Free treatment offered for vets with brain injuries

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wwltv.com

Posted on June 16, 2014 at 1:15 PM

Meg Farris / Eyewitness News
Email: mfarris@wwltv.com | Twitter: @megfarriswwl

NEW ORLEANS -- More and more veterans are coming home with brain injuries and PTSD and are searching the Internet for treatment.

Many find themselves coming to the New Orleans area because a local doctor is offering their only hope.

Now 50 people will get free treatment as part of study funded by Congress.

A four-legged Marine received the Purple Heart. 'Shandi' saved lives and limbs finding IED's while deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now she is retired, suffering the mental consequences of experiencing war.

"You can see her physical reactions to doors slamming and loud noises. It's completely uncontrollable, shaking and anxiety that she gets from it," said her handler Marine Gunnery Sergeant Chuck Rotenberry.

He is experiencing the same symptoms. They started when an IED exploded near him.

"The first couple of weeks I spent kind of in a fog, and I didn't realize, until I got over the initial stress or the initial symptoms, I realized how bad I felt," he said.

Chuck suffered a traumatic brain injury, called a TBI, when his brain was damaged from the inside, crashing into his skull from the force.

What followed were migraines, sleeplessness, confusion and frustration. There was also the loss of short-term memory, motor skills, cognition and the ability to plan for the future.

And since the brain creates behavior, the damage caused mood swings, outbursts. His marriage suffered.

"With my wife, I was pretty withdrawn for a while. It took her, well it took her a while to understand just how bad things were," Rotenberry said.

There wasn't much in the line of treatment at the VA.

"The biggest thing is counseling and medication, you know, and that's really about it," he added.

Then Chuck's wife saw a television news story about hyperbaric oxygen treatments for the brain. Dives in high pressure tanks have long been approved to heal skin tissue in diabetics, but despite long-standing doubts by some of the medical community, LSU Health Sciences Center's Dr. Paul Harch, says he has the scientific data that a specific dose of oxygen can help heal brain tissue too.

"We were shocked when we applied this to the first patients who were Louisiana boxers. Twenty-three years after his last bout and this man made a substantial improvement and we saw it on the imaging," said Dr. Harch, chief of hyperbaric medicine at LSUHSC.

Chuck traveled from his home in Virginia Beach to New Orleans and received daily treatments for several weeks.

"I come here and I get through the oxygen therapy and my mood starts to change and everything. My sleep improves and I get rid of these migraines," Chuck said.

That's where he met retired U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Telesia Sobol, 42, from Patterson, Louisiana. She was suffering from a rape that stole her fertility and a brain injury in Korea in 1991.

"You try so many different things. The VA just throws medication at you. Botox, acupuncture, acupressure, massage therapy, I've been going to the headache and pain clinic in Gray since 2005. I've gone to the chiropractor. This was like my last resort pretty much," said Telesia.

But she had no money for the treatment. She had lost balance, falling on stairs in the tub. She was losing her family, friends and marriage. She tried to commit suicide.

"Because I felt like I was burden to my family and I was tired of the pain and it was like a divine intervention," she said through tears.

The intervention came when she found Dr. Harch on the internet. His office linked her up with Chuck, who got her funding from a stranger for the treatments. They told her to come in right away.

"I've had pressure constantly for like 20 years behind my left eye. After the first treatment, the pressure was gone, just it was gone. I feel like me again. That's how I felt for 20 years. I felt like I was living in this fog," Sobol said.

One week after the treatments, her marriage ended, but she has hope for her young son.

"This is going to make me so much better because now I can be that fun mom that he deserves," Sobol said with a smile about her adopted 6-year-old.

And now Dr. Harch has a congressional appropriation to do a study of hyperbaric oxygen on veterans and civilians with mild TBI.

"We're looking to see if we can improve their symptoms and quality of life, their degree of depression, and their cognition their ability to think," Dr. Harch said.

And here's the good news for those who are out of town and want to see if you qualify for this free study. You can be evaluated and interviewed over Skype or FaceTime.

Dr. Harch said an Israeli study duplicated his findings showing improvement with mild TBI. Now people like a young car wreck victim from the Netherlands come for treatment. Her twin brother and mother say she's quicker now and communicating by pointing to letters on a chart. She can swallow now, no longer needing a feeding tube.

Chuck and Telesia are each back home. Telesia now rekindling a relationship with a beau from decades ago, and thankful for the treatment that brought them together.

The study is free to any one who had mild traumatic brain injury in the last 10 years. Your injury has to have happened more than six months ago. You can only have lost consciousness for up to 30 minutes, or have had no loss of consciousness at all.

You will be reimbursed for local transportation.

Mercy Medical Airlift will be able to fly some veterans to this area for treatment.

To see if you qualify call 504-427-5632 or click here

If you'd like to help Telesia, click here. If you'd like to help Chuck, click here.

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