Update: Camps for a Cure

As reported in May 2017 as one of the West Coast facilities being built, the brain injury treatment center for military personnel near Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton will open its doors April 2 .  Operating as part of the Intrepid Spirit system, this is the first such facility to be opened on the West Coast.  Up until now, those in the military who sustain a brain injury in the call of duty generally must receive treatment at one of the 6 Intrepid Spirit centers, none of which is in the section of the country.  As David Winters, president of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, which funded this project, says, “We know that being able to be close to home, surrounded by loved ones, is a crucial part of the recovery process… so we are opening centers on the West Coast this spring… in order [so] that service members who need treatment do not have to uproot themselves and their families to get it.”  Currently, brain injured soldiers are treated at the Concussion Care Clinic at Camp Pendleton hospital, which was only opened in 2014.  However, this new facility can care for hundreds, if not thousands, of new patients.  (This new brain injury-specific facility will not only treat more soldiers, but will also teach prevention tactics and conduct brain/brain injury research.)

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Brain Injury Awareness Month Across the Country: State Recognition

Brain injury has been an ongoing issue in America since its founding.  Though federally honored, BIAM is still finding legislative recognition on the state level.  For example, House Resolution 741 (HR 741), introduced by Pennsylvania’s Tina Pickett, was only introduced earlier this month and adopted (188-0) on March 14.  A similar bill will soon be voted on in the PA Senate.  (Though this marks the official recognition of the Month, the State has honored and provided education on brain injury at least since 2011.)  In 2013, New Jersey officially recognized it as a month-long state observance, whereas legislators in Alaska were relatively early adopters, passing a law to recognize the Month back in the 2007 – 2008 Congressional year.  (Some states still do not officially note Brain Injury Awareness Month.  However, groups in these states, such as the BIAA, do provide events specifically designed for the Month.)

As for events, New York State, in Tonawanda, located near Niagara Falls, lights the City Hall blue for the entire month to show solidarity and the need for public education on brain injury.  (Blue is the official color of Brain Injury Awareness Month, as designated by the Brain Injury Association of America.) On Brian Injury Advocacy Day, March 20, survivors/advocates met with members of the New York State Legislature to thank legislators for what they have done thus far and to teach them about the impact of brain injury, including how they can further help prevent it, as well as support those with brain injury.  While some legislators may have been tempted by the promise of pie, Kansas legislators and lawmakers met at the Topeka State House on March 21 to learn more about brain injury.  The Nebraska Brain Injury Advisory Council, which is sponsored by the Nebraska Department of Education, launched a mobile-responsive website that, “presents resources and reference information for anyone affected to assist in navigating for the best possible outcome.”

The above is just a short representation of activities throughout the country related to Brain Injury Awareness Month.  Please search online to find more past and upcoming local events.

Brain Injury Awareness Month Across the Country: Capitol Hill

Brain injury affects America as a whole, and its importance should be recognized on Capitol Hill.  As part of this national recognition, on March 5, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders introduced Retired Marine Corps Sergeant John Peck to the press.   Peck’s story is remarkable and therefore must be noted in its entirety: “Sergeant Peck suffered a traumatic brain injury in Iraq during his first tour of duty.  Then, after two years of therapy, he re-enlisted and deployed to Afghanistan.  While there, he stepped on an IED and lost both arms and legs.  He spent two years at Walter Reed, and in 2016 received a double arm transplant.  He is now doing physical and occupational therapy at Walter Reed, and doing incredibly well.”

Earlier this week, our legislators further honored brain injured Americans at Brain Injury Awareness Day, which is always honored on Capitol Hill during Brain Injury Awareness Month.  Generally, from what I can determine, the day is simply associated with Brain Injury Awareness Month and, therefore, in March.  However, Brain Injury Awareness Day is not honored on a specific calendar day.  (For example, in 2017 it was on Wednesday, March 22.  This year it was on March 20.)  The point of the day, though, is unchanging: to increase knowledge and awareness of brain injury with our elected officials.

As noted in an earlier article, the theme of 2018 Brain Injury Awareness Month is Change Your MindScheduled by the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, co-chaired by Reps. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (NJ) and Thomas J. Rooney (FL), the events this past Tuesday were a Brain Injury Awareness fair, a Congressional briefing and a reception celebrating Brain Injury Awareness Month.

When I can find the audio of the Capitol Hill Congressional briefing, I will post it on this site.  Additionally, as I find state events honoring the month, I will post them.

Caring for Man’s Best Friend

The benefits of dog ownership are well-known.  “Owning a dog can lift your mood or help you feel less stressed.”  For veterans and others with disabilities, the benefits of have a dog, specifically service dogs, go beyond this: dogs can serve by helping or even doing certain tasks that the handlers cannot do themselves.

