TBI rehab gets dose of persistence on Capitol Hill

By Mr. Rob Mcilvaine (ARNEWS)March 17, 2011

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 17, 2011) -- Researchers, educators, family advocates and survivors of traumatic brain injury testified March 16 before the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, during what was dubbed "Brain Injury Awareness Day on Capitol Hill."

"If you're not persistent, and you don't have it in your bone marrow, you're not going to get anything accomplished," said Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), who co-chairs the task force with Congressman Todd Platts (R-Pa.). Pascrell was referring to the persistence of his task force over the past 10 years to get funding for brain-injury research.

"This is our job. Not because there's 3.8 million people in our country who suffer with head injuries every year, not because of our brave wounded warriors who come back here, and now are getting the excellent service with their families, it's because there is no progress without families or relatives alongside and walking with us," Pascrell said.

Seven panelists were invited to speak about the research, education and importance of rehabilitation they've been involved with at their institutions and with their families.

Patty Horan and her husband, Capt. Patrick Horan, received a standing ovation when she got up to tell their story of rehab.

Patrick suffered a gunshot wound to the left side of his head while serving in Iraq in 2007. The injury left him completely disabled. It destroyed his ability to walk, he lost all coordination and sensation on the right side of his body and he lost the ability to read, to write, to speak, to understand language, and it destroyed his right visual field.

"In the early stages of rehab, I was completely overwhelmed. His injury was so debilitating, I could not even imagine how he could possibly recover," Patty said.

"I thought our life would be lived in institutions, isolation, and unrealized dreams."

They began rehabilitation five weeks after the initial injury and after about three months the doctors told her that Pat would never be able to communicate effectively again.

"My sister-in-law found a blog which talked about Casa Colina, a transitional living center in Pomona, California. Our neurosurgeon supported our decision, so we moved," Patty said.

At the center, Pat was given five hours of therapy a day, consisting of occupational, physical, speech, recreational and cognitive therapy, as well as community re-entry.

"Because of Pat's great strides and a fantastic case manager, we were able to reside at this facility for an entire year. I believe this was the key element in the miraculous recovery he has today," she said.

Over the past two years, Pat has been receiving outpatient rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and continues to make progress.

"This year he has regained the function and strength of his right arm, his ability to read, write and also his vision. Without rehab, I believe we would both be prisoners of this injury."

Pat no longer uses a wheelchair. He can walk up to three miles and he's able to do most activities of daily living on his own. Patty also said he is able to keep and follow his own schedule, do basic problem solving, and pay bills.

He's now pursuing an internship and volunteers regularly with the Wounded Warrior Project, visiting and encouraging newly-injured Soldiers.

"Brain injury rehabilitation has given me my husband back. It's given us the opportunity to live a free and independent life and pursue our dreams. For us, rehabilitation has turned this injury into a bump in the road instead of a life in prison," Patty said.

When asked what those first few years were like, Patrick defers to his loving advocate.

"I don't really remember anything of those first two years, you have to ask Patty," he said.

Much research has been done on the benefits of rehabilitation, as witnessed by some of the other panelists, including:

- Col. Jamie B. Grimes, director of the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center

- Kathy Helmick, deputy director of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury

- Dr. Lisa McGuire, research team leader, Division of Injury Response, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

- Dr. Allen Brown, medical director and co-principle investigator for the Mayo Traumatic Brain Injury Model System

- Dr. Keith Cicerone, director of Neuropsychology and Rehabilitation Psychology at the JFK-Johnson Rehabilitation Institute and New Jersey Neuroscience Institute

According to one other panelist, however, insurance companies don't believe there's been enough research to warrant paying for extended rehabilitation beyond community re-entry.

Anne Forrest, now a traumatic brain injury survivor and advocate, was a senior economist at the Environmental Law Institute, before her car accident near the Lincoln Memorial 13 years ago.

"Hospitals were afraid they wouldn't get paid by the insurance company for more of my care. When I told them that I would pay out of my pocket, they said they couldn't do that.

"There's a huge gap between what insurance companies are willing to pay to get someone back to community function and what I want, to get back working for a living," Forrest said.

"What makes policy' Persistence and advocacy and that's what you are about and why you're here today," said moderator Bobby Silverstein, who is the counsel for the Disability and Rehabilitation Research Coalition and former staff director and chief counsel, Senate Subcommittee on Disability Policy, Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

Related Links:

Defense Department makes 'great strides' in brain-injury care

Army.mil: Health News

STAND-TO!: Traumatic Brain Injury

Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury

Brain Injury Awareness Month