Innovative brain therapies offer hope to injured troops
by Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
3/24/2009 - WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Innovative therapies that have assisted previously comatose patients regain consciousness may be incorporated on a greater scale to treat troops diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries, a brain injury expert said here March 23.
Dr. Philip A. DeFina, chief executive and scientific officer at the not-for-profit International Brain Research Foundation Inc., in Edison, N.J., said that, over the past four years, electronic brain stimulation, oxygen-induction, drugs and other therapies were used to bring 43 people, including five injured Soldiers, out of minimally-conscious or vegetative states.
Dr. DeFina, an Army veteran, is also the chief consultant for the brain injury program at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, a for-profit hospital in West Orange, N.J. He was one of several civilian and military guest speakers who attended the Reserve Officers Association-sponsored seminar here on mental health care.
The prognosis for recovery for the five injured Soldiers was "close to zero," Dr. DeFina said, before they underwent the treatments at the Kessler institute.
"The brain heals," Dr. DeFina said, noting there are "different levels of improvement" among patients who'd formerly been minimally conscious and/or unresponsive.
After treatment, some people "wake up and some people can communicate," Dr. DeFina said. Other people, he said, may be able to perform simple tasks or return to work.
"So, we have different levels of the ability to recover," he said.
And, applying such innovative therapies to patients with mild to moderate forms of traumatic brain injury, he said, produces "dramatic results."
Congress has set aside about $6.4 million in Fiscal 2009 appropriations funding, Dr. DeFina said, so that the foundation can conduct continued research and development of the new therapies in cooperation with military health care organizations.
"We're in the process of accessing those funds," he said.
The foundation has developed close relationships with several Defense Department healthcare components, Dr. DeFina said, including the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, headed by Army Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Loree K. Sutton.
"Within the last year, we've had probably about 30 military doctors from the Army and Marines come visit Kessler to look at the program, including General Sutton," Dr. DeFina said. "We've briefed them, we've given them formal presentations on all the science, and then showed them the patients that are there.
We've previously reported on hyperbaric oxygen treatments being offered to vets with TBI and PTSD by Dr. Paul Harch, an LSU Health Sciences Center emergency medicine professor. See here for more information about the pilot study.
Many more resources and information about oxygen therapy can be found at my cyber friend Carlo Lingiardi's blog as well. Carlo suffered a traumatic brain injury in an automobile accident and has been collecting information on innovative treatments ever since.