Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on Nov. 17, 2017
During retired Marine Corps Capt. Wally Blair’s deployment in September 2007, his convoy hit a roadside bomb. Health care providers treated him for chemical burns and told him he had a concussion.In the years that followed, Wally began to experience a variety of issues. He struggled with memory and speech functions, and at times he would lose feeling in his arms. During a deployment in 2015, Wally was medevaced home to Camp Lejeune to have an operation for a degenerative disc disorder. That’s when he was referred to the traumatic brain injury (TBI) clinic for the injury he sustained in 2007.Before the referral, Wally’s wife, Jasmin, sensed that something needed to be addressed. A former Senior Airman in the U.S. Air Force, Jasmin said: “I started looking up the symptoms [Wally experienced] because I noticed a lot of different things after he came back from his incident in 2007. As time went on, they just continued to get worse.”It was the combination of Jasmin’s insistence and the visit to the TBI clinic that convinced Wally to take time to learn more about TBI symptoms and recovery. He was referred to the Wounded Warrior Clinic at Camp Lejeune, and his recovery truly took off after he received memory and speech therapy.Jasmin played an instrumental role in Wally’s recovery, using her own research and lessons from Wally’s health care provider to help him cope with his symptoms. She and their children did small things to assist Wally — like keeping various items stored in specific spaces and making sure he got enough sleep at night.Wally is not shy about crediting Jasmin’s role in his TBI recovery, but she remains humble: “I don’t necessarily view myself as a caregiver. I view myself more as a spouse that wants to help her husband lead a fulfilling life,” she said. “Every day is a different day. … My goal every day is just to know that when we close down for the night to go to bed, that we have let him lead a normal day and be productive. … Letting him know that we’re here as his support and to help him through the day.”Wally has shown tremendous progress since his TBI diagnosis, thanks in part to his supportive family. He continues his neurology and psychology appointments through the Department of Veterans Affairs and hopes to talk to and educate others in the military community about the symptoms they might be overlooking. Fittingly enough, Wally is now in school to become a teacher.As for Jasmin, she wants to let other caregivers know they should remember to care for themselves, in addition to their loved ones. “If you’re a caregiver, continue to be patient,” she said. “Make sure that you’re supporting yourself as well as your partner, and know your limitations.”Visit Stories on the A Head for the Future website to hear more compelling stories of recovery and hope from other service members and veterans. Have a story to share with our team? Submit your story by email today.
Military Spouse Acknowledges Limits as Caregiver, Value of Self-Care
Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on Nov. 15, 2017
Every morning when Lisa Colella wakes up, she asks herself one question: “What can I control today?”As a caregiver of a veteran with a traumatic brain injury (TBI), she knows much of the day’s developments are beyond her control. Instead, she prepares to help her husband cope with his TBI symptoms, such as forgetfulness, which can change in severity daily.“The person you wake up next to one day might be different the next,” she said.Colella’s husband, Marine veteran Staff Sgt. Rick Colella, sustained TBIs during a combat incident in 2003 and a military training accident in 2005. For two years, while he remained on active duty, the injuries were undiagnosed. But, Colella noticed something was off with her husband. He was irritable, at times hostile, and showed a decreased interest in and understanding of daily life events.“None of us knew what [TBI] was, so we didn’t know what was going on,” she said. “Though he was physically well, he had major personality changes. He had increased irritability and lots of ups and downs.”Colella convinced her husband to seek help. He saw medical providers at Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and received both a TBI and post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis. He started treatment with his wife by his side.In her new role as caregiver, Colella supports her husband as he continues treatment and copes with symptoms. She helps him remember appointments and tasks, and she is a calming presence when he experiences symptoms of anxiety. But, she also understands the importance of taking time for herself.“I get up before my family is awake for ‘me’ time, to do things for myself where I won’t be bothered,” she said. “I also take walks, set aside time to be social, schedule routine physical and mental health checkups, take classes available for caregivers, and exercise.”As for coping with the daily uncertainty of her husband’s symptoms, Colella said that it helps to know what she can control and to have patience with the things she can’t. “I can't control his actions or reactions, but I can control my actions and reactions,” she said. “In those moments, I take a time out, show grace and remind myself this is hard for him as well.”Visit the Stories section on the A Head for the Future website to read or watch more stories of recovery and hope from other service members and families. Have a story to share with our team? Submit your story by email today.
5 Facts a USMC Veteran Wants You to Know About Service Dogs
Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on Oct. 23, 2017
Retired United States Marine Corps Sergeant Major James A. Kuiken was paired with Freedom, a service dog who supports veterans with post-traumatic stress (PTS) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Freedom empowers Kuiken to reconnect with family and friends, while recapturing the life he had withdrawn from, as he recovered from PTS and TBI.Like other combat veterans, Kuiken thought he could manage his health on his own and it was not until he took a PTS/TBI survey from a veteran’s organization that he realized he was experiencing ongoing symptoms. For Kuiken, this was an indicator he needed help, so he researched service dogs to learn how they could recognize his PTS or TBI signs and support his recovery. From Kuiken’s experience with Freedom, the general public is unfamiliar with how service dogs assist veterans, so he provided A Head for the Future five facts everyone should know about service dogs:Service Dogs Are WorkingService dogs such as Freedom support their handler, and while they may not appear to be working, they are always on the clock and it is a full time job! To assist Freedom in performing his job well, let him stay focused and allow him personal space to work effectively.Service Dogs Are Medical EquipmentDistracting a service dog by talking, petting or drawing attention to them can impede the task they are trying to perform. The best approach to interacting with Freedom or another service dog is politely ignoring them. Yes, we know Freedom is cute, but a service dog is considered medical equipment, so please do not engage with them, as their primary responsibility is supporting their handler.Service Dogs Are A LifelineService dogs like Freedom help guide handlers through difficult situations, so they can walk through crowds, be calm during times of ambient noises or movement, and experience comfort in times of distress. In addition to providing cognitive support, service dogs can assist handlers with physical tasks such as balance, coordination and the retrieving of dropped objects. Combined, the integration of mental, physical and emotional assistance creates a sense of security and independence with their handler.Service Dogs Are Protected Under LawFederal law protects service dogs and their handlers under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which allows Freedom and Kuiken to access areas of a facility where the public is allowed to go. For this reason, staff are not allowed to inquire about a handler’s disabilities, require medical documentation, request a special identification card or training documentation for service dogs.Service Dogs Are LovedEven though service dogs are working, they are very much loved by their handlers. Freedom is well taken care of and some may say he’s better off than most pets because he is highly trained, self-aware of his surroundings, and wakes up each day with a purpose. Furthermore, Freedom and Kuiken have a bond that is bigger than his role as a service dog — it is deeper because Freedom helps Kuiken reclaim his life as he is recovering from PTS and TBI.These are just a few tips handlers would like everyone to know about interacting with their service dogs. For more information on the topic of service dogs, check out the Americans with Disabilities Act policies for service animals.To read more compelling stories of recovery and hope from other service members and veterans, visit blogs on the A Head for the Future website. Have a TBI experience to share with our team? Submit your story by email today.