How To Conquer A TBI: A Former Green Beret's Quest And His Challenge To You

I was six months into a downward spiral and nothing was helping. After suffering numerous head traumas, I was told I could no longer take the risk of being a Special Forces Operator at the end of July 2014. My drinking had gotten so out of control that my wife, who was nine months pregnant with our 5th child, asked me if I could keep my drinking down for the day in case she went into labor and couldn’t drive herself to the hospital.

On August 31st we had to take my son, who was 13 months old at the time, to the ER for a congenital lymphatic malformation (cyst-like formation) he had in his neck that got infected and swelled up. My wife was having contractions, and for the last three days I was dealing with what I thought was the worst calf spasm the world had ever known. All three of us were admitted into the same room in the ER. It was ultimately decided that my son had to go to the Operating Room for surgery on his neck, and my wife went into labor not long after. My son was getting operated on the 4th floor while my wife was giving birth on the 2nd. I was in unbelievable pain at the time, and was basically dragging my leg between the 2nd and 4th floors to be there for both of them as much as I could. After my son’s surgery, my wife gave birth. In order to be at the side of my wife and newly born son, I remember drinking and mixing opiates to combat my pain and anxiety.

I refused treatment while my son and wife were in need. I eventually ended up in radiology to get some imaging on my calf. The imaging revealed a Deep Vein Thrombosis (big blood clot) in my leg, which by that time had broken off into a bi-lateral Pulmonary Embolism affecting both of my lungs. Had we not taken action when we did, it most certainly would have killed me. I had two hospital stays lasting several weeks, my son had over seven different hospital and ICU stays with multiple surgeries on his neck, and our newborn had a complication that required ER treatment and was admitted for four days after he stopped breathing twice. Both times my wife and I were able to revive him. All this took place in the span of  six-weeks.

Near the midway point through that nightmare, I remember coming to a crossroad. I could blame my external circumstances and keep on the path conventional medicine had laid out for me. A path destined for my death and the destruction of my family. Or, I could embrace the current pain, accept if for what it was, and use it to improve myself. I decided to take ownership of my life, to quit allowing external obstacles to have power over me. I then used a new found razor sharp focus to change what I didn’t like about my current condition. From that moment on I understood that I had the power and free will to choose how I would receive, internalize, and respond to external circumstance in my life. That epiphany felt as if I had just broke free from heavy shackles, it was euphoric. I told myself that I was going to do whatever was necessary to become the man that my family and my sick boy needed me to be. I started to ask myself, “How can I make the most out of every second? What must I do to improve, to be the husband, father, and leader that I require of myself?”

What Is A Traumatic Brain Injury?

We now know that the brain can suffer two distinctly different types of trauma as it relates to TBI’s. The initial trauma can arrive from an external impact, explosive blast wave, or acceleration alone. The second and infamous “invisible injury” of a TBI occurs in the minutes and days after the initial trauma. One of the secondary injury processes that cause the biggest problem is post-traumatic inflammation.

Traumatic brain injuries can cause a host of physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral effects, many of which can be difficult to detect. The scientific literature tells us that symptoms can appear on impact or weeks to years following the injury.

My Last Deployment

My last deployment was in 2013. It was an emotionally and physically taxing trip. We were engaged in constant combat through the entirety of it. A majority of our team was wounded in combat before it was all said and done; my injuries resulted in a medical retirement.

My wife and I had planned on this being a relatively short trip for me. She was six months pregnant with our fourth child and first son when I left. We could not have been any happier with our life and what the future held for us. With her expected due date in early July, I planned to travel back several weeks prior to be there with her and our girls to welcome our new son into the world. It was planned that I would attend an advanced Special Forces course after the birth, keeping me stateside.

June 08, 2013

I watched the explosion blow a vehicle that weighed over 42,000 pounds, not counting our ammo or weapons, over 10 feet in the air, crashing down on its passenger side. I can still picture it in high definition and slow motion when I think about it. The very second it went off, I knew from past experiences exactly what it was. I knew the type of force that was required to send something that heavy that high into the air, and I understood the magnitude of the situation immediately.

I began yelling over and over again fearing the worst. I quickly regained my composure, understanding the probability for a follow on attack was high. We got our ground force commander the quick update, “Let higher know that we have sustained a catastrophic IED strike on one of our vehicles, casualty report to come, we need serious air support now.”

