By Mrs. Melissa Buckley (Leonard Wood)March 19, 2015
Traumatic Brain Injury specialists gathered at Fort Leonard Wood to present the 2nd Annual TBI Symposium March 13 in Nutter Field House.
The symposium, hosted by the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Fort Leonard Wood, included military and clinical professionals, researchers and educators.
"Three years ago, the Army and the National Football League launched an initiative to promote concussion awareness. Since this collaboration, leaders have come together to share advances and celebrate military and civilian cooperation that fosters innovative approaches to raise awareness of the symptoms, treatment and prevention of concussions," said Maj. Gen. Leslie Smith, MSCoE and Fort Leonard Wood commanding general.
The morning session focused on military needs, and the afternoon panel was filled with clinical and scientific information.
Two Soldiers, who sustained concussions, spoke about their personal experiences.
One of them was Capt. Kristina Gscheidle. She outlined her experience with two brain injuries.
"My first injury was in Iraq in 2007. I was stopped at forward operating base Kalsu eating breakfast when a 240mm rocket struck the dining facility 20 to 30 feet from where I sat. I was treated briefly at the troop medical clinic and sent back to my unit. We continued missions. I felt off right away, but didn't experience anything serious until two weeks later when I was home in the U.S.," Gscheidle said.
She said she felt like she had needles pricking the back of her head.
"I had small seizures and sharp headaches throughout the day. I had trouble with words, finding them or outright using the wrong ones in sentences," Gscheidle said. "There were times where I was driving on the wrong side of the road, one time with someone in the car with me, or confusing cardinal directions."
After four months and two hospitals, she finally received a diagnosis. She said it took several years to get to her "new normal."
"With counseling and time I got there. I continued to have issues with short-term memory and balance, but could physically feel the difference in how I was able to think and process," Gscheidle said.
Then last spring she received a second concussion when she crashed while participating in a triathlon.
"I thought that I wanted to stop, I was in so much pain. But finishing the race felt like the right thing to do, I was the only representative from my battalion and I had committed to doing this. It was a strong sense of obligation. It's easy to say now -- I should have stopped," Gscheidle said.
She said she knew later that day that something was off and immediately thought of her previous head injury. She said her symptoms started coming in waves.
"First was the sound sensitivity, like I could feel echoes; then the headaches; then the emotional struggles; difficulty reading and focusing on words; a burning sensation in my head; and finally the feeling that I just needed to turn off. If I continued to push I could keep it together in the office, but would fall apart in my driveway at home, crippled with pain and exhaustion and in bed for the rest of the night," Gscheidle said.
Before her injuries, she said she had the reputation of performing at a high level as a hard worker.
"It was difficult for leaders to understand why someone who's been outwardly functioning just fine, who looks and sounds completely normal, would suddenly have to stop -- it invited a lot of skepticism," Gscheidle said. "On my own, I had difficulties determining what my threshold was. I was told to take it easy, and what I was doing felt easy to me, but didn't produce the results I needed. I finally began seeing improvements when I was scared straight into enforcing my own welfare before my fears of failure or a tarnished reputation."
She said she wanted to emphasize the value of creating a supportive and positive, team environment.
"I saw my greatest improvements when I felt empowered making a plan, and when I was exposed to positive and supportive friends and Family, focusing more on can versus can't," Gscheidle said.
A TBI is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain.
The severity of a TBI may range from mild -- a brief change in mental status or consciousness, to severe -- an extended period of unconsciousness or amnesia after the injury.
Symptoms of TBI can include reduced attention and concentration, and difficulty with memory and problem solving, which can exacerbate issues affecting mood and relationships, and impact job performance.
In addition to the panel discussions and presentations, there were booths from the Missouri Brain Injury Association, General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital TBI Program and Veterans Affairs set up for troops visit.