Trump & Sanders Ignore Woodruff’s Vets/TBI Letter – Clinton Responds

In 2006, Bob Woodruff was a star in the field of news reporting.  He had just earned the position of anchor of ABC’s renowned news show World News Tonight.  Being a diligent journalist, in January 2006, he traveled to Iraq to report on the ongoing war.  Then the unforeseeable happened: He and cameraman Doug Vogt stepped on a roadside bomb that then exploded.  The two men were immediately taken to the U.S. Air Force hospital south of Balad where Woodruff had head surgery to remove the most severely damaged parts of his skull.  Following his time in Iraq, Woodruff was transferred briefly to Germany, then to America.  In a hospital in Maryland, Woodruff was put in a medically induced coma for 36 days and finally, in March 2006, was transferred to a hospital in his hometown of Westchester, New York.

After this incident, Woodruff took a break from news reporting to recover and then in 2007 returned.  However, like many of those with TBI, he went back to his “old life” too quickly.  He was not successful in news reporting, forgetting words and similar things that happen to those who suffer a brain injury.  (Personally, I don’t think Woodruff was wrong for trying to go back on air when he first did.  He remembered what he loved to do and pursued it.  If he hadn’t done this, it would have haunted him forever and, more importantly, he wouldn’t have known what he had to improve before he could return to the air again.)  However, in time, he was able to return to work as a journalist and, “since then, he has reported from around the globe on a variety of subjects for the [ABC] network.”

It’s good to remember that, with every brain injury, there is something positive that comes out, whether it be one thing or many, whether it be in business, family, etc.  For Woodruff and his wife, Lee, their personal experience with brain injury allowed then to understand some of the struggles that veterans with TBI, PTSD and other neurological injuries face, leading them to found a nonprofit focused on veterans and brain injury, the Bob Woodruff Foundation.  The mission of this foundation is to “stand up for heroes so that we can find, fund, and shape innovative programs that help our impacted veterans, service members and their families thrive.”  The more than $30 million donated to the Foundation has been used to fund education and employment, rehabilitation and recovery and quality of life.

In January 2016, Woodruff sent a letter to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.  To date, the only candidate that has responded to this letter is Clinton.  For Mr. Trump, the lack of response is particularly surprising, as he often talks about how America needs to rebuild the military and says the VA is “absolutely unacceptable”.  As an American and a brain injury survivor, I am quite interested in the responses of Trump and Sanders to Woodruff’s questions.

Former Soccer Star Races Towards Congressional TBI Goal

There is a reason soccer is called football in other nations.  Much like American football, soccer requires getting the ball into a goal and preventing the other team from doing the same.  Such action requires exceptional offense and defense, which often includes certain violent maneuvers that are allowed under sports rules.

Briana Scurry, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in women’s soccer and a World Cup winner, knows this all too well.  In 2010, as the goalkeeper of the Washington Freedom, she “took the knee of a Philadelphia Independence forward to her temple at full velocity during a Women’s Professional match.”  The injury changed her life and ended her soccer career.  However, it also created a new career plan for her – advocate for brain health, particularly women’s brain health.

In 2015, U.S. Soccer banned heading in soccer for children under 10 and limited heading for children 11 to 13.  (Ages when children’s brains are still developing.) This was much needed because, as the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council has confirmed, “young athletes in particular face a ‘culture of resistance’ when it comes to reporting and treating concussions”.  (Scurry also supports mandating that players wear headgear when they play.)  This action was partially brought to their attention by Scurry because, rightly so, “She sees herself as an advocate for women’s health, especially in relation to concussions and traumatic brain injury.

This past week, Scurry, with Joanne Finegan, Alison Cernich, Yelena Goldin, Mike Colson and Rosemarie Scolaro Moser, all whom are traumatic brain injury advocates, and joined by Rep. Bill Pascrell (NJ), the head of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, spoke at the “Women and Traumatic Brain Injury: A Frontier Yet To Be Explored” conference at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington D.C.  (Scurry also testified before Congress on the same issue in 2014.)  At this conference, Scurry told her story, including her accident, recovery and her ongoing struggles.  “Scurry hopes that her testimony… will help members of Congress understand the dangers and resulting issues of brain injuries… [and] take charge in making moves to change the way things… are conducted.”  This includes changing the knowledge of doctors who once told her things like, “You can’t possibly have post-concussive syndrome anymore because it’s been too long.”  Obviously these doctors were wrong, because they were uneducated about brain injuries.

