Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on July 29, 2020
Army Special Operations veteran Derek Poor was living his American dream, serving his country and leading soldiers through dozens of challenging missions. However, the cumulative effect of minor traumatic brain injuries (TBI) was impossible to dismiss after he slammed into a wall during training. Seeing stars and unable to shake his persistent, daily headaches, Poor finally sought help.Poor praised his family for recognizing his challenges and encouraging additional medical assessments and treatments.“So the decision point for me to continue to press and see someone else came at the urging of my wife,” he said. “She recognized that I was in great pain every day, regardless of the medication that I was being prescribed, the physical therapy. … I wasn’t getting the results we were looking for.”After seven years of slow but steady progress in treating his TBI, Poor was inspired to share his story at a community meeting after he heard Marsheila Tincher, a Regional Education Coordinator for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, speak. Tincher told the group about the importance of understanding a veteran’s employability after they’ve experienced a TBI and Poor spoke up about his personal journey. Tincher, whose own family has experience with TBI, was impressed with Poor’s story. She noted that some veterans — especially those in the special operations community — attempt to mask their TBI symptoms and avoid seeking help as early as they should to improve their recovery process.“Our veteran community needs to hear that story … The story of treatment and success in life after the military,” Tincher said. “Commands and the community need to hear his experience so that those who follow in his footsteps can benefit from his experience.” Poor’s diagnosis was key to gaining his family’s support. Even a quick hand signal let his kids know when they were too noisy on long car trips. And he learned to wear headphones and listen to music during volleyball games so that he could be present without feeling pain — induced by the persistent squeak of sneakers and shrill peals of whistles.“With the diagnosis of TBI, it was helpful in them coming to understand why I acted the way I did at times — some of the things they saw me doing or not doing,” Poor said.He was fortunate to have spent most of his career at Fort Campbell, with access to its Intrepid Spirit Center. The center focuses on an interdisciplinary, integrated, holistic and collaborative assessment, treatment and rehabilitation program for patients with complex, comorbid medical conditions, particularly those with PTSD and/or postconcussive symptoms.Poor acknowledged that it can be difficult for some veterans to come forward with a TBI.“I think it’s a challenge for service members or veterans to talk about their TBI because it’s an unseen injury,” he said. “It’s not like a missing appendage — and so it’s very different. When your head hurts every day, it impacts your life.”He believes his willingness to talk about his journey — and even wearing unique eyeglasses that prompted questions from other veterans — has helped open the door to more open discussions about his condition. Poor also benefited from supportive leaders who not only allowed him time to get the treatments he needed — including physical therapy, eyeglasses and hearing aids for noise sensitivity — but also ensured that the intensity of his military work was appropriate for where he was in his recovery process. That accommodation required an open and honest dialog with trusted medical professionals, his leaders and himself.“They saw the impact the injury had on me and asked what was more important: my health or my career. They put my health first, before anything — even before I did,” Poor said. “And because of my time and experience, and the relationship we had, they allowed me to move around within the unit so that I could best impact the mission.”Taking control of your health is one step in the recovery process. Poor recommends keeping a journal to gain a better understanding of TBI symptoms.“If you can write down what’s happening each day, what you’re putting into your body, what are your activities, is your pain increasing and if you are starting to see a detriment in your performance — I think that’s huge, because that then helps that medical professional make the right decision in what level treatment you might need,” he said.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.
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.