However, what happens when the dog is the one with a brain injury?  Yes, dog’s skulls are harder than humans and surrounded by protective fluid, both of which make brain injuries less common in them.  (This is definitely beneficial for animals that play/fight for fun, may bump into coffee tables as they chase after toys, etc.)  Canines though, can get brain injuries in the same ways that humans can: a car accident, a fall, etc.  The possible symptoms are also similar to those of humans:  bleeding from the nose or ears, coma, confusion, death, disorientation, facial weakness, lethargy, loss of consciousness, paralysis, pupil dilation, seizures, and stumbling.

Once these symptoms begin to occur what do you do?  For these members of the family, seeking medical help should be the next step.  Going to the local veterinarian is definitely the appropriate action, but there are also neuro-veterinarian specialists.  While this is a very limited profession, it’s not impossible to find.  It is fortuitous to an injured canine if their owner lives in Arizona, as they have access to this professional expertise.  (For example, Lucky, a dog found shot in the Arizona desert by border control officers earlier this year, was relatively fortunate that such help was available to him.)

One thing not to do is to abandon the dog.  This is what happened earlier this month to one dog in Sacramento, CA .  A woman, assuredly not the owner, found an injured dog on the streets and brought him to the Sacramento County Bradshaw Animal Shelter.  The dog, now named Thomas, has gone through multiple tests, yet the doctors still do not know what happened to him, just that it resulted in a severe brain injury.  “He is such a fighter… Baby Thomas wants everyone to know he is determined to heal, grow up and live a long, mischievous life!”  This and so many other examples show the need for Sacramento Counties non-profit T.E.A.M. – Teaching Everyone Animals Matter.  (As of March 16, the owner of Thomas has still not been found.  T.E.A.M. is now offering a $1,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest.)

(Most states have laws prohibiting animal cruelty.  For example, 3 weeks ago, a 27-year-old man was sentenced to 12 years in prison for abusing his boxer puppy.  Most of these states also have a law prohibiting animal abandonment.)

Simple Blood Test Detects Brain Injury

Food and Drug Administration authorizes marketing of first blood test to aid in the evaluation of concussion in adults,” read the headline on the FDA’s website this Valentine’s Day.  On a day that promotes love and caring, the FDA announced approval for the use of the BTI (Brain Trauma Indicator), a blood test that can provide earlier detection of mTBI/concussions and, therefore, provide early caring and treatment for the patient.

The BTI is a product of the Breakthrough Devices Program of the 21st Century Cures Act.  The research that developed into this product was completed by Banyan Biomarkers, Inc., in partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command.  Specifically, “Banyan BTI identifies two brain-specific protein biomarkers (Ubiquitin Carboxy-terminal Hydrolase-L1 or UCH-L1 and Glial Fibrilliary Acidic Protein or GFAP) that rapidly appear in the blood after a brain injury.”  A clinical study of the product, in which about 2,000 adults were tested, had over a 97% success rate.

The Banyan Indicator also has an additional benefit: reduced radiation exposure.  The FDA states that, “helping to deliver innovative testing technologies that minimize health impacts to patients while still providing accurate and reliable results to inform appropriate evaluation and treatment is… [a] priority.”  As testing is now, patients undergo an evaluation on a neurological scale (Glasgow Coma Scale), followed by a CT scan.  However, even the FDA acknowledges that “there are both benefits and risks associated with the use of CT.”  Beyond the reported risk of cancer through CT scans, under rare circumstances they can cause such effects as skin erythema (reddening), skin tissue injury, and birth defects following in-utero exposure.  (More so, a CT scan can sometimes show no brain dysfunction when TBI is present.)

The BTI is not without concerns.  Could there be false positives or negatives?  What will it cost, especially compared to a CT scan?  However, these are similar to the concerns given to all medical equipment and medications.  A quick and easy evaluation and diagnosis of a brain injury, through only a blood test, would be beneficial for patients and doctors’ alike.

SBS: The Horrific Easy Answer

Shaken baby syndrome (SBS) is a form of abusive head trauma inflicted on infants.  At least 1.400 babies die of SBS a year, studies show.  That exceedingly high number doesn’t even account for all the babies that are not killed but will live with the lifelong consequences of their parents’ bad actions.  Nor does it factor in all the babies that are shaken “in secret”, without a subsequent hospital visit, call to the police, etc.  According to the CDC, “Nearly all victims of AHT [Abusive Head Trauma} suffer serious, long-term health consequences such as vision problems, developmental delays, physical disabilities, and hearing loss.”

