Technical sergeant overcomes TBI and returns to duty
Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on Oct. 4, 2017
Eighteen months ago, U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Tuepker was living an active life as a service member, wife and mother of two children. But one night in January 2016, she experienced the unexpected. While putting clothes away, she hit her head on the lip of the dresser. After regaining her bearings, she brushed the incident aside.The next day, Jennifer felt so ill that a co-worker brought her to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with a mild concussion. A month later, Jennifer’s symptoms weren’t getting any better.“I started losing feeling in my extremities,” Jennifer said. “I was experiencing tingling in my face and frequent exhaustion.”Eventually, Jennifer was referred to a traumatic brain injury (TBI) clinic, where she received an MRI that revealed a Chiari malformation in addition to a concussion. By identifying this structural defect, the TBI clinic started Jennifer on her path to recovery.Jennifer learned that she needed surgery to correct the displacement of her cerebral tonsils. “[The surgeon] explained that there was herniation that was actually putting pressure on the brain stem,” Jennifer said. “If I didn’t get surgery, there was a chance that I could become paralyzed.”Jennifer underwent a successful surgery in May 2016, listened to her doctor and followed the postsurgery recovery instructions — including the most important direction to rest. As a result, she was able to return to work full time by July, and was released from the neurosurgeon’s care in September, just four months after her surgery. She still receives physical therapy for her neck.Jennifer is grateful for the support she received from family members and friends throughout her recovery. “My husband and kids were there through it all,” she said. “My dad was at the hospital for the surgery. I had a neighbor that took care of me during the day when my husband was at work. Everybody has been very supportive and constantly checking in on me.”“Luckily [my doctors] caught it early,” Jennifer said. “I was treated for the TBI and malformation early enough that there was no permanent brain damage.” Jennifer was declared fit for duty in April 2017, less than a year after her surgery, and will finish the remaining five years of her current enlistment contract.Visit the Stories page 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.
Former Special Operations Staff Sergeant Heals With Help of Fellow Military Member
Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on Aug. 23, 2017
While he recovered from sustaining a traumatic brain injury (TBI) after falling 50 feet during a training jump, former Staff Sergeant Brian Grundtner was missing one thing: sleep. Determined to find a solution, Grundtner went to the Concussion Care Clinic where he started therapy with licensed clinical social worker Dr. Brooke Heintz, a major in the North Carolina National Guard.“I definitely brought up my sleep issues and how they were worse now than they were before,” Grundtner said. “I had to step forward and help myself. I had to put myself first so that I could make everybody else around me stronger.”For those who have experienced TBI, getting enough sleep is a key element of recovery. Heintz helped Grundtner address his sleep issues and shared tools to help. Grundtner underwent sleep hygiene training and learned new ways get a good night’s sleep.“Once I started sleeping better, I could feel myself getting better,” he said.Heintz said she takes tremendous pride in aiding her brothers and sisters in the military community. “I think that there is a huge misperception about a referral to a behavioral health provider,” she said. “[Brian] was referred to me for sleep hygiene training.” She stressed that not everyone who seeks treatment or care is experiencing behavioral problems.Since finishing his treatments with Heintz nearly two years ago, Grundtner has seen positive results. He graduated from an MBA program, settled into a thriving career, and got married. Grundtner said that it’s people like Heintz and his wife, Michelle, who keep him grounded in harder times.As he continues to make progress in his recovery and cope – with the support of his wife – Grundtner offered up some words of encouragement for some of his colleagues struggling with TBI.“[This injury] allowed me to see areas in my life that needed to be tended to,” he said. “You don’t have to say ‘well this is my new normal and I can’t change it.’ You define your normal.”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.
Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on Aug. 23, 2017
U.S. Army veteran Sgt. 1st Class Elana Duffy started rock climbing when she was 14. She climbs to relieve stress. But after her second tour of duty, Duffy had to quit climbing and wasn’t sure why — until she learned she had symptoms of a traumatic brain injury (TBI).Duffy joined the Army to support a cause she valued and find a career that allowed her to work with her hands and mind. She deployed to Afghanistan in 2004 and then to Iraq in 2005. While in Iraq, Duffy experienced a head injury from a roadside bomb. She sought help and received her TBI diagnosis two years later.Before her diagnosis, Duffy tried to lead her “normal” life. She hid her worries from people, came up with excuses for taking so long to remember names, and lost her ability to concentrate. Eventually she developed migraines, vertigo and cloudy vision, which interfered with daily life and her climbing.“I knew I had all of these symptoms but didn’t put it together,” she said. “Was it PTSD? I made an appointment.”Noting Duffy’s symptoms and her concussive blast injury, her doctor diagnosed her with a TBI.“It was reaffirming to hear that I was [going to] be OK,” Duffy said.She took therapy classes that involved physical, memory and concentration exercises.“I did start noticing the difference, and that alone was worth it to me because I needed something to help start improving me and getting me back to … where I felt functional,” she said.Because climbing wasn’t an option, at least initially, Duffy had to find new stress-relief techniques.. With therapy, she slowly began climbing again.Now, she takes life one day at a time and understands that each day brings challenges. She knows that the climb is tough, but it is possible.“My advice: Don’t stop fighting,” Duffy said. “Now I am climbing better than [before] I had to stop!”Learn more about signs and symptoms of TBI, and visit the stories page to watch videos of service members and veterans who experienced TBI and got help.