible force. He unclenched his grip and pulled away.

A man stood nearby. "What’s happening?" he asked Mr. Vanaria.

"You don’t understand," Mr. Vanaria said. "I was being electrocuted."

In a daze, Mr. Vanaria walked away. Who do you tell? The police? The Fire Department? He walked to the firehouse of Engine 18 on 10th Street, spoke to a battalion chief, who brought a crew to the corner. Someone touched the phone with a metal tool, and it sparked. The firefighters cordoned the intersection and called Con Edison. The electricity was measured at 90 volts.

The fire chief urged Mr. Vanaria to go to the hospital. Instead, he wandered up to St. Francis Xavier church on West 16th Street. Later, he went to St. Vincent’s. They asked him his date of birth. It took him a while to come up with it.

He had, he learned, suffered a brain injury. He had literally been fried.
Lest you think a TBI comes just from obvious trauma: a gunshot wound; an automobile crash; the explosion of an IED beneath your armored car on a lonely road outside Baghdad... No, it can come at you just from the simple act of picking up a telephone receiver.

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More on TBI and the military...
  • The Army News Service reports that -- as announced a few weeks ago -- "The Army launched its Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and mild Traumatic Brain Injury chain-teaching program at the Pentagon last week." The program:
  • ...is mandatory for all active-duty and reserve-component Soldiers, from the highest to lowest levels in the chain of command.
    ...
    Lt. Gen. James L. Campbell, director of the Army Staff, opened the training by telling his peers that the biggest teaching point he wanted to get out to the Army's leaders involved a cultural shift in thought - that leaders shouldn't assume that because Soldiers have no visible injuries that all is well mentally.
  • Good news no matter how you look at it, or from what portion of the political spectrum.
  • And on the not-yet-dealt-with front, we have a report from NPR's KUOW (Seattle) of the experience of a local soldier, Staff Sgt. Richard Kellar, with the hell of TBI:
  • KELLAR: "Depression, anxiety and all the rest of that stuff. It's bad. They give you Zoloft and they try to monitor it. And all the rest of that."

    REPORTER: "Does it help?"

    KELLAR: "I don't know. I don't see a difference. I'm still depressed."
It's going to take years -- decades -- for the full impact of returning Iraq veterans' TBIs to be handled (well or at all) by US society, as Kellar's experience (and others like it) is already showing. But it's encouraging to see even the limited progress represented by the Army's joint PTSD/TBI educational program.

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Jack can certainly speak on this topic. If you've read the beginning of his book, posted here online, you'll remember that, after his TBI, Jack was "fired" by his first doctor because of his behavior -- behavior he couldn't help.

From a recent article:
The council's study centers on the disruptive behaviors and emotional problems that brain-injury patients often exhibit and ways to help them, said Paul Aravich, a neuroscientist at Eastern Virginia Medical School and the council's past chairman.

Such problems often affect a person's impulse control, emotional skills and thinking skills and can be "the most disabling features of a brain injury," Aravich said. That's because the behavior, including anger and aggression, is often misunderstood, he said. The patient may be perceived as a "jerk" or as someone a nursing home or other center doesn't want to deal with, he said.

"If you are a person with a physical disability who is well-mannered and compliant, you can get help," he said. "But if you are a person with a challenging behavior, it is an entirely different problem. There is not a facility available to take care of them."
Read the whole article.

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - A man with severe brain injuries who spent six years in a near-vegetative state can now chew his food, watch a movie and talk with family thanks to a brain pacemaker that may change the way such patients are treated, U.S. researchers said on Wednesday.

The 38-year-old man is the first person in a minimally conscious state to be treated with deep-brain stimulation, a treatment that uses a pacemaker and two electrodes to send impulses into a part of the brain regulating consciousness.

Keep reading.

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