By Ms. Gloria Montgomery (Army Medicine)April 4, 2019
FORT HOOD---Nearly two years ago, brain surgery robbed Chief Warrant Officer Donald Mitchell of his independence. He could not walk without assistance, and a speech impediment disrupted conversations. He was in a rut, and he knew it.
But from the moment the Soldier in Transition entered the doors of Fort Hood's Intrepid Spirit Center (ISC), he knew it was a special place, more than just a brick and mortar building of tools and equipment that would help mend his brain. He felt its heart. This, he said, gave him hope.
"You just felt the positive momentum when you opened the door," he told those attending ISC's open house, held March 22 in conjunction with Brain Injury Awareness Month. "You are the priority, and it shows."
Today, Mitchell is a walking miracle, a validation of the 10 plus years of research and evolving technologies changing the way the military is accessing and treating traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
"Science is changing how we look at the pathological and physiology of brain injuries and allowing us to fine tune our diagnostic tools and determine that next level of care," said Dr. Scot Engle, ISC's director.
The ISC provides a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to treating Soldiers with TBI, PTSD and other conditions that focus on Soldier recovery and, ultimately, a return to duty. During the open house, attendees were educated on the center's integrated treatment approach that includes the coordinated efforts of doctors, behavior health specialists, nurse case managers, social workers, chiropractors, and physical and occupational therapists.
Also on hand were ISC's art and music therapists who demonstrated the creative aspects of healing, which Mitchell admits, shocked him.
"Art and music allowed me to create things that were inside my head and rid myself of things that were bothering me," he said. "I can't explain it, but it worked."
Engel said that through the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC), a division of the Defense Health Agency Research and Development Directorate and the TBI center of Excellence for the Defense Department, DOD is leveraging new technologies with cutting edge research, tools and protocols that prioritize early identification and promote individualized treatment.
"We all are working simultaneously to provide optimal care for our wounded warriors," he said, adding that the ISC model based on individualized treatment plans helps maximize brain health, which translates into getting the Soldier back in the fight quicker.
Mitchell, who is transitioning out of the military, credits much of his recovery to his physical and speech therapists.
"You can have state of the art equipment, but it can only go take you so far," he said. "You need the operator's brains behind it."
The ISC's model of care also gave Mitchell the gift of confidence.
"Having confidence is what builds our optimism and allows us to heal," he said, adding that ISC's program with all of its services, represents the way recovery should be. "It is hard to recover when you do not have the knowledge and the tools necessary to recover quickly."
According to DVBIC, 383,947 service members received a TBI diagnosis from 2000 until the first quarter of 2018. The most common form of TBI in the military is mild TBI, also referred to as concussion. Common symptoms following a concussion include headaches, dizziness, sleep disturbances, vision changes, balance problems, fatigue, attention and memory problems, irritability, and mood changes. Early detection of traumatic brain injury leads to early treatment, which promotes better outcomes.
The center, which opened with 175 patients in 2016, now has a patient load of more than 500 Soldiers. Funded wholly through the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, Fort Hood's ISC is a satellite facility of the National Intrepid Center of Excellence at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.