Soldiers, families coping with life after traumatic brain injury

By Sabrina Squire - bio | email
& Matt Boyce - bio | email
Posted by Phil Riggan – email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -    Thanks to Kevlar body armor and helmets survival rates are up for soldiers in current military conflicts.

The new protection has come with a price though and doctors are seeing more injured soldiers suffering from traumatic brain injuries.

We caught up with some soldiers and their families at McGuire VA Medical Center to see how this injury is affecting their lives.

Infantryman Vital Boisset was patrolling in Afghanistan on August 5 when he hit an improvised explosive device.

"I went in and out of consciousness until the helicopters came," he said.

His right hand and jawbone were crushed by the explosion.  He lost eight teeth and had shrapnel wounds all over his body.

"Some shrapnel hit my head so that's how I got my brain injury," he said.

"He had a lot of ammo on him and for the shrapnel not to have hit any of those grenades, something was looking out for him and I have never been so thankful," said Vital's wife, Karman.

Vital has been in and out of hospitals for months working to rehabilitate both his physical and mental injuries.

"It's been like black and white because for the first half I was just about unconscious.  Then as soon as I got out of that I just wanted to get up as soon as I could and run around," Vital said.

Vital has been receiving treatment in the poly-trauma center at the McGuire VA Medical Center.  Patients here, like Vital, have sustained multiple injuries from fractures, wounds, and burns to abdominal and traumatic brain injuries.

"Blasts can cause the multiple problems that we see and often time it does lead to brain injury," said Dr. Ajit Pai of McGuire Medical Center.

More than 25,000 soldiers have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries and many of them are seen at McGuire.  It is only one of four centers in the country that has a comprehensive poly-trauma center.  The medical staff's goal is to get patients, like vital, as functional as possible.

"It could mean getting them back to work, getting them back to their unit, it could be just getting them back to their family," Dr. Pai said.

One of the biggest challenges is the residual effects of traumatic brain injury that can subtly effect cognitive and communication skills.

"It's a little harder for me to pay attention and also it's harder for me to multi-task," Vital said.

Vital's wife Karman said she has seen her once easy going husband become more combative.

"He fights a lot more.  Everything from 'No, I don't need a jacket to go outside.' to 'No, I don't need those pills,'" she said.

Not surprisingly, Dr. Pai says the biggest challenge facing his patients and their families is coping with their new life after the injury.

"Families seem to have a hard time coping because they can't understand," he said. "They know what's wrong but they can't understand why their family member is having a hard time seeing it as well."

Almost all injured soldiers are now screened for traumatic brain injury when they are admitted.  Doctors say this injury has probably been prevalent in previous wars but not recognized as clearly as we now recognize it.

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