Throughout the year, the armed forces have either started or continued to care for the thousands of injured soldiers who suffer from brain injury. In addition, they have persevered in their research into various neurological issues related to TBI and new methods of treatment for TBI recovery. Yesterday, the Military Health System Communications Office posted on their website a press release that serves as a synopsis of their activities throughout the year. Beyond highlighting achievements, the release, entitled Promoting better understanding, treatment of traumatic brain injury, also notes the need for further research and care. On the webpage, below the press release, are links to articles that further explain the accomplishments mentioned. (They particularly note the discovery of a blood test to detect brain injury, an accomplishment that was first reported on this website in March 2018.)
Almost a year ago, I reported on the search for the culprit of mysterious ailments on American diplomats in Cuba; this year, I reported that diplomats in China were experiencing the same symptoms and that a cause had not yet been determined. Last Saturday, September 1, the New York Times published the results of various studies that searched for the cause of brain damage in so many diplomats and their families: Microwave Weapons Are Prime Suspect in Ills of U.S. Embassy Workers. Of course, microwave weapons do not refer to the most common “microwave”, the microwave oven, but “[any] electromagnetic wave with wavelength between that of infrared light and radio waves.” (Microwave weapons are not a new phenomenon. As these ailments show, other countries use this method of attack and, for over a decade, the American military has been searching for ways to use it in battle.) However, even after a year of study, as to what caused so many to experience the so-called Frey Effect, nothing is conclusive.
In 2002, Senator John McCain was instrumental in establishing the Arizona-based nonprofit Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), “a one-of-a-kind genomics research institute.” Unfortunately, the research focus of this institute later became all too important for McCain, as his diagnosis of brain cancer was announced last year. After losing this year-long battle with glioblastoma*, Senator McCain was laid to rest near the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland on Sunday, September 2, 2018. However, his service to America has not ended.
A visit to the memorial webpage of the late Senator provides not only a history of the man and synopses of the moments of honor that have occurred since his death on August 25, 2018, but also gives the visitor an opportunity to donate to two nonprofits specifically selected by McCain: The McCain Institute Foundation and the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen).
*According to the NIH, glioblastoma is, “the most common and aggressive malignant brain tumor in adults.” As previously reported on this site, symptoms of brain malignancy, a.k.a. brain cancer, include headaches, seizures, speech difficulty, weakness and double vision – symptoms that can also be found following a traumatic brain injury. The question as to whether there is a link between brain injury and brain cancer has been “long-debated”, as was remarked on in a 1979 NIH report. Today the NIH continues this investigation. Two years ago, they reported, “Epidemiological studies are equivocal on the possible link between trauma and increased risk of malignant glioblastoma… We propose a putative pathogenesis model that connects post-traumatic inflammation, stem and progenitor cell transformation, and glioblastoma.”
In the early 1990s, during the Gulf War, advances in weaponry and medical knowledge meant that injury, not death, was of foremost concern – included in this was brain injury, caused by both physical or chemical injury. In response, in 1992, Congress created the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) – an organization headquartered in Silver Springs, Maryland with 22 other locations around the continental United States of America. According to their mission, “the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center promotes state-of-the-science care from point-of-injury to reintegration for service members, veterans, and their families to prevent and mitigate consequences of mild to severe TBI.” Throughout its 26 years, their “science care” has extensively investigated, through research and sponsorship, what has been termed the signature wound of modern war. In response to this, in 2007, “DVBIC [was] designated the primary operational TBI component of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE).”
(As of today, there will be a link to the DVBIC in the ADDITIONAL RESOURCES bar on the Home Page of this site.)
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 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 Mind. Scheduled 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.
What do you do with all the cash you saved on Black Friday and Cyber Monday? Well, 6 years ago #GivingTuesday was officially introduced. (The hashtag in the name is a clear indication that the global day of giving was instigated on social media and peoples’ desire to help.) On the day’s website, one can find most of the charities/non-profits in their area. Though all the listed charities/non-profits are well-deserving of support, specifically related to brain injury, there are links to the Brain Injury Alliances in various states and other charities, nonprofits and hospitals that help the brain injured. (One foundation that is not found in the search, but is well-worth donated to, especially for those residing in the North New Jersey area, is the Kessler Foundation.)
First recognized in 2009, the CDC designates March as Brain Injury Awareness Month in order to “protect kids and teens by raising awareness and informing action to improve prevention, recognition, and response to concussion and other serious brain injuries.” This year, the awareness month has been entitled “HEADS UP!”, as it primarily involves educational activities about concussion diagnosis and treatment. As information regarding the month’s Awareness activities becomes available, this blog will update this post. (View this year’s Facebook page about the month.)
Dr. Joseph J. Fins is a nationally-known and well-esteemed physician specializing in neuroethics. Specifically, he is, “focused on advancing the care of patients with severe brain injury and bringing the fruits of neuroscience to a very marginalized population”. Beyond heading a Division at the New York Presbyterian Hospital and Cornell and other prestigious appointments, he was appointed by President Bill Clinton to The White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
In 2015, Fins published a book, Rights Come to Mind: Brain Injury, Ethics, and the Struggle for Consciousness that encapsulates his interviews with more than 50 families, who are all personally affected by severe brain injury. A particular story in an article about the book caught my eye: “Several years ago a father approached me, concerned about the care his son was receiving. The son had been in a car accident… was placed in a nursing home… The father feared his son was being ignored or, worse, left in pain or distress.”
As with many brain injured individuals, I have a similar story. To be candid about my experience, within a day or two of my brain injury, because of the severity of my injuries, the doctor handling my case asked my parents if they would sign off to allow my organs to be donated upon my imminent death. Fortunately, my parents said no and immediately requested another neurologist to handle my case. I was lucky to have parents who were so forthcoming regarding their expectations from my doctors. The article, Why advances in treating those with brain injuries require advances in respecting their rights, shows that the mentioned father loved his son very much, but it does not state what happened with his son beyond the father’s fear. (One can only hope for the best.) I find that it advances understanding and can even be reassuring to learn about others’ brain injury survival stories.
The world seems to be gaining more knowledge of brain injury. For example, the recently passed federal 21st Century Cures Act allocates $1.5 billion for brain research. “New treatments bring new hope,” and hopefully, more understanding and acceptance. As a brain injured person myself, I definitely plan on reading this book.
This past Friday was Veterans Day, a time to honor soldiers and veterans who fought for the principles upon which America was founded. In commemoration, I searched for information about the military and brain injury. It was upsetting that my search resulted in so many news articles, at least one article per day in the recent past. However, some of these daily articles involved efforts of the military to help those wounded in service, such as that of a retired General who just received an award for his efforts related to brain injury, and inspiring stories of recovery, such as one involving the healing support of trained dogs.
Of particular interest was the website A Head for the Future. The site, a collaboration of the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) and the Defense Centers of Excellence, is associated with every branch of the military. On the front page of the site, one can find links to sections on how to PREVENT, RECOGNIZE, RECOVER and GET INVOLVED and a section called MATERIALS, in which one can view and download facts about brain injury. Featured on the site is a BLOG, where veterans and their families can submit personal stories of brain injury to the DVBIC. The page also allows visitors to view videos featuring veterans telling their stories on camera. These stories, both those in print and on video, are quite poignant and worth viewing.