Hopefully, her testimony will help educate doctors and the public about what a concussion can do to your brain.

Statistical note:

According to the NCAA, in soccer, females are at a 2.1 times greater risk of getting a concussion than males and later have more concussion symptoms, including, but not limited to, poor concentration and increased fatigue.  (More information and statistics can be found in the online NCAA article Do Female Athletes Concuss Differently than Males?)

Targeting TBI Pain

Earlier this week, Lpath, Inc. was awarded a $1.45 million grant by the Department of Defense to conduct further preclinical studies of a medication intended to ease the pain associated with traumatic brain injury.  The pill, Lpathomab, “is a first-in-class, humanized monoclonal antibody targeting lysophosphatidic acid”.   To date, Lpathomab has only been tested in animals and humans who have not suffered a TBI, both with positive results.  Presumptively, these new funds will help them test its effects in the people that it is intended to help.  This new government grant, with its potentially positive implications, resulted in the Lpath stock rising by 62% earlier this week.

VA Recognizes TBI Mistake: Positive, But Possibly Too Late

According to the Defense and Veteran’s Brian Injury Center (DVBIC), a cooperative between the Department of Defense and Veteran’s Affairs, “Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a significant health issue which affects service members and veterans during times of both peace and war.”  Given that the military recognizes that traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a major problem, it is a shock that, since 2007, 25,000 veterans who are now known to suffer from traumatic brain injury were not initially diagnosed and treated for TBI.  (Tested by doctors who have been found to be unqualified, these veterans were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  PTSD is terrible, yes, but more treatable than TBI.)

Through this major error, tens of thousands of veterans were not given the appropriate medical and financial help they needed and deserved.  Fortunately, the military now realizes its mistakes and can rectify them and prevent them from happening again.  For many veterans, who have struggled for years to get the military to recognize its difficulties, though, is it too little, too late?

(To learn more about TBI and the military from past service members, visit http://www.disabledveterans.org/.)

Restoring or Remodeling (?) Your Memory

Since the launch of the BRAIN Initiative in 2013, DARPA, the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has been researching the functionality of the brain though the Restoring Active Memory (RAM) program.  With a $40 million grant, the program, led by UCLA and UPenn, has been trying to “develop a neural prosthesis” to help restore the memories of the 1.7 million American civilian and 270,000 military personnel who suffer from (rather than afflicted by, as they term it) memory loss as the result of a head injury each year.   “Through the Restoring Active Memory (RAM) program, DARPA seeks to accelerate the development of technology able to address this public health challenge and help service members and others overcome memory deficits by developing new neuroprosthetics to bridge the gaps in the injured brain,” states Dr. Justin Sanchez, Director of the Biological Technologies Office at DARPA.

Initially tested on lab rats with positive results, the program then tested it with human patients.  On May 11, 2016, at DARPA’s Demo Day, the research of RAM was presented to select officials.  These patients underwent brain surgery in which a wireless neural interface devices were implanted in brain regions that are involved in the development of declarative memory, the section of the brain that remembers how to do basic tasks, such as remembering appointments (though a calendar can do that too).

Many articles related to this project include a photo of Arnold Schwarznegger in Total Recall, but people need not worry.  Brain implants will not give you memories of living on Mars.  (However, they may allow veterans to return to war and be more skilled soldiers.)  While the example given by Total Recall is a bit extreme, the concern is founded, as according to James Giordano, a neuroethicst at Georgetown University, “[Surgical implants in the brain] could involve alteration in cognitive and emotional function, including a change in personality.”  Rick Weiss, the director of strategic communications at DARPA, counters this statement with his own question, “How is someone going to have a livelihood if they can’t remember how to do simple tasks [as happens to some brain injury patients]?

