Nine years ago today, Sgt. Zachary McBride was killed by an improvised explosive device blast and Jan. 9, 2008 forever changed the lives of Zachary’s Family. But his death also inspired another person — Dr. Chrisanne Gordon chairwoman of Resurrecting Lives Foundation.
Gordon was McBride’s uncle’s rehab physician. Because of her interest in the military and her volunteer work at a Virginia hospital, Gordon tried to stay in touch with the young man’s military career.
After McBride’s death, Gordon felt compelled to do something, anything, for wounded warriors returning from the battlefield, crippled by traumatic brain injuries.
To date, over 2.2 million Soldiers have deployed and an estimated 25 percent will suffer traumatic brain injury, leaving an estimated 500,000 Soldiers who need help recovering from TBI.
However, normal MRI/CT scans provided at most VA hospitals fail to show the lesions caused by an IED blast and routinely come back normal. This is alarming since many times the patient is treated for a “mental” disorder, and many of the prescriptions for post traumatic stress disorder can be harmful to a patient with TBI.
The suicide rate is eight times higher in TBI patients than in the unaffected populace. Also, among young patients, the risk of suicide is greater with the use of these prescriptions in a brain damaged by TBI. In addition to these harmful statistics, 80 percent of individuals with TBI will abuse some substance in order to jump-start or dull the brain. These abuses can lead to joblessness, violence, incarceration, or homelessness.
Armed with these facts, Gordon partnered with Michael Lipton, MD, PhD, one of the leading diffusion tension imaging neuro-radiologists in the nation, and began Operation Resurrection. The project is a collaboration between civilians, the Veteran’s Administration, and the Department of Defense to assist veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan with TBI.
The study involves special, neuro-imaging required to anatomically prove the pathology caused by an IED blast. That is the basis for the TBI study. DTI is required and found primarily at tertiary medical centers, not at most VA facilities due to the newness of the technology and the high price tag.
“This is why the VA must partner with the civilian world to assist with the diagnosis and treatment of TBI,” said Gordon. “Our mission is narrow and deep. We will assist in the recovery of our Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom veterans with traumatic brain injury by defining brain pathology and by developing the protocols for recovery. TBI is the signature wound for these wars. The study is unique because it is a study performed on veterans or military members that is fully funded by private donations. In addition, as opposed to some DOD/VA studies, the participants will have full access to their results in this study.”
According to Gordon, this will be the only study to date that combines the neurodiagnostics of DTI with neuropsychological testing, balance and visual testing, endocrine screening, and complete history and physical. The study links physiology to anatomy, which has not previously been studied. It analyzes 25 Soldiers returning from Afghanistan who meet criteria for the study. The main criteria for the study are veterans who are at least 18 or older, male, a tour of duty with at least one exposure to TBI through an IED within the last 10 years, and no predisposing factors such as severe concussion or psychiatric disorder prior to the tour of duty.
This is the only study that will make a relative comparison for controls, making it the most accurate to date.
“We maintain that our heroes are out of their brains, not out of their minds,” said Gordon. “We believe that post traumatic stress appears to be a brain injury with chemical imbalance. Our experts, including retired Army psychologist, Colonel Bart Billings, PhD, advocate a rehabilitation program rather than medication with psychotropic drugs. Veterans need to know that TBI is a treatable injury.” Testing is to complete next month with preliminary results following soon thereafter.
On her screen saver at work, Gordon runs a photomontage of the heroes who have inspired her work, and McBride is among them. “I look at those photos and think: this is why I do this. It’s for them,” said Gordon.
Laurie, McBride’s mother, wrote about the work Gordon was doing on TBI and how much that meant to her. “Being a Gold Star Mom is something no mom wants to be. But knowing that my son’s service and sacrifice to our country has inspired someone who has the knowledge and expertise to truly make a difference in the lives of his fellow combat warriors, gives his sacrifice a lasting purpose. And that means so much to me.”