PTSD and TBI’s, a reality of our time.
For many first responders and combat veterans, the memories of what they faced in the line of duty stay with them much longer than the pay and benefits of service. Some of these brave individuals have lifelong consequences related to experiences that occurred as part of their service commitment. Post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries are two of these consequences which each constitute a major change of life for the affected individual. Luckily, the Cell Surgical Network (CSN) has