• Head of REC Team Advocates for Informed TBI Care
    Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on April 12, 2019
    Heather Kopf was drawn to her work as a regional education coordinator at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for two reasons: a familial tie to the military and her own experience with traumatic brain injury (TBI). Now she’s leading the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) Regional Education Coordinator program, which informs service members, veterans and their families about TBI.“I come from an extensive line of those serving in the military,” Kopf said. “Although I never joined the military, this was my way of giving back to the military community and connecting with my father and grandfathers who served.”Kopf has an even more personal history with TBI. One morning as she was getting ready for work, she tumbled backward and hit her head. Shortly after the fall, she drove to her job — but she doesn’t remember the journey. Thankfully, a co-worker noticed Kopf’s extreme nausea and problems with her vision and took her to the military clinic. From there Kopf was referred to a civilian clinic, where she received basic information on ways to recover, such as rest, physical activity and avoiding bright television, computer, and smartphone screens.After several diagnostic exams and a CT scan, Kopf was diagnosed with a mild TBI. Following the diagnosis, it took her about a week to recover and begin exercising again.“A year later, I would come to work at DVBIC and realize and understand what I went through,” Kopf said. “I remember commenting to my manager how I wish I would’ve had the information then that I do now.”While working at the hospital, Kopf strived to educate TBI patients and their families about their specific diagnosis to relieve their confusion and help them feel in control. As an REC, she would sit down with patients and give them information about their symptoms, explain the meaning of TBI-specific terms and tell them where to find additional resources.“When the patient doesn’t understand what the terminology and information mean, it’s very easy to get bogged down and feel like you’ve lost control of the diagnosis, which showcases the importance of education in the care plan,” said Kopf. A useful tip she shared with patients was to bring a notebook to their appointments and write everything down, especially when something doesn’t make sense. This helps patients to follow up with questions for the provider or an REC.“When I came back to the DVBIC headquarters as the head of the REC program, I wanted to figure out how we could better support our RECs, as well as the providers and patients they are working with … to be that liaison and support system for both sides,” said Kopf. Her main goal was to use what she learned in the real-world clinical environment to advocate for all the RECs — because when the DoD meets the RECs’ needs, they are able to do their best work and serve as champions for TBI patients and their families.While each DVBIC site runs a bit differently, the overarching mission is consistent. RECs work closely together to provide education for service members, veterans and their families on the prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of TBI.“That’s one of the things that has made the REC program so successful over the past couple of years … embracing that unique perspective in each one of us [RECs] and bringing it to the table,” Kopf said. “The RECs do so much amazing work. They are in the patient care setting educating, out there doing events, spreading awareness about TBI. … And that is so incredibly important to the mission of helping our military, families and veterans.”To learn more about the REC network’s services and locations, visit the DVBIC website: http://dvbic.dcoe.mil/locations. 
  • Caregiver and TBI Champion Serve Others
    Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on Feb. 22, 2019
    During a deployment, an improvised explosive device hit the vehicle retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Victor Medina was riding in. He sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that severely impaired some of his physical functions and ability to speak. Medina’s wife, Roxana Delgado, suspended her pursuit of a doctoral degree in health sciences and became his caregiver. As they adjusted to a life neither one of them had imagined, their marriage became a new kind of partnership.“My wife, at that time, she had to drive me everywhere. And she did everything — even cut my food,” Medina said.  Medina received treatment for his TBI, with his wife as lead advocate. He and Delgado took advantage of the resources available to them, including physical, speech, occupational, and recreational therapy. Together they focused on Medina’s recovery, and after a year and a half of hard work, they saw the rewards from their teamwork. Gradually, their relationship shifted again, as Delgado became less of a caregiver and more of a partner.Finally, Medina was able to meet one of his primary goals: to recover well enough to help others. He began with his wife.“One day he said, ‘I notice that your eyes don’t spark the same way they used to,” Delgado recalled. “And I had to confess to him that I was seeing him more as a friend … and Victor said, ‘Oh, no. That is not acceptable. I am going to make you fall in love with me again and you are going to get to love the new me.’ And he did.”Medina went back to school for a master’s degree and became a certified rehabilitation counselor. Delgado completed her Ph.D. in health sciences. Then Medina and Delgado started the TBI Warrior Foundation to help others with brain injuries find the same opportunities that Medina had. Medina now feels fully independent and has learned to adjust his lifestyle to manage his disabilities. He is a strong inspiration to all who know him as he works to help others recover from injuries like his.“There’s a secret about service,” Delgado said. “The more we serve, the happier we get. Twenty years from now, we’ll have two sets of memories — before and after the injury — but not necessarily one is going to be worse than the other one. They’re both going to be beautiful. Life is good.”Medina and Delgado are among many who live with TBI. • According to Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, 383,947 service members received a TBI diagnosis from 2000 until the first quarter of 2018.  Most of these injuries do not occur in combat; the primary causes include falls, motor vehicle collisions, sports-related incidents and training accidents. DVBIC offers the TBI Recovery Support Program for caregivers to access assistance for themselves and the injured service members they help support.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.
  • Marine Sergeant Major Gets Help for His TBI
    Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on Jan. 29, 2019
    While on patrol in Iraq in 2007, U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Major Gary D. Moran was knocked unconscious by an improvised explosive device (IED). He woke up covered in shrapnel. At the time, he didn’t realize he had sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI). After an initial medical evaluation, Moran refused additional treatment and rest out of concern for service members under his command who were still engaged in combat. “I still had an excruciating headache, but I couldn’t leave my Marines out there.”Six months later, Moran became noticeably irritable and started experiencing constant headaches, dizziness, and trouble sleeping. He vented his frustration to a friend and fellow senior leader, who was experiencing similar symptoms and recommended that Moran seek help. Yet he didn’t take the advice. “I was too hard-headed to go in [to see a provider] because I was always working,” he said.Part of Moran’s work was making sure his subordinates maintained force fitness and readiness. When one of his Marines was diagnosed with a TBI, Moran made the service member’s health and TBI recovery a priority. “I had to be pretty tough as a sergeant major,” Moran said. “I had to take care of everybody else, but I wasn’t taking care of myself.“I was ignoring my symptoms and people began to notice I was a bit off. When you’re out there [on the battlefield], you think it’s like the movies — you get thrown around and get right back up. We didn’t realize TBI affected you in such a manner.”Moran continued to disregard his symptoms until 2014, when he confided in a fellow Marine and senior officer about what was going on. The colonel, who had had similar combat experiences, was seeking treatment at the base TBI clinic and suggested that Moran get checked out too.After several tests, Moran was diagnosed with a mild TBI and treated by health care professionals for TBI, persistent headaches, anxiety, vertigo and stress. “I’m not one to go to medication, so they gave me alternatives,” he said. One of those alternatives was learning how to relax.Moran decided to share his TBI story, emphasizing the importance of getting checked out immediately when warning signs appear. “It’s easier said than done,” he said. “I was nervous about speaking out, but now that I know how serious it can be, I’m glad I stepped up.”Moran retired from the U.S. Marine Corps after 30 years of active-duty service, which included eight combat tours. He admits that he’s still adjusting to the civilian life, but he’s doing a lot better now.Today, Moran holds a master’s degree in homeland security and coaches his son’s basketball team — and continues to spread awareness about TBI while urging others to share their stories.Hear more compelling stories of recovery and hope from other service members and veterans on the A Head for the Future website. Have a story to share with our team? Submit your story by email today.