• Soldier Diagnosed With TBI More Than 1 Year After Injury, Continues Treatment Today
    Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on Feb. 7, 2017
    Sara Poquette visits a girls school in Iraq with the Maine Army National Guard. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by 1st Sgt. Blair Heusdens)Joining the military just days after she turned 18 in 2001, Sara Poquette was eager to serve in the Wisconsin Army National Guard as a broadcast journalist. She completed training and deployed to Iraq. There she was embedded with fellow soldiers producing news packages about rebuilding the country’s infrastructure. Documenting developments on the front lines, Poquette often saw combat and its after-effects. During one day, multiple attacks changed her life.“More than 20 mortars landed inside our base in the morning — one hitting a shower where I was minutes earlier,” Poquette said. “That afternoon, our convoy was hit with an IED [improvised explosive device]. From what I remember, I saw the explosion first and immediately felt the pressure wave follow. It was chaos.”At the time, she didn’t notice any health-related effects from the blasts and there was no mandatory traumatic brain injury (TBI) screening after combat incidents. She completed her tour in Iraq a couple of months later and went home. Once home, she noticed that she stuttered, felt sensitive to light, and seemed off-balanced. Poquette also experienced challenges associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).Poquette served 14 months on active duty with the National Guard, after her concussive event, before she was diagnosed with a TBI. “I was just back from my second deployment to Cuba, experiencing major headaches. I scheduled an appointment with a neurologist at the VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) and was diagnosed with a TBI — a concussion,” she said. “There was a lot of relief knowing why I had been experiencing these things.”Poquette left the service and continued treatment. Through treatment, she learned about strategies to enhance brain functions that support planning, reasoning, decision-making, judgment and emotional management. She also discovered coping techniques to reduce information overload and calm her mind.“I learned simple, yet powerful, tools that anyone can use in their daily life. For instance, I write down my two top priorities of what I want to accomplish in my workday,” she said. “If I get overwhelmed while on the road, I turn off the radio or music and focus on driving.” Poquette continues to manage her TBI symptoms and thrives with the help of her spouse.“My husband is my biggest support system for my PTSD and TBI,” she said. “Though I still have hard moments some days, I’m the happiest that I’ve been in my entire life.”Learn about signs and symptoms of TBI, and visit the Stories page to watch videos of military members who experienced TBI and got help.
  • 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.