Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on Feb. 26, 2018
While walking to work on a rainy day, Michelle Trotter, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, slipped and landed headfirst on the floor. The accident caused problems with her depth perception and persistent headaches—symptoms she didn’t realize resulted from traumatic brain injury (TBI). Doctors checked her visible injuries, monitored her progress, and sent her back to work.Trotter, who was a medical readiness officer while in the Army Reserve, later sustained two additional TBIs before she was diagnosed with a TBI. She sustained the first TBI after she became dizzy and collapsed while loading groceries into her car. Years later, she had another TBI while completing a 20-mile bike ride when an impatient driver tried to veer around her group and hit her in the process. She was wearing a helmet, which helped minimize the seriousness her injury.After the third TBI, Trotter was sent to a local hospital then transferred to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland, for a brain scan. It was there doctors discovered a moderate TBI. After the TBI diagnosis, doctors worked with her to create a treatment plan for her difficulties with depth perception, dizziness, and balance issues, along with pain and persistent headaches.Throughout her treatment, Trotter met with a series of health care professionals and credits them with helping her to recover quicker. She started occupational, physical and behavioral health therapies, and later recreational therapy at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Maryland. While she can’t bike yet, she has learned new skills such as fly fishing, archery and knitting.“I want people to take advantage of all the opportunities presented to them so they can experience those, and meet people who are in similar situations as themselves.”Trotter also emphasized the importance of having a personal support system, in the form of a family member or friend. “I want people to make sure they always have someone there to support them, that understands health care, the situation, and can serve as an advocate,” she said.Trotter is excited to get back to doing the things she enjoys—like biking and teaching others to ski. Until then, she’s diligently keeping her appointments and completing her treatments with a positive attitude. “I try not to own the ‘sick’ label so I don’t get stuck in that world," she said. "I don’t want that to be my normal.”Visit stories on the A Head for the Future website to hear more compelling personal accounts of recovery and hope from other service members, veterans and caregivers. Have a story to share with our team? Submit yours by email today.
Combat Veteran Pursues Medical Degree While Managing TBI
Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on Feb. 21, 2018
Retired Army Staff Sgt. Karl Holt was deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 when his helicopter crashed while evading enemy fire. He was severely wounded and lost consciousness before waking up and being medevaced to safety. Holt, a Special Forces medic, was treated for a broken leg and back. Then, his doctors checked up on one more area, his brain. Holt was given a Military Acute Concussion Evaluation, commonly known as the MACE, which is often used to assess a traumatic brain injury (TBI). But, because he wanted to return to work he masked his symptoms to avoid a diagnosis, he was allowed to return to duty without any further evaluation. While Holt was home recovering from other injuries, he signed up for college classes. That's when he noticed he had trouble writing a two-page paper. “It took me 36 to 48 hours. I just couldn’t convey [my thoughts on] my paper—I had trouble finding words,” he said. “That was the first time it started to sink in that something wasn’t right with my head and my thinking.” Holt dropped the class. He experienced other symptoms, too, such as frustration (which he attributed to PTSD), forgetting where he put things, and trouble sleeping. Despite these challenges, he continued to serve.Three years later, Holt felt out of control. “My symptoms were so bad and I was getting depressed. I felt dumb and incapable, and it was getting in the way of things I wanted to do with my life,” he said.Holt met with a medical provider at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, who diagnosed him with a mild TBI. He started a treatment program that included optical, occupational, hand-eye coordination and cognitive therapies, in addition to daily exercises he completed on his own. He no longer wanted to let his symptoms get in the way of his life and he truly believed he could get better.“I realized I’m in the driver’s seat,” he said. “What’s done is done, and I can learn how to deal with it and get better.”Two years after starting therapy, Holt felt ready to go after one of his biggest goals: applying to medical school. He got into medical school at the University of North Carolina, retired from the Army after nine years, and started classes. Holt continues to work toward his medical degree and soon will become a doctor. Though he occasionally has trouble concentrating, he knows how to manage it. He doesn’t know if he could have reached this point if his experience with TBI hadn’t pushed him to excel and find his passion.“You have to have something that will make you get out of bed when you don’t need to get out of bed," he said. "You need to find some purpose.”Visit the A Head for the Future website to hear more compelling personal stories of recovery and hope from other service members and veterans. Have a story to share with our team? Submit yours by email today.
Coast Guard Veteran Recovers, With Her Family’s Support
Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on Jan. 31, 2018
In 1998, Coast Guard veteran Alexis Courneen was hit by a buoy crane during her first weeks of duty. She was treated for an arm injury and other physical ailments, but potential concussion injuries were not addressed. Alexis received an honorable discharge in 2000.For 10 years after the crane incident, Alexis experienced blurred vision, speech and balance problems, and persistent headaches. She was confused and frustrated by these symptoms, and her husband, Jason, was equally frustrated that Alexis showed no signs of recovering from whatever was ailing her. The symptoms persisted and caused a great deal of marital stress and tension.After years of agony and countless appointments with doctors who were treating each symptom separately, one of them finally suggested that Alexis see a polytrauma doctor – a doctor who specializes in traumatic injuries. When she did — 10 years after being hit by a crane — traumatic brain injury (TBI) finally came up.The polytrauma doctor ordered a neurological test for Alexis. He also gave Jason a list of TBI symptoms and asked him to point out those experienced by Alexis. Jason started crying when he realized Alexis had suffered with many of the symptoms listed, including mood swings, vision problems and headaches.The results of the neurological test confirmed the doctor’s suspicion: Alexis was diagnosed with a moderate TBI. The diagnosis changed everything.Alexis and Jason reflect positively on that appointment. Having a diagnosis allowed Alexis to receive therapy by a TBI specialist. Instead of taking shots in the dark to guess what caused Alexis’ symptoms, she and Jason could take an informed approach to treating her TBI — improving not only Alexis’ health, but also the well-being of their family as well.Throughout this process of diagnosis and treatment, Jason has supported Alexis as a caregiver, a role he shares with their two teenage daughters. Jason said that to prevent caregiver fatigue he stays active by running, mountain biking and skiing, and maintains some autonomy so he won’t “lose himself.” He added, “Every day is different. I remember my limits and take breaks as needed so that I can center myself and be the best husband, dad and caregiver possible.”As one of his wife’s biggest advocates, Jason consistently stays abreast of TBI resources to make sure he understands what’s going on prior to going with Alexis to doctor’s appointments. Such family support has brought unexpected benefits: When Alexis sustained another moderate TBI in a skiing accident in 2014, the whole family was prepared. They knew what the recovery process would look like and the steps she needed to take — beginning with getting plenty of rest.In 2016, Jason served as a Dole Caregiver Fellow through the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. Through that role, he has been able to support fellow caregivers – especially male caregivers – by sharing his experience with policymakers, community leaders, health care professionals and other caregivers. To learn more about A Head for the Future and partners who share Defense Veterans and Brain Injury Center resources, click here.Visit Stories on the A Head for the Future website to hear more compelling personal accounts of recovery and hope from other service members, veterans and caregivers. Have a story to share? Submit yours by email today.