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Brain Injury Awareness Part 3: Treatment puts TBI victim on road to recovery

Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Colin Woodside on the long road to recovery after suffering a severe traumatic brain injury. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Colin Woodside on the long road to recovery after suffering a severe traumatic brain injury.

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A 50-foot fall during a recreational rock climbing weekend in October 2014 left Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Colin Woodside with a severe traumatic brain injury. His path of treatment and recovery now spans nearly three years and counting.

The first steps in his treatment were the measures taken by medics on the ground and doctors at the hospital to stabilize him and recognize the need for surgery to relieve swelling and pressure on the brain. After being released from the hospital in Washington state, Woodside was sent home to San Diego for the next phase of treatment.

“I met with a neurologist who said, ‘Colin, it’s going to take a very long time for you to recover,’” said Woodside. “At the time, my head was so scrambled I thought, ‘No, I’m fine. I’m walking.’ I wanted to get back to work. But I realized very quickly, he was right.”

Woodside’s mother improvised flash cards to speed her son’s recovery.Woodside’s mother improvised flash cards to speed her son’s recovery.

Part of Woodside’s treatment included card and thinking games to help with the cognitive portion of his recovery. More recent treatment included Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy, a process to help the right and left sides of the brain “talk” to each other. For example, flashing dots on a screen or, as in Woodside’s case, vibrating pads on each hand help the patient engage the different sides of the brain.

The Military Health System addresses several areas of TBI, before and after injury: prevention, screening, treatment, and recovery. Many people with the mildest form of TBI – commonly called a concussion – can be helped with treatments as simple as resting and giving the body a chance to recover. Those with the most severe injuries, like Woodside, receive care at specialized clinics in the MHS. Depending on capacity and TBI care available in the local community, some family members receive care at military specialty clinics

“Patients (primarily active duty members) with very complex symptoms, such as sleep disturbances, headaches, and slowed thinking, get treatment from interdisciplinary teams at TBI clinics, such as the National Intrepid Center of Excellence in Bethesda, Maryland,” said Dr. Katharine Stout, director of clinical affairs and a physical therapist at the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. In addition to the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, there are multiple centers across the country designed to deliver interdisciplinary TBI care, as well as embark on cutting-edge research, said Stout.

Medical, rehabilitation, and behavioral health specialists at these centers support service members after TBI. The length of support varies based on the injury and care needed. There are intensive outpatient programs that range from three to 16 weeks based on the facility and patient population and the ability at the command level to support these programs.  Treatment options include physical and occupational therapies, as well as care for psychological, speech, and neurological issues. Specialists also evaluate the effectiveness of complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, art, and music therapy, which are available at certain military facilities.

“We need to understand the impact of many disorders after a concussion,” said Stout. “Sometimes the symptoms are subtle to the layperson. Having all of these people on the team to evaluate the person as a whole allows them to look at it from all angles and interact with each other to come up with the best treatment plan.”

Woodside isn’t alone in the military in this process of treatment and recovery from TBI. Since 2000, more than 360,000 service members have been affected by these injuries, although the vast majority of TBIs are mild and happen away from combat. Woodside feels the care he received and continues to receive is making all the difference.

“I feel like a whole new person, compared to how I did two and a half years ago,” he said.

In the final part in this series, Woodside talks about his road to recovery. See his full story on DVBIC’s A Head for the Future website.

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