• Air Force Veteran Recovers From Severe TBI, Becomes VA Peer Counselor
    Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on Nov. 1, 2016
    Air Force veteran John Sharpe attributes one thing to saving his life when he crashed into a tree nearly 30 years ago: his seat belt.“My water ski was in the back of my truck and it … went out the front window,” he said. “I would have been the same way if it hadn’t been for my seat belt.”Driving home late from his parents’ house one night, Sharpe fell asleep behind the wheel. The crash put him in a coma for more than 40 days. When he woke up at a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital, doctors told his parents that he had a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) and that they were unsure of the extent of his recovery.  “I started hearing the doctors talk about … [the] possibility of needing 24-hour, seven-day-a-week care,” he said, adding: “They were helping my parents understand what might be a problem.”Sharpe started treatment through the VA Polytrauma System of Care, and his condition quickly improved.“I was going through some of my therapies, having some small successes and improvements,” he said. “I decided that I’ll never be 100 percent healed again, but I was going to do everything I [could] to be 99.9.”With the help of physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and kinesiotherapy specialists, Sharpe showed remarkable progress. He started to walk and talk again, and eventually he left the hospital for home. Today, he continues therapy with the support of his wife and children. “Seeing a mental health provider turned my life around, saved my marriage, allows me to work a full-time job and carry [on] a normal life and have two kids,” he said, encouraging others to seek out support.Sharpe is now a TBI advocate and peer counselor at his local VA facility’s polytrauma unit, helping patients and families during the recovery process that he knows firsthand.“The military and the VA [have] the best health care providers in the world when it comes to traumatic brain injury,” he said.Visit the Stories page on the A Head for the Future website to discover more compelling stories of recovery and hope from other service members and veterans. Have a story to share with our team? Submit your story today.
  • Army Veteran Recovers with Help from Four-legged Friend: Meet Luis and Tuesday
    Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on Aug. 29, 2016
    While deployed in Iraq, Luis Carlos Montalvan experienced a blunt force trauma to the head during an enemy attack. After returning home, the U.S. Army veteran coped with anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability and dizziness — challenges he didn’t know were symptoms of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).Montalvan decided to get checked out by health care providers at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, where he was diagnosed with multiple TBIs from his experience in combat. Years later, Montalvan sustained another TBI when he stood up on a jarring New York City subway train to protect other passengers from a group of unruly teens.During his recovery this time, Montalvan lived alone (recently divorced) and had a hard time getting back on track. He decided to look for help — and that’s how he met Tuesday, his service dog.An organization contacted Montalvan to discuss a new program that connected people recovering from the effects of war with service dogs. The conversation led to Montalvan bringing a young, trained golden retriever home — which changed his life forever.“Tuesday is a form of therapy… He’s had a tremendous impact on helping me recover and live with traumatic brain injuries,” he said.In addition to working with Tuesday, Montalvan went through mental health, and physical and occupational therapies to support his recovery. And he still gets treatment, which helps him understand his symptoms and how to manage them.Montalvan and Tuesday now travel the country as a team advocating for TBI and PTSD awareness, sharing the stories that Montalvan has since published in three books.“When we share of ourselves, we help others. Even if it’s not groundbreaking, we are sharing a little piece of ourselves,” he said. “It’s important to discuss these things open[ly] and candidly, because you don’t want people to suffer.”Visit the Recover section of the A Head for the Future website to learn more about TBI treatment. To hear more stories of hope and resilience from service members and veterans like Montalvan, visit the Stories page.
  • Navy SEAL: Training Service Dogs is My TBI Therapy
    Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on Aug. 28, 2016
    Multiple traumatic brain injuries (TBI) left retired Navy SEAL Jake Young feeling agitated, with trouble staying focused. He never imagined that training service dogs would be a key to his recovery.Young was in treatment when his occupational therapist struck on the idea: Train your brain by training others. That training focuses on a different kind of military force — service dogs that help veterans like Young.Working with service dogs helped Jake cope with his TBI symptoms.“I had to memorize their names. I had to memorize the commands. I had to anticipate their actions. I had to speak clearly,” he said. “Even the emotional regulation came out in training the dogs.”Young isn’t the only one benefiting from his work. The dogs Young trains go on to support injured veterans and service members, which inspires him to go above and beyond.“I had to be confident,” he said. “I was helping to train this dog to go on to be a service dog for another service member, so it became a no-fail mission for me.”Before his TBIs were diagnosed and he began treatment, Young’s memory loss and mood changes affected his relationship with his family and his wife, Autumn.“It finally came to a point where my wife said, ‘Either you get some help or I’m out of here,” Jake said.He told his command what was going on, and he began therapy at the military facility where he was diagnosed. Doctors said that explosions during deployments and military training likely resulted in his TBI.Jake advises others to seek treatment for any symptoms that might point to TBI.“The sooner you can start getting help, the better things can be for you,” he says.To watch additional videos of TBI recovery and hope, visit the Stories page.