Dr. Sanchez says, “If you have a traumatic brain injury and lost the ability to form and recall memories, if you had a medical device that could help you with that it can be transformative.”  I believe that yes, brain implants could be helpful in certain circumstances, but, when related to doing some activities, such as going to the grocery store and then shopping, a GPS and/or a paper and pen could be just as helpful and do not require brain surgery.

The ability to restore memories would be a groundbreaking scientific accomplishment.  However, choosing to undergo surgery that could essentially turn you into someone else, is a very difficult decision.

Horror in the Happiest City on Earth

Much news has come out relating to the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL on early Sunday morning.  This weekend, America had the largest mass shooting in its history, with 49 people killed and 53 others injured in a span of only a few minutes.

Unfortunately, of those hurt, “Those with head injuries could not be saved,” said Dr. Michael Cheatham of the Orlando trauma center.  A police officer was saved by his Kavlar helmet, worn as part of the police’s military-style equipment, which now shows the severe damage done by the bullet.  As for those who did survive, post-traumatic stress disorder is a major concern.

On Monday, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said, “I don’t think we [Orlando] change a bit.”  Dyer’s statement is an admirable wish, however no person or city can be the same after such an incident as they had this weekend.  Hopefully, though, Orlando can quickly return to being the city of theme parks and everyone can get past, but not forget, the horror of this weekend.

(At this point, many times over, Donald Trump has expressed his views on the Orlando massacre.  Obama has made a statement to which part, but not all, is a response to Trump’s comments.)

Gabby Giffords: Supports Hillary Clinton’s Stricter Gun Laws, But Still Shoots

Five years ago, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D–AZ) was nearly fatally shot.  Specifically, “A deranged gunman killed six people and wounded about a dozen others, including Ms. Giffords, at one of her constituent events in Tucson in January 2011.”  Certain things, like speaking, are still more difficult for Giffords, but she has said that her incident made her a “stronger, better, tougher” woman.

Since then, Giffords has promoted stricter gun control, continuing with her message even after she resigned from Congress in 2012 to focus on her recovery.  With her husband Mark Kelly, she founded Americans for Responsible Solutions to “encourage elected officials to stand up for solutions to prevent gun violence and protect responsible gun ownership by communicating directly with the constituents that elect them.”  Now, she and her husband have been out showing their support for Hillary Clinton for President and Clinton’s proposed stricter gun laws.

Whether you agree with her or not, the fact is that Hillary Clinton wants to further restrict the rights given to us under the 2nd amendment of the Constitution.  It seems common sense that Giffords, a woman who was shot in the head, would support this and she does.  However, Giffords still appreciates the recreational use of guns, speaking to the press about how she likes shooting at a gun range near her home.  She and her husband are avid gun owners.  Her husband says, “There’s no reason why we can’t have our right to ownership and at the same time, do everything we possibly can to keep guns [away from certain people].”

That’s a tricky issue.  One way to look at this is that Giffords and her husband promote the fact that Clinton wants to further dictate what others can do, but they find no need to follow the rules themselves.  However, another view is that by controlling who can buy a gun, they are trying to save lives.  In 2010, for example, 11,078 deaths were attributed to homicide by gun.  But is the solution to simply take guns away from the people who are most likely to misuse them, like the mentally ill?  Consider the fact that the number of people mortally wounded by guns is equal, for example, to that of motor vehicle accident death.  (The number of deaths by gun fire also includes suicide, which is the largest cause of gun death.  Motor vehicle accidents are much less likely to be suicides, so presumptively taking away guns from those inclined to commit suicide, simply means that those people would have to think of new ways to kill themselves.  It would likely not save lives.)

In further restricting who is allowed to buy a gun, the government would be taking away guns from the many people who do not and would not misuse them.  I see no comparable law or proposed law for motor vehicles.  The opposing valid views on the same issue are specifically why gun control law has been a big issue in government since before I can remember, and it doesn’t look like it’s about to stop being one anytime soon.

