By Mollie Miller, Army Flier News EditorNovember 7, 2008
FORT RUCKER, Ala.--Sgt. 1st Class Tom Black is not the same man he was five years ago. Severe bouts of forgetfulness, confusion, exhaustion, insomnia and terrible headaches have all combined to batter the formerly energetic and athletic UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crew chief.
Once, not too long ago, the father of two even wished he would just die.
Indeed, Black, 39, is not the same carefree father, husband and Soldier he was before a blast at Camp Taji, Iraq, left him with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) but, with the help of the team at Lyster Army Health Clinic's Warrior Transition Unit (WTU), he is working to find the man he once was.
Black's road to Lyster's WTU was a long one, one full of doctor visits, many prescription drugs, a few misdiagnoses and a lot of pain and depression.
"I lived in daily frustration I cannot even begin to describe," he said.
Black finally made it to Fort Rucker's WTU in June when doctors decided that a 2003 explosion on an airfield at Camp Taji in Iraq had likely caused a TBI.
"When they identified a possible TBI, the whole nature of my care changed," he said.
According to officials at the Deployment Health Clinical Center (DHCC), a TBI is defined as a blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the function of the brain. The severity of such an injury may range from mild, a brief change in mental status or consciousness, to severe, an extended period of unconsciousness or amnesia after the injury.
DHCC officials have reported that nearly 30 percent of all patients with combat-related injuries seen at Walter Reed Army Medical Center from 2003 to 2005 sustained a TBI.
Once Black's TBI was identified, the doctors at Lyster ordered new tests, which eventually led Black to a new round of therapy that he says saved his life.
"My mental clarity has greatly improved," he said. "My physical fitness has improved as have a lot of my other symptoms."
When Black was at his worst, his wife, Heidi, said that it was almost like he was her third child rather than her husband. Since the new round of treatments began, Heidi said it is like she is living with a totally different man.
"It is good to have a partner back again," she said. "We were so wrapped up in just getting through the day before (and), now, we are back to living our lives."
Black, like the thousands of Soldiers assigned to WTUs around the country, is a Soldier who came to the WTU from a previous unit because he requires extensive case management and has a profile that precludes him from training or contributing to the unit mission for more than six months.
Right now, there are a handful of Soldiers assigned to Lyster's WTU and finding the right care for every one of them is an important mission, according to WTU commander Capt. Nolan Brandt.
"The WTU is the right answer," he said. "This type of command and control provides the best outcome for every Soldier."
Ensuring that every WTU Soldier here can get back to living their lives as Tom Black has been able to do is one of Lyster's top priorities, LAHC Commander Col. Yolanda Ruiz-Isales said.
"We are here to support you," Ruiz-Isales said addressing a room of WTU Soldiers here recently. "We want to give you everything you deserve and more."
Dr. Kevin Diel, WTU physician here, said his goal is to fix the Soldier, mind, body and soul.
"We all do genuinely care about the Soldiers," he said. "We are committed to caring for the Soldier regardless of the outcome."
Reflecting on his experiences with the Army medical community, Black said he couldn't be happier.
"The Army has greatly impressed me with their caring attitudes, dedication to my Family and I (and) their determined approach to improving not only my physical well being, but my mental well being," he said.
Though he still struggles with occasional "mental fogginess, pain and weakness," all signs indicate that the road back to the man Black once was is now a clear one ... and one full of small victories.
In August, Black sat down and read a book from cover to cover - his first since 2003.
"At one point in all of this, I was terrified that I would never be a reliable individual again for my Family or my country. Now, though, there is hope," he said. "My prayers have been answered."