Traumatic Brain Injuries Treated in Big Spring

by Anayeli Ruiz
NewsWest 9

BIG SPRING - For soldiers returning home from war, traumatic brain injuries have become an all too familiar problem.

That means the Veterans Affair hospitals have to change their tactics when it comes to treating veterans and the Big Spring VA Hospital is no different.

"But they did some emergency surgery, saved my life, I was with in 15 minutes of dying out there," Glenn McGraw.

35-year-old Glenn McGraw has fought on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan but while he was preparing to go back to the Middle East that a blow to his head during combat training changed his life forever.

"Immediately, I couldn't figure out what was going on, dizzy, like my special stuff was off,"

In 2007, McGraw suffered a massive brain injury, something that's becoming more and more common in the military.

"A sudden impact, then suddenly the brain is propelled against a hard object which is the inter-surface of the skull and it can be side to side or back and forth. So basically it impacts or bruised the brain. It can be so severely that parts of it are fractured, but normally its just bruised bleeding that's involved usually when you have an impact," VA Nurse Practitioner, Lee White, said.

Brain injuries on the battlefield have been around forever, but modern medicine means more soldiers are making it home and seeking care at facilities like the Big Spring VA hospital.

"World War II, Korea and Vietnam, we didn't have the special skills to get those soldiers home, many of them died in the field now. We have actual medical camps set up right their at the front line," White said.

Les White is a nurse practitioner at the Polytrauma Clinic at the VA. He says that because brain injuries can vary so greatly, there is no one size fits all approach for doctors. That is why the Big Spring VA tracks all of their patient's progress and helps guide them through their therapy.

"Its about 18 different symptoms that we look at and it depends on what constellation of symptoms that person has that would determine the treatment and the specialist they would need to go see," White said.

Symptoms of a major brain injury aren't always immediately visible sometime symptoms don't appear for hours or even days that was the case for McGraw.

"Once I was diagnosed, I started treatment, it really affected me more than I expected it to. My balance slightly off, I'd bump in to doors with my left shoulder. Frequently, memory is very difficult thing to remember," McGraw said.

Memory loss and loss of balance seems to be a common long term effects and doctors say they still have lots to learn about the condition.

"Basically, we are in process of learning. How to treat this brain injury, what we have to go on is past history and what we have done in the past is treating the brain injury based on the symptoms the person is presenting with," White said.

McGraw is currently back in school hoping to be a pastor, but his brain injury is always with him. He now keeps his life on a Palm Pilot to help him remember the simple things, most of us take for granted.

"I haven't stopped living my life, I have just adjusted things," McGraw said.

The good news is 95 percent of traumatic brain injuries are mild and soldiers usually recover within a year.

The remaining five percent go into more advanced testing and treatments. Unfortunately those numbers are growing. Doctors say in the last year, they treated 120 vets for brain injuries and they think that number will increase by 50 percent this year.