Soldier Diagnosed With TBI More Than 1 Year After Injury, Continues Treatment Today

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.