Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on June 4, 2020
It was a stunning revelation in an old family journal: For Marsheila Tincher, it brought home the challenges of veterans living with traumatic brain injury, no matter when they served. And ultimately, the similarities between past and current veterans’ experiences increased her interest in becoming a Regional Education Coordinator for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center.The journal belonged to Tincher’s father-in-law, who served in the Army and participated in the June 1944 Normandy landings. The journal documented his TBIs and the effects of what we recognize today as post-traumatic stress disorder.“He was a very kind man, but the internal turmoil that he wrote about was phenomenal,” Tincher said. “It’s not a lot different from what I hear from our soldiers, sailors or Marines who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, what they were living with.”Early in Tincher’s career, it was her Marine patients who first taught her about TBI signs and symptoms. “As a licensed social worker for 20 years, part of my personal professional bucket list was to work with the military,” Tincher said. “I started with Camp Lejeune [Marine Corps base] and loved clinical work. … It was the right thing to do at that time.”It was the memory of her family’s challenges in getting specialized care for their injuries over the decades that solidified her devotion to TBI education and helping other veterans get the care they need. “Both my father and father-in-law had [head] injuries,” Tincher said. “What was known in the medical community at the time was different than what we know now. … We’ve made advances in leaps and bounds.”In Tincher’s current job at the Fort Campbell Intrepid Spirit Center, her focus is on training providers and planning to brief deploying service members. When she arrived two years ago, she built the program from scratch. “I was the first person from DVBIC to be [assigned] here in a number of years,” Tincher said. “It took a while to figure out which doors would be open, which has been an ongoing process.”At the Intrepid Spirit Center, part of Blanchfield Army Community Hospital on Fort Campbell straddling the border between Kentucky and Tennessee, Tincher and the other staff members focus on the interdisciplinary, integrated, holistic and collaborative assessment, treatment and rehabilitation program for patients with complex, co-morbid medical conditions, particularly those with PTSD and/or post-concussive symptoms. She takes this task seriously.Tincher works primarily with providers and the local community. She also gives periodic briefings to the Warrior Transition Battalion, which supports service members in their transition back to either active duty or civilian life. She continually provides information at not only Fort Campbell but also a wide range of locations in the area.“We have clinics off-post, so I travel [to places like] Louisville and Fort Thomas, and it also includes VA centers,” she said. “Although it’s a lot more isolated here, the veteran community is very strong and supportive.”In describing a normal day, Tincher asserts, despite the challenges of a demanding job and an unpredictable schedule, the memories of her family members’ challenges propel her forward.“I’ve worked longer and harder in this job than any other one I’ve had, including going to school,” Tincher said. “But it’s one of those things that I feel is so vitally important, and that we don’t let history repeat itself and stop caring for veterans and our friends and neighbors who had had a concussion. The more people that know what we do, and know that there’s resources out there … the better able we are to meet the goal in the medical field, which is to reduce suffering at all levels — physical, spiritual, behavioral and relational.”DVBIC employs more than a dozen regional education coordinators throughout the United States and in Germany to provide additional support to service members, veterans and families in areas around selected military treatment facilities.Hear more compelling stories of TBI recovery and hope on the A Head for the Future website. Are you wondering about TBI signs and symptoms? Check out this DVBIC fact sheet.Have a story to share with our team? Submit your story by email today.
Adaptive Cycling Helps Army Veteran in TBI Recovery
Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on April 8, 2020
While serving in Afghanistan in 2011, Army Staff Sgt. Beth King’s combat deployment changed drastically after a rocket-propelled grenade struck her helicopter. Four feet from the explosion, King sustained a traumatic brain injury, including injuries to her jaw and spine. She returned to work four days later, but the long-term effects of her TBI, and the additional diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, were not apparent for months.Most of her symptoms involved headaches, difficulty concentrating, affected speech and ability to communicate — as well as mobility challenges. It took 18 months for King to access advanced treatment for her TBI, and she grew frustrated.“I didn’t understand fully what a brain injury was, or that it would get worse,” King said. “I don’t think anybody really understood what was happening to my brain at that time.”When King arrived at a new location, a neurologist refused to clear her to continue flying because of her daily, persistent headaches. Although she was relieved by the TBI diagnosis, King still felt the loss of her beloved job and Army career.“As much as I love my family, I liked the mission,” she said. “I liked deploying. I felt like, if we had gone when I first started complaining, that maybe I would still be able to go with my unit. Instead, I had to sit back while they get to go on a mission … and I [went] to medical appointments.”After King said she had given up the idea of a “functional life,” her occupational therapist suggested she try using a recumbent bicycle — an idea she initially rejected due to difficulty balancing. She then realized a tricycle, rather than a two-wheeled “upright” bike, might be what she called the “beginning of something more” — ultimately, athletic competition at the 2019 Warrior Games in Tampa, Florida.“I wanted something back,” King said. “I felt like I had lost everything, …but the only thing I truly lost was my job. Everything else — I just needed to adapt and find a new way to do it. ... Your body will try to tell you that you can’t, but it’s not true!“The recumbent is the one place where I don’t need any assistance. … I’m completely independent and I’m successful.”King earned a gold medal in cycling at the 2019 Warrior Games, and competed in the air rifle, rowing and other events. She hopes her journey and passion for sports will help inspire others to take those first steps and try something new.“I miss flying. That wind in your face is pretty amazing,” she said. “[Cycling] is probably the closest I’m ever going to get to it while my feet are on the ground.”The hardest part for King was trying to explain to her 8-year-old son why she could not skateboard or do obstacle courses with him anymore.“It was hard for him to fully ‘get it,’ because I looked fine. … I wasn’t missing any limbs. I wasn’t in a wheelchair. I didn’t have any big, ugly scars,” she said. “So … it took a while for him … to understand that just because you couldn’t see it, didn’t mean that it wasn’t there.”Her varying condition, especially finding the right words quickly, was also challenging for other adults to process.“Even with dealing with my parents, …I have just been frustrated, because I can’t get my words out.” King said. “And then instead of allowing me time to … figure out what I’m trying to say, they say ‘I don’t understand why you’re getting so upset,’ … and it becomes this horrible cycle.”The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center established the A Head for the Future initiative in 2014 to educate veterans, their families, line leaders, health care providers and caregivers about the signs, symptoms and treatment of TBI. More than 400,000 veterans and service members have been diagnosed with TBI since 2000, with the majority of the injuries occurring in noncombat incidents. That education, which includes videos, blogs and resources detailing what others have experienced during the recovery process, has been a critical factor in raising awareness and encouraging advocacy for wounded veterans. DVBIC also developed and recently updated the Military Acute Concussion Evaluation 2 (MACE 2) tool; it assists providers in rapidly assessing TBI and getting service members into treatment programs.King remains optimistic about her future and proudly displays a tattoo of herself on her recumbent bike with the caption, “the chain that frees me.”“Even if I can’t be who I was before, I’m not really limited. Just one pedal at a time!”Hear more compelling stories of TBI recovery and hope on the A Head for the Future website. Are you wondering about TBI signs and symptoms? Check out this DVBIC fact sheet.Have a story to share with our team? Submit your story by email today.***********************See Beth King's video on YouTube or on our Stories page.
A Different Kind of TBI: Veteran Survives Brain Cancer and Copes with Brain Injury
Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on Dec. 12, 2019
Army Spc. Christopher “Dalton” Mask was on his way to his biggest challenge in his military career: Army Ranger School. He had been training for several months, running 20 miles per week, and working out three times daily. As he was setting up a TV in his new room, he had a seizure and fell, hitting his head on the side of his bed — resulting in a concussion, or a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). He had never experienced a seizure before, so the experience was quite a shock.“I went to a hospital in Germany, where they gave me several MRIs and several tests. They told me that I had a mass the size of a golf ball on my brain.” Mask said. “I was training every day as hard as I could, and two weeks from going to [pre-Ranger] school. And then days later, I got told I had Stage 3 brain cancer. It was just a slap in the face.”Facing a long road of surgery, chemotherapy and treatment for an oligodendroglioma brain tumor — and while coping with symptoms of his traumatic brain injury (TBI) — the 20-year-old Mask decided that he was going to remain positive in his journey to recovery. “I knew that, if I was negative, it would beat me. So, positivity is what kept me alive and made me go through this process…of having brain cancer,” Mask said. “After the surgery… I did six rounds of radiation…then they recommended chemo. I had to go through six rounds of three different types of chemotherapy.”Mask’s family was instrumental to his recovery; when they heard the news about the sudden and drastic change to his medical condition, they immediately rallied their support.“They're my main support group, so having them here definitely makes me feel more comfortable because…they've gotten me through everything I've been through. They're the reason I'm still here,” Mask said.Michelle Mask, Dalton’s mother, emphasized the importance of patience through his recovery, especially recurring memory lapses.“I think for us, supporting him, not making fun of him, not poking jokes, no reminding him that, ‘you just asked us that.’ Being patient, and kind of talking to him about it…that was very helpful. And just loving on him, and just kind of keep inspiring him,” she said.It was a challenge to deal with the effects of a traumatic brain injury, which would cause Dalton to have difficulty finding the words he wanted to say, repeat himself several times, or have mood swings because of the medication. His mother explained the frustration.“I think a lot of times when people can't see a physical injury, they just assume somebody is okay and they don't understand that there's a lot of other stuff going on there,” she said.After completing his treatments, Mask was offered the opportunity to compete with 300 military athletes for Warrior Games, which was held June 21-30 in Tampa, Florida. He competed in both golf and seated volleyball; he had only started playing golf three years ago, but found the sport to be very “peaceful.” Mask described the experience of teaming up with his fellow servicemembers.“It's comforting, but also honoring, because you're getting a chance to take place in something that's bigger than you. When you look at all the people that have been through what they've been through, the amputees and people with severe TBIs. When they go and they get hurt, but they still want to drive on for the reason to participate in something like this, it's amazing to see.”Mask offers some advice to other servicemembers who may be experiencing TBI symptoms, but who may not have been diagnosed yet.“It's definitely worth a trip to the doctor just to get an MRI and make sure you're good, because the last thing you want to do is not know you have something when you really do. I didn't have any signs of me having a brain tumor, but they said it had been growing for over ten years.”While Mask’s military career was shorter than he expected, he remains optimistic about his future plans after his medical retirement from the Army.“I know I have just another chapter in my life that's going to be opened, and I can look forward to that, continue taking college classes [in law enforcement] and just, I feel like I'm right where I'm supposed to be.”Hear more compelling stories of TBI recovery and hope on the A Head for the Future website. Have a story to share with our team? Submit your story by email today.