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.
Therapy and Family Support Aid Recovery for Veteran with Severe TBI
Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on Dec. 3, 2019
June 23, 2017, was like any other bowling night for Marine Corps Cpl. Dustin Braun. He was driving a fellow Marine home on a dim back road in Okinawa, Japan, where they were stationed. Suddenly, he lost control of his vehicle, which slammed into a guardrail before flying into a streetlight encased in concrete.Dustin’s friend was conscious and had just a few minor injuries, but Dustin suffered several life-threatening injuries. Fortunately, nearby neighbors living on base heard the crash and came to the rescue. They called for an ambulance, which took around 40 minutes to reach the crash site. After Dustin was extracted from the car, he was transported to the hospital.Dustin’s wife, Samantha Braun, heard about the crash from her neighbor, whose husband was the passenger in Dustin’s vehicle. “My neighbor drove me to the ER that night, where we sat for hours. All we heard from the staff was that they were trying to save him,” Samantha said. It wasn’t until she spoke to the doctor about Dustin’s injuries that she knew how serious it was.Dustin had respiratory failure, a collapsed lung, fractures of his skull, face, jaw and clavicle. He also sustained a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI), which affected the entire brain.After a week in the local intensive care unit, Dustin was medevacked to Naval Medical Center San Diego, where he was put into a medically induced coma. During the next four months, he was transferred to a medical center in Virginia — and eventually to medical centers in Kentucky and Indiana for additional treatment.“At the time, I didn’t know what everything meant. It was a lot of unknowns,” Samantha said. “I realized brain injuries are like fingerprints: Everyone’s recovery is so unique and different, you never know what to expect.”In mid-October 2017, Dustin regained consciousness while in Virginia. For the next two weeks, he was asked to practice two functional movements: Put a ball cap on and off his head and place a ball in a miniature basketball hoop. One month after he was considered conscious, Dustin started to regain his speech — and his wife gave birth to their son, Hunter. Thanks to the support of the hospital staff, Dustin was present during the baby’s delivery.Samantha is grateful that Dustin has made it this far, especially considering that he wasn’t expected to survive. After many more months of recovery and rehab, the family now lives in Evansville, Indiana. Dustin has started using a walker for short distances, but he primarily uses a wheelchair as he continues his therapy. Samantha serves as his full-time caregiver, attending to both Dustin’s and their son’s many daily needs. Dustin also experiences short-term memory loss, a lifelong issue that his wife helps him overcome.“Currently, I drive him to all of his appointments. He’s in occupational, physical and speech therapy three times a week, among other appointments, which is greatly helping his recovery,” she said. “He is a miracle, but his recovery has been a roller coaster these past two years.”When the Braun family isn’t at therapy or doctor’s appointments, they’re spending time at a less conventional therapeutic spot. “We recently joined a gym that has made a huge difference for Dustin and me. It’s called Lift 4 Life,” Samantha said. “It’s not like any ordinary gym. It’s owned by a disabled Navy veteran and has much more than weights.”Following Dustin’s injury, Samantha began connecting with a mutual friend of her family who also sustained a severe TBI while serving as a firefighter. Now, Dustin and Samantha are planning to finally meet her at the Lift 4 Life gym. “This gym brings people with TBIs and disabilities together. I’m hoping Dustin can start making new friends here,” Samantha said.Dustin and Samantha are also adjusting to life after Dustin’s medical retirement from the Marines. “The Marine Corps was Dustin’s life,” Samantha said. “He planned on being a career Marine and sticking out the 20 years.”“We had a lot of plans already in place. Now, we must figure out our new dreams and what we want.” Those new dreams include their shared goal of building a house in Indiana in the next few years.“I hope Dustin’s story gives hope and light to others who’ve gone through this,” said Samantha. “His recovery is not what you see in movies, but we’re very fortunate he’s where he is today. It’s been a lot of praying, patience and work.”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.
Educator Spreads the Word About TBI Recovery in the Last Frontier
Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on Sept. 24, 2019
When Patty Raymond Turner saw a job posting for a Regional Education Coordinator (REC) in Alaska with the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC), she got tingles.“It was a perfect fit,” she said. “This was the job for me.”A former schoolteacher, a volunteer crisis counselor and the daughter of a Navy veteran, Raymond Turner had long found her passion in empowering others. Seven years after becoming an REC, she is thriving at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER), working with service members, veterans and their families to help them prevent, recognize and recover from traumatic brain injury (TBI).RECs play a unique role in TBI treatment. They work in collaboration with medical providers to help educate veterans, service members and their families about preventing, recognizing and recovering from TBI.“This is the most gratifying job I’ve had, ever, throughout my career,” Raymond Turner said. “I love providing information and support so they’re able to take a deep breath and go, ‘Oh! I’m going to be OK.’”At JBER, she works with patients on the path to recovery, helping them manage symptoms, navigate treatment and get the care they need. She’s often the first to step in when a service member or veteran thinks they might need help. However, the symptoms of TBI aren’t always visible or obvious. So part of Raymond Turner’s mission as an REC is to reach out to those who might not know that they have a TBI. Raymond Turner is responsible for providing education and support to residents of the two most remote states, Hawaii and Alaska — bringing challenges in raising awareness. Especially in Alaska, where many people live in far-flung areas with limited or no internet connectivity, she gets creative in raising awareness of TBI prevention and recovery resources.“Sometimes the only media these communities can access out there is National Public Radio,” Raymond Turner said. “I’m doing an interview with the radio station about TBI in the military, and where to go for help.”She also brings personal experience with a head injury. In 1982, before helmets were recognized as the critical safety features they are today, she had a cycling accident when her bike malfunctioned, and she sustained a mild TBI. While she made a full recovery with the right treatment and rest, she became an ardent advocate of wearing protective gear while being active.“You better believe that after that accident, I hunted down a bicycle helmet and have worn one ever since,” she said.All her experiences fuel Raymond Turner’s passion for her work — especially the reward of changing someone’s outlook and helping them through recovery.“A lot of times, service members or veterans who are dealing with this may feel very alone, and I’m here to empower them to get help,” she said. “It’s so heartening to be a part of that process.”To learn more about TBI and the A Head for the Future initiative, and to find additional videos and educational resources on preventing brain injury, visit dvbic.dcoe.mil/aheadforthefuture, and follow A Head for the Future on Twitter and Facebook.