Personally, I know that the “gun issue” has gotten a lot of press.  People seem to think that restricting the use of guns will eliminate violence.  Even though I have never shot a gun myself, I have family members who, just like Ms. Giffords and Mark Kelly, are avid hunters.  My family members who do shoot are not, nor could they be, mistaken for terrorists, criminals, or mentally ill.  The obvious issue with the law is that once government does not allow one person to buy a gun, what is to stop them from preventing more people, such as my family members, from buying a gun.

Regardless of my personal views on the “gun issue”, the fact that Giffords, after being shot in the head, still has the cognitive ability to go out and promote this law is remarkable.  I think her recovery is an inspiration for every brain injured person, and really an inspiration to all people.

Ali’s Fight Continues On

This past week, Muhammad Ali lost his long struggle with Parkinson’s Disease*, but the memory of Ali is still very much in the minds of our politicians.  On May 26, Rep. Mullin (R-OK), a former professional mixed martial arts fighter, introduced H.R. 5365, the Muhammad Ali Expansion Act.  The proposed amendment expands the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act of 2000, so that it applies to all combat sports.  This past Tuesday, “Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), introduced a measure to recognize the “extraordinary life, accomplishments, and countless contributions” of Ali.

In his lifetime, Ali, a Muslim who changed his name from Cassius Clay when he converted to the Islam religion, was both an athlete and a political activist.  In addition to his well-known objections to war, he was a fierce advocate for civil rights.  (In remembrance of Ali, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky plans to introduce the “Muhammad Ali Voluntary Service Act,” to replace the Selective Service, which Sen. Paul states, “… has a racial justice disparity.”)  In the years after his diagnosis, he became a fierce advocate and active fundraiser for Parkinson’s research, particularly for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in Phoenix’s Barrow Neurological Institute .

Ali, who in 2005 received the Medal of Freedom from then President George W. Bush, would have liked the proposed legislations.  Unfortunately, we no longer have him here to advocate for them.

*For the last 32 years of his life, Ali had the neurological disease, Parkinson’s.  According to a Harvard Medical School neurologically professor, who met with Ali, “People who lose consciousness through head trauma are at 50% higher risk of Parkinson’s.”  Severe, ongoing head trauma, which is a consequence of heavyweight professional boxing, can cause the development of ‘Parkinson’s proteins’ or further the development of existing, inactive ‘Parkinson’s proteins’.

(June 10, 2016, Ali was laid to rest, at a funeral in his hometown of Louisville, KY.)

Critics Likely Magnify Clinton’s Health Issues

In late 2012, Hillary Clinton suffered a concussion because of a reported fainting spell. A few weeks later, a blood clot was found near her brain.  (Her doctors stated that her blood clot has had no neurologically effects.)  These are two things that one hopes to never happen to them; however, concussions do happen to 3.8 million people annually, according to CDC estimates.  A concussion is a mild brain injury.  Her husband, Bill, said that it took Hillary six months to fully recover.  Bill Clinton’s statement is likely true, though no one knows how Bill defines “fully recovered”, as this time table is more akin to the recovery time for a mild stroke.  Mild brain traumas, such as concussion, usually resolve themselves in 2-3 weeks, with full recovery sometimes taking up to 3 months.

Since her campaign began, critics have been doggedly trying to find signs that Hillary Clinton is neurologically unable to handle the job of Commander-in-Chief.  There was much talk about the fact that she stepped off the stage during the commercial break of a Democratic debate and did not return until after the debate had re-started.  My initial thought was that she needed to take a restroom break.  Even though many newscasters had the same conclusion, others followed Donald Trump’s lead by reporting that she had to step away because she was neurologically overwhelmed.  There was talk in the news about her long coughing lapses – in February, during cold weather – being signs of neurological problems.  Donald Trump has stated, “Hillary Clinton does not have the stamina… does not have the strength to be President.  You watch her life… [then] she’ll go away for three, four days…”

A known journalist even wrote, “Hillary still suffers from … blinding headaches, exhaustion, insomnia, and a tremor in her hands.”  This journalist is Ed Klein, who also wrote a book about the Clinton’s that has since largely been discredited.

Please, if one is to say that Mrs. Clinton is not fit to be Commander-in-Chief of this nation, use her political views as the reason, not a manufactured health issue.