Just this month, March 2018, at least 3 people have found themselves sentenced to jail for SBS:

  • On March 1, Montana resident Austin Blair Johnson, 27, received a 15-year sentence for shaking his 5-year-old son.  Presumably, Johnson received only 15 years, not the 20-year sentence called for by the prosecutors, because he plead guilty.  Johnson sobbed during the sentencing. However, remorse, for his actions or for the result, doesn’t change that 15 years seems like nothing for someone who gave his son a life sentence.
  • Just this past week, 30-year-old Delavon Domique Johnson was sent to jail for 30 years for inflicting such severe brain injury in his 3-month-old daughter that it caused intracranial hemorrhaging.
  • In Oregon, January Neatherlin was sentenced on March 9 to over 20 years for child abuse.  Though this abuse mostly involved drugging the children and abandoning her daycare facility while children were present, which is in no way better than physical abuse, “One family said their daughter suffered a brain injury, consistent with shaken baby syndrome, while in Neatherlin’s care.”

In 2001, the US government issued a statement, co-signed by Canada, on Shaken Baby Syndrome.  Nearly 20 years later, the statement’s recommendations are just as relevant and important: data collection and surveillance, further research (general knowledge, psychosocial and long-term), prevention, care and treatment, further education (primarily for child protection personnel, police, medical examiners and coroners, prosecutors, lawyers and judges), community response (including services and support) and professional training.  The CDC also notes the need for prevention, providing PDFs on prevention.

In 2014, however, the Washington Post cited a study that questions these almost universal beliefs: “most humans aren’t capable of shaking an infant hard enough to produce the symptoms in SBS.”  (Presumably, this means that SBS must often be accompanied by a secondary injury, such as the head also hitting the floor.)  New scientific research doesn’t prove that SBS is not the cause, just that it may not be in some cases.  Though diagnosing a child’s brain injury as caused by SBS may be a knee-jerk reaction, obvious isn’t always true or correct.  Hopefully, with continued education for both the parents/caregivers and members of the justice system, it will become a less common and a less possible culprit.  More so, hopefully fewer parents will find shaking a legitimate means of punishment.

A Different Perspective: Cold War Tactics in Cuba

The news late last year that the Cuban government might have found a way to produce sonic effects that harmed the brain of over 20 embassy agents was horrifying.  Now, the liberal publication, The Nation, asks if making Americans fearful of travelling to Cuba was the sole purpose: Is it merely a construct of fear developed by the Trump administration?

To reiterate that effects reported on as suffered by those in the embassy, “Some can no longer remember words, while others have hearing loss, speech problems, balance issues, nervous-system damage. Headaches, ringing in the ears, and nausea.”  The Nation states the government’s conclusion of these findings, which may seem obvious to many brain injury survivors and their families: “We think the audible sound was a consequence of the exposure, because audible sound is not known to cause brain injury.”  For example, tinnitus is a known effect of brain injury.

Regardless of this finding, the publication goes on to say that, “the alert reflects an ongoing effort by President Trump’s State Department to frighten US travelers away from Cuba.”  True, no tourist, and only those who worked for the embassy and their families were affected.  However, Americans should not discount the study’s findings, especially simply because of dislike of the President.  The consequence of error could be significant.

(The prevailing liberal reaction to this problem is curious, given the Democratic Party’s stance on guns and other physical weapons that can be used to commit murder or injury, but statistically have a lower percentage of doing so than whatever has occurred in Cuba.  The President’s response is curious too, in that it puts blame on the Cuban government without a full and comprehensive investigation.)

[SEE PREVIOUS ARTICLE FOR FURTHER INFORMATION ON THE AMERICAN TROUBLES IN CUBA]

2018 Brain Injury Awareness Month

This month, March 2018, Americans recognize Brain Injury Awareness Month.  The theme for this year, through 2020, is Change Your Mind.  The significance of this theme is to show the ongoing public awareness campaign to provide, “a platform for educating the general public about the incidence of brain injury and the needs of people with brain injuries and their families.”  Many posters and webpages note the statistics, commonality and horror of brain injury in the United States.  Yes, as the Brain Injury Association of America notes, “Brain injury changes the way you think, act, move and feel.”  However, in some ways, for the better.  In this sense, part of what the BIAA is seeking to do is de-stigmatization.  (The theme for 2015 to 2017, #NotAlone, is still very apropos.) Search on Twitter or use the hangtags #ChangeYourMind, #BrainInjuryAwarenessMonth or simply #braininjury.

Note: From what I can find, Brain Injury Awareness Month is not a federally designated month.  However, “the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Brain Injury Association of America recognize March as Brain Injury Awareness month to increase awareness of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).”  Additionally, the month has been legally designated by many states.  New Jersey, for example, signed into law Section 36:2-87, to mark March as Brain Injury Awareness Month, in 2013.