Brain Injury Task Force Loses a Chair

This week, the 116th Congress was sworn in on Capitol Hill.  Unfortunately, that means that the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force lost one of its Chairs, Congressman Thomas Rooney (FL), who did not seek reelection.

Having served in the Army for 4 years in combat and 4 years in the reserve, Rooney accorded special attention to brain injury in the military on the Task Force.  This summer, it was reported, “House Approves Rooney-Requested Funding for Traumatic Brain Injuries.”  (Seen now on the website VoteSmart, this article is a repost first seen on the official Congressional website for Rooney, which is now defunct.)  The requested funding given was $125 million.

As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, Rooney dealt with the financing of government bills and other such actions.  (The House Ways and Means Committee is also focused on financial needs, a Committee that counts co-chair of the Brain Injury Task Force Congressman Pascrell as a member.)  Of this victory, Rooney stated, “The reality is our service members take great risks when they enlist to fight for our country. One of the biggest risks is TBIs, which can lead to severe mental health issues like depression and even suicide. These problems are serious and real and each dollar we spend towards research and treatment puts us one step closer to helping our military.”  (It is important to note that the VA conducts research that benefits all Americans, not simply those in the armed forces.)

Rooney is succeeded in Florida’s 17th District by former State Legislator Greg Steube.  Like his predecessor, Steube is a veteran with 4 years in combat.  Hopefully, Steube will have as much consideration for brain injury as his predecessor, too.

R.I.P. President George H.W. Bush

Today, at 11:00am ET, former Presidents, dignitaries, family members and others pay tribute to the 41st President of the Unites States, George H.W. Bush.  For the purpose of this website, it is a day to remember all that President Bush did for those with brain injuries, and for those with disabilities, at large.

President Bush was America’s last president to serve in the military overseas at war.  (President Clinton, President Obama and President Trump did not serve.  President George W. Bush served stateside as a pilot during the Vietnam War.)  Specifically, as a 20-year-old man, he served as a pilot in the Pacific during World War II.  As detailed in the book Flyboys, on September 2, 1944, while targeting a Japanese radio transmitter on the island of Chichijima, his plane was shot over the Pacific Ocean.  Bush did not abandon his plane, instead continuing to fight until his plane went down.  One source states that his injuries from this combat tragedy, that took the lives of many of his squadron, included “bleeding from a headwound”.

“Why had I been spared and what did God have in store for me?… there’s got to be some kind of destiny and I was being spared for something of Earth,” Bush later said about his trauma in WWII.  For those with disabilities, part of that reason was definitely his signing of the American Disabilities Act on July 26, 1990.  Modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the ADA aimed for equal opportunity for those with disabilities.  While a list of what impairments constitute a disability is not defined in the Act, a disability is defined as, “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual.”  These limiting impairments include, “functions of the… neurological, brain…”

Following his presidency, President Bush continued to support those with brain injury.  For example, in 1996, President Bush created a PSA for the Pediatric Brain Injury Prevention Campaign.  Prior to the PSA, the Campaign had no association with President Bush.  He agreed to do the PSA simply based on a request submitted through letter.

Recently, President Bush suffered through his own trauma – vascular Parkinsonism.  Thought to be caused by a multitude of mini strokes, vascular Parkinsonism is so named because it shares many of the characteristics of Parkinson’s disease.  (Some dispute this correlation, as Parkinson’s can be helped by medication, but vascular Parkinsonism cannot.)  On Friday, November 30, 2018, President, Vice President, Congressman and CIA Director Bush passed away.  After his funeral, his body will travel to Texas where he will be laid to rest next to his wife of over 70 years, Barbara and his young daughter Robin.  For the disabled, his legacy of the ADA will continue.

First Snowfall Peril on the Roads

Last week, much of the eastern United States (Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts. Vermont, New Hampshire) experienced its first snowfall of the year.  Given that winter does not officially begin until December 21, this snowfall was much earlier than expected, just as in March there was snow into the spring.  Because of governmental unpreparedness, states’ transportation systems became essentially paralyzed.  In my state of New Jersey, lack of governmental preparation meant that a trip that should have taken me 20 minutes, took 12 hours.  The government seems not to have been much involved at all, as it was fellow citizens who distributed water and snacks to others and offered their cell phones for use to those in need.

Ambulances, though, were present.  Unfortunately, as it was almost impossible to move one’s car, the ability for ambulances to get through traffic was difficult.  For those who sustained an injury during a snowfall-related accident, I can only imagine how horrific that must have been.  For those who live with brain injuries and were driving or were passengers in a car, the concern was great – would lack of medication result in negative outcomes, would fatigue overcome, etc.?

In 2005, the NIH reported, “To date, only 2 previous studies have examined the effects of the first snowfall of the season,” on collisions, injuries and fatalities.  Research shows that since that time, that number does not seem to have greatly increased.  However, all agree that the first snowfall of the year is substantially more dangerous.

Today, Thanksgiving, while snow may not be in the forecast, “The coldest Thanksgiving in over a century for millions plus traffic troubles,” is anticipated.  Typically, studies and articles that focus on driving difficulties during the holidays address the effects of driving under the influence of alcohol.  Add to that the hazardous effects of snowfall and the risk becomes even greater.

Extreme Weather Has Traumatic Results in Carolinas

Though severe weather affects all of America, in the continental United States hurricane season (June – November) comes with specific concern for the coastal states from Virginia to Texas.  During the past few days, the Carolina’s have been dealing with the wind, water, power outages and trauma caused by Hurricane Florence.  Because of the extreme weather, head injuries are more common.  However, because extreme weather limits one’s ability to exit the house and get access to medical facilities, the exact amount of trauma caused by a sudden-onset disaster like a hurricane is not known.  (As the NIH notes, “Injury patterns during storms are not much studied and lack uniformity.”)

Online, brain injury experts have presented lists of what safety precautions should be taken for those who live with a brain injury or who get a brain injury during the storm.  The Center for Disease Control briefed medical experts and hospitals on what injuries they are likely to face because of Florence and how to deal with them.  The Federal Department of Health and Human Services online provides a list of resources specific to Emergency/Crisis and Disaster Settings.  In preparation for Florence, the CDC set up a small temporary medical facility in Atlanta.  They also have a webpage detailing emergency wound care after a natural disaster and a pamphlet online providing tips for safety, though these tips don’t seem to address prevention of head trauma beyond DON’T DRIVE.  The states provide information online regarding what those with disabilities and their caregivers should do in the event of a natural disaster, with 10 states offering brochures, booklets, guides and other material.

No matter how much people and hospitals prepare for the negative effects of natural disasters, or how much natural disasters bring out the more considerate side of people, there will always be injuries and possible deaths.  For Florence, the death toll is now 23.  Often, “outside assistance arrives later, and transportation to functional hospitals is too long to save lives of the most critically injured.”  The public is horrified by the news that a mother and her infant were crushed and killed by a tree on Friday, September 14, the first known fatalities from the storm.

The NIH notes the challenges of diagnosis, treatment and prevention of a brain injury during a sudden-onset disaster: immediate emergency medical response, long-term care, and prevention of post-event increases in pediatric TBIs because of abuse when rapid-onset natural disasters occur.  With such a natural disaster, though, trauma is all too common and hospitals are limited due to weather, which presents an ethical quandary for medical professionals – immediate action is necessary for brain injury, but should a hospital first care for someone who may not survive?  (The development of telemedicine for those who do not need or do not have access to immediate care may help answer this question for doctors.)

A medical professional, however, notes about such emergency circumstances, “this is what we train for.”  For example, a North Carolina deputy got a head injury while responding to calls for service.  A North Carolina teen and his father were transported to the hospital with a fractured skull/bleeding on the brain and an injury that required 12 staples in his head, respectively, after a tree fell on them while they were removing debris from the road.

Today, September 17, the extreme weather has subsided in the Carolinas.  However, according to the National Hurricane Center, the flooding, power outages and road closures continue.  Those that evaluated due to the storm, including those with brain injuries and their caregivers, will soon return.  Some hospitals have reopened in the past few days.  Now, though, the residents of the Carolinas are coping with extreme flooding.  Medical care is not yet easily accessible and it is still difficult to communicate with medical professionals.  Also, “evacuees have [now] been exposed to potentially contaminated flood waters and crowded living conditions and have had many opportunities for traumatic injury.”  Among the mentioned injuries is traumatic brain injury.

 

U.S. Diplomats Ailments Possibly Explained

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.

Medical Mystery Appears Again Across the Globe

Last year, America removed its diplomats from Cuba after some reported mysteriously experiencing the symptoms of mild brain injury.  This year, the same symptoms are being experienced by American diplomats and their families in Guangzhou, China:  sleeplessness, headache, nausea, and memory recall issues.  These are the same symptoms one feels, “following [a] concussion or minor traumatic brain injury.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo notes that what has now being reported as occurring in China is, “very similar and entirely consistent with the medical indications that have taken place to Americans working in Cuba.”  It both cases, there is no known culprit, though those in the State Department continue to say that it is likely to be caused by sonic attacks.  Toxins and sounds emitted by listening devices, as well as simply mass hysteria, have also been mentioned as possible causes.  (Twenty-five percent of those who reported brain injury in Cuba were found not to have it, based on medical tests following their return to America.)  The U.S. government suspects that either Russia or China may be causing the attacks in China.  The idea that Cubans could be generating the attacks is not thought in this incidence.

Are sound attacks the new means of warfare?  The news examines this question, citing the known effects of infrasonic and ultrasonic sound.  Infrasonic sound causes such effects as nausea and involuntary bowel evacuation.  Ultrasonic sound can heat up the cells of the body and can cause cavitation, “when the pressure difference between a strong push and a strong pull in a very loud sound causes bubbles to form”.  Generally, ultrasound sound is named as the culprit of the sonic attacks, however nausea, an effect of infrasound attacks,  was reported by some.  Another possibility is that ultrasonic attacks are an effect of eavesdropping, not the means of attack, as ultrasound is used is surveillance.

Magic Is An Illusion; Trauma Is Not

For me and many others, David Copperfield is the nation’s foremost illusionist/magician.  He even earned a spot on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1995.  From 1974 until last week, his magic has been just that; Copperfield could do what seemed impossible.

In 2013, an audience member was selected to participate in a trick called “Lucky 13”.  The trick required participants to enter a box which is then closed.  Miraculously, the participants would then appear at the back of the theater at the MGM Great Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.  (If you want to understand how the trick was performed, click here.)  The aforementioned audience member, Gavin Cox, had a slip-and-fall during the execution of the illusion and, “was taken to the hospital with a dislocated shoulder. After returning to Britain… he suffered chronic pain [and confusion] and a scan showed a lesion on his brain.”

Most simply described, a brain lesion is an injury or disease affecting the brain.  The cost of the two fusion surgeries, plus a diagnosed traumatic brain injury, has been more than $400,000 for the plaintiff.  (I have found no information regarding the non-surgical treatment Cox received for his tbi.)  Cox filed a multi-million dollar negligence lawsuit in 2014 to cover these medical costs and his pain-and-suffering.  In addition to Copperfield, MGM Grand, show producer Backstage Employment and Referral, and building firm Construction Management were named as defendants in this suit.

Given Copperfield’s popularity, this suit has gained a lot of press.  (I even found an article about it in Golf Digest.)  Two other past participants of the trick have since come forward claiming injury as a result of participating in this trick.    Despite this controversy, though, Copperfield is still performing, albeit without this illusion.

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.

The Risk Goes Beyond Gambling: Brain Injury and the 2017 Vegas Massacre

On October 1, 2017, Las Vegas was home to what is the worst domestic mass shooting in history, when Stephen Paddock took aim at the crowd at the Harvest Music Festival on the Las Vegas Strip – 58 people dead and 489 injured – and subsequently took his own life.  (Note the current gun laws in the United States by state.)  Since Paddock had no history of violence and no criminal record, the police and public were and are quite confused.  Even his own brother simply says, “something went wrong in his head.”  Some sort of mental issue seems to be the most likely culprit.  This CNN article documents the possible problems Paddock may have had, writing that, “It is important to note that a tumor isn’t the only thing that can cause such changes in behavior: strokes or a traumatic brain injury can do the same.”  The article then mentions one neurodegenerative disorder, FTLD, that makes decision-making and emotional control difficult.  Brain injury, of course, also makes these tasks difficult, though through rehabilitation and support from family and friends, those with brain injuries are typically able to maintain decent control of these mental faculties.

As for his victims, I find it relatively fortunate that, at this time, I can only find articles about one living individual who acquired a brain injury from the shooting, though knowing that there are any victims with brain injuries is horrible – Maryland native Tina Frost, a concert attendee who was shot in the right eye.  “When they have to move her, she sits up on her own, rolls herself and pushes the nurses away,” Rich Frost [her father] wrote. “She calms down when we say ‘easy Tina.’ Her eye is swollen shut and she is on the ventilator and still in her coma, but it is encouraging.”  I hope for the best for her, and for the other 488 injured, and pray with the families of all those injured and of the 58 people who lost their lives.

Giffords Shows Support for McCain

Gabby Giffords may be a Democrat, but she also is an Arizonian and brain injury survivor.  Her husband, Mark Kelly, is a former astronaut who presumptively knows many fellow astronauts who have had a brain injury from their travel.  Politically, they differ from Senator McCain.  However, as fellow Arizonians, his friend and his former colleague, she and her husband have expressed their hope for McCain’s recovery.

Kelly expressed the importance of maintaining a positive outlook, just as McCain did during his 5+ years detained as a prison-of-war during the Vietnam War.  Giffords tweeted, “You’re tough! You can beat this. Fight, fight, fight! I am proud to call you my friend.”