The wounds to our men, my brothers, were serious and the follow on attack was fierce. We did what he had to do in order to hunker down and get our wounded out to the next highest level of care. It was a long day into a long night of constant combat before we finally got out of there. We didn’t have the time to properly assess the number of enemy killed, but it was substantial. We made sure the enemy had every opportunity to make their ultimate sacrifice, and many did.

When we sustain a casualty, it is known that no one is to communicate with the outside world until the family members of the deceased or wounded have been notified. So once we got the go ahead that it was OK to call back home, I made the dreaded phone call.

I told my wife, “ I don’t know how to say this but….” and explained to her what had happened. I gave her an update on our guys. I told her that I would not be coming home, and that I would not be there for the birth of our first son. I told her that she and the kids were in a safe place and were well cared for. The guys out here were not, and I felt compelled to remain with them and continue to pursue and kill the enemy. Our survival was dependent on it. I could never face my son as a man who left his team when they needed me the most. That goes against everything I stand for, and I know one day this decision will make him proud. Becky was a seasoned veteran wife of multiple deployments, and without missing a beat she said, “I love you baby, and I am so proud of you. Do whatever you have to do, but you bring the rest of those boys back home alive. We will all be here waiting for you when you get back.”

For the first time in my career, I began to video the team and me in combat on that last trip. We were walking the razor’s edge out there and I knew it. I wasn’t positive I was going to make it home. I wanted my boy to be able to see his Dad in action. I wanted him to have something to be proud of, something that he could actually see to let him know who his Dad was and what he was about. It was an emotionally and physically taxing trip.

The Come Down

It was about three months after my return home before I started to notice any changes. I began to be plagued by psychological, physiological, and physical manifestations, including depression, outbursts of anger, anxiety, mood swings, memory loss, inability to concentrate, learning disabilities, sleep deprivation, loss of libido, loss of lean body mass, muscular weakness, and a number of other medically documented conditions, that until after my return had never been present.

By the time I finally came to my breaking point, I was drinking a 750ml bottle of bourbon a night, was on over a dozen medications, and had become completely detached and isolated from everyone that I loved. I was sleeping with a handle of whiskey and a loaded shotgun by my bed, dementia was quickly setting in.

The Truth

The quality of your questions can determine the quality of your life. Individual assessments using evidence-based diagnostics are required to pinpoint and treat impairments. When those methods were used on me, it changed everything. The proper diagnostic exams revealed that I had major vestibular and neuroendocrine (hormonal) deficiencies from blast induced TBI’s; however, by pinpointing the impairment we were able to effectively treat the problem. Everything up to this point had just been a band-aide, a temporary fix that attempted to only treat symptoms, not the root issue. We were able to get to the truth by asking quality questions. Through my treatments at Carrick Brain Centers and the Millennium TBI network I have been sober since October of last year and have come off a dozen different medications. I am performing as good if not better then my pre-injury self. My mind is clear, my body is balanced, and my spirit is grateful.

The Difference Maker

Mark L. Gordon, M.D. Medical Director Millennium-TBI Network

The following was taken from Dr. Gordon’s website. It discusses his treatment protocols.

It is our belief that in a TBI precipitated condition the initial symptoms are due to the physical damage to the brain itself. It is during this initial phase that an array of inflammatory chemicals are produced that lead to secondary insults to the brains functioning. Part of the dysfunction that occurs is in the ability to regulate hormones produced by the Pituitary Gland. Comprehensive laboratory testing can detect alterations in the production of important hormones. Therefore, our program is based upon: ‪

  1. Detecting the hormones that are affected.‬‬‬‬‬‬

  2. Replenish those affected hormones to physiologic levels.‬

  3. Using safe bio-identical or bio-equivalent hormones.‬

  4. We work with experts to safely decrease or stop any medication that is masking the superficial symptoms. ‬We are not Psychiatrists, a Sleep Center, Disability Assessors, or Miracle workers.‬

  5. Regaining your trust in our ability, as physicians, to provide specific care for your condition and not just a band-aide. ‬ ‬

What Our Experience Has Shown Us

Within 3-6 months there is noted a significant improvement in: depression, anger, anxiety, mood swings, confidence, memory, affect, and libido. Cognition improves, as does intensity of mild to moderate dementia. Physical improvement – muscular strength. Weight loss. Not everyone achieves benefits in this time frame or all the benefits stated. In severe cases of TBI, improvement may take longer and recovery is slower. But looking at the options, the data offers hope of improvement since we are addressing the underlying "Stealth" condition that is ignored by conventional wisdom (treatments). The medical literature clearly identifies the conditions and symptoms that are associated with hormonal deficiencies and if these deficiencies are precipitated by TBI then it would make sense that replacement therapy needs to be tested before rejected.

The Challenge

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom. Viktor E. Frankl

If anybody is reading this and saying, “Hey, that sounds exactly like what I’m going through.” Or maybe you know someone who is having a hard time, be it from a TBI or anything else, I challenge you to make the first step. If you don’t like something, then fix it. I challenge you to focus and act on the principles below.

1. Decide To Act

Where your focus goes, your energy flows. You can choose what you want to focus on. If you can’t seem to find the reasons to focus on what is good, uplifting, and productive then focus on how to change what you don’t like. If you don’t like something fix it. Don’t be the guy who just sits around and complains about his plight, there is nothing exceptional about that. Make a goal, start with the end in mind and map a course that will drive you to it. Find positive people to emulate and have them hold you accountable. The best person to hold you accountable is somebody who wants to see you win, and nothing else.

2. Control The Controlables

When you get down to it, there are two things, and two things only, that you really have any control over. Those are your attitude and your effort. Most everything else is out of your control, an external factor, but you do have the ability to control your attitude and your effort. So control them. Those of you that have served, think about the awesome perspectives you hold. A lifetime of lessons learned from combat. Did you know that only about .5% of the population has chosen to serve in the military, and if you happen to belong to a Special Operations unit roughly 1% of those numbers come from that .5%. You know the value of life, the value of hard work, the value of integrity, and the price of freedom. Use that to your advantage, think of those lessons that were paid for in blood, and give them thanks. Live with an attitude of gratitude. How much more could you get from the day if you paused to think about what you have to be grateful for? There is nothing special or unique about loss or pain, everybody experiences that at some point. What makes someone different, what separates and sets apart those who achieve anyway is how they choose to deal with adversity, loss, and pain. Decide ahead of time how you are going to deal with the inevitable. Choose to have the best attitude you can, decide that you’re always going to give the best effort that you’re capable of giving, regardless of external circumstance. Loss and pain are inevitable, suffering can produce growth, but suffering without meaning is masochistic. Find your meaning, have the best attitude and effort, control the controllables or something or someone else will.

3. The Purpose Of Life

The purpose of life is to live a life of purpose. If you find yourself wallowing in purposelessness find a way to make what your doing about somebody other than yourself.

My dad gave me some unbelievable advice. I was having a real hard time. He said, “you know son, I can’t begin to understand everything that you’ve been through, and I know you’re hurting, but if you can find a way to make it about somebody else, and work on helping others then I think you’ll find, that will be able to help you.” That’s what it’s all about. The reason you’re living is for giving, so if you’re having a problem out there, my advice to you is find somebody else that you can help put value into. You will discover a newfound purpose in selfless giving to others.

WARRIOR ANGELS FOUNDATION

Our Mission

Warrior Angels Foundation provides personalized medicine that pinpoints and treats the underlying condition for U.S. Service Members and Veterans who have sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) while in the line of duty.

Dr. Mark L. Gordon and the Warrior Angels Foundation have formed a partnership to revolutionize the devastating impact of traumatic brain injury on our Veterans. Dr. Gordon’s clinical approach is changing the way we think about traumatic brain injuries, their symptoms - and how to treat them effectively.

Please visit the Warrior Angels Foundation website for more info.

Our blog www.warriorlegacy.me is independent of the foundation but serves as another platform to get the message out.

Patient Success Stories

Andrew Marr founded the Warrior Angels Foundation, is a former Special Forces Green Beret, and current patient of Dr. Gordon's. You can hear his amazing story here. https://youtu.be/U5rDlk87hv0

Matthew Gosney is a former Navy Corpsmen and current patient of Dr. Gordon's, you can hear his amazing story here. https://youtu.be/tbxPxFiOIKc

Conventional treatment continues to be founded on medication and psychotherapy.

This is clearly not improving quality of life.

We don't raise awareness, we solve problems.

De Oppresso Liber,

Andrew Marr

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