Military service members are often diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries, but it’s a diagnosis that comes long after they’ve left the battlefields they serve on, which can come at a cost to their quality of life, as well as costing time and money. But that may soon change.
Currently, most combat zone TBI tests are based purely on symptoms such as headaches, nausea and light sensitivity. Based on those symptoms, medics decide whether the patient needs a CT scan, which is used to diagnose a person with a brain injury. But CT scanners are big, bulky and expensive, so in order for wounded warfighters to use one, they have to be shipped from the front lines to a facility that has a machine, and that could be far away.
Plans to essentially shrink brain scanning technology so it’s battlefield-accessible are on the way.
“What we’re looking for [on the front lines] is something that measures the actual function of the brain, other than just asking people some questions,” said Army Col. Dallas Hack, the director of combat casualty care for the Army Medical Research and Materiel Command at Fort Detrick, Maryland.
A new Food and Drug Administration-approved device is expected to revolutionize how quickly a TBI can be diagnosed. The device consists of a headset and disposable sensors that attach to an Android smartphone, which is used as a mini computer in the field. It measures brain electrical activity and then analyses the data using algorithms to correlate them to elements relating to TBI.
“That then allows them to make some very significant decisions about patient care,” said Michael Singer, the president of BrainScope, the company working with Army researchers on the device.
The device is expected to help save time, manpower, money and lives by telling medics who really needs to be taken off the battlefield.
“There’s no other technology like it today,” Singer said of the new device. “From start to finish, the test takes about 10 minutes, and then at the end of it, it gives the caregiver a rapid reading as to whether the patient does or doesn’t have some form of structural brain injury.”
While the device will help evaluate patients in the field, Singer said it’s not to be used as a replacement for a CT scan. Instead, it should be used in conjunction with it.
Researchers are still developing the next version of the device, which they’re working toward having available for military use in the next year. Singer said researchers are also working on another platform that will focus purely on concussion assessment.
Katie Lange is a writer with DoD News.
You’re stressed, your thoughts aren’t straight, and you’re tapping your leg anxiously. But suddenly there’s a little furry head sitting on your lap, reminding you to calm down. You start petting that furry little head, and next thing you know, you’re feeling a lot better.
That’s the kind of therapy that comes with the Warrior Canine Connection, which uses service dogs to help wounded service members with physical injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.
“It’s a great non-traditional form of therapy that doesn’t come off as therapy at all,” said Allison Proctor, the dog training instructor at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, which treats PTSD and TBI patients.
About a third of the dogs with the Warrior Canine Connection work at hospitals or outpatient facilities like NICoE. The rest stay with their dedicated puppy parent, and their job depends on that person’s role in the community. The dogs at NICoE are still in training and will eventually be placed with wounded warriors, but while they’re there, they give active-duty patients a renewed sense of purpose.
“Knowing that these dogs are going to be placed with veterans who need help, [the patients] will do anything for their brothers and sisters. So, you’ll find that they’ll jump at the chance to work with the dogs,” Proctor said.
The patients make sure the dogs aren’t uncomfortable, scared or overexcited, and they get great therapy in return. The dogs are trained to recognize and respond to stress cues — a tapping foot, a head in the hands, pacing.
“There’s a chemical smell that’s associated with all our emotions,” Proctor said. “When you’re in an anxious state and your leg is tapping, [the dogs] come closer and close the gap. They realize that, for some reason, that indicates to give this person extra attention.”
Proctor tapped her own knee in demonstration. Derek, a 2-year-old black lab, came over pretty quickly and put his head in her lap. Pups Bre, Lily and Casey were right on her tail. A petting session then ensued.
The only side effects are dog hair and drool.
The dogs also remind the service members how to relate to other people.
“You’re the one in charge of making this dog comfortable, and … you realize how much of an effort you might have to put into your own relationships at home,” Proctor said.
One NICoE patient was really focused on making sure his pup-in-training, Lundy, went to a service member who really needed it. But the patient built such a strong bond with Lundy that, when it was time to place the dog, the trainers realized they couldn’t put it with anyone else.
“This dog has had such a great impact on this guy’s healing that, for him to go to someone else, that bond probably won’t be as strong,” Proctor said.
But, like many service members, it took him a lot of convincing because he was set on his mission — giving the dog to someone else.
“It was us as an organization that said, ‘Maybe you should take Lundy.’ And that gave him permission to say, ‘This is what I actually wanted,’” Proctor said. “There was just a giant smile on his face, because he would have never asked for him.”
Katie Lange is a writer with DoD News.
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Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jude Joseph, a medical technician with the 944th Aeromedical Staging Squadron at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, saved the life of a child who was found at the bottom of a swimming pool July 2.
Joseph is a member of the Air Force Reserve and also an eight-year veteran of the Phoenix Police Department. In that capacity, he responded to a 911 call and was the first to arrive at a residential backyard to find two children lying on the poolside patio.
"My immediate thought was that I have two babies who need help,” Joseph said. “I needed to triage the worst-injured, but still provide some care to the other baby and update [the] Phoenix Fire [Department] with information."
Quickly assessing the situation, he instructed a man who was with the children to monitor the child who was vomiting, and he administered CPR and rescue breathing to the unresponsive child until Phoenix Fire arrived.
"Both children were transported to a local hospital and doctors are reporting that not only are the children expected to survive this near tragedy, but they are cautiously optimistic the children will recover with no permanent effects of the drowning," Phoenix police officials said in a statement. "Officer Joseph’s immediate response to the home, his calmness under great pressure and his training all contributed to the recovery of the 1- and 2-year-old victims."
Joseph said his CPR and emergency medical technician training taught him to keep the first baby's airway clear due to vomiting and to check the second baby for "CAB," short for circulation, airway and breathing.
Joseph has been with the 944th ASTS for almost 12 years, and he credits his success to the military and civilian training he's received. “To be able to assist in saving the lives of two babies in one incident using my training as a med tech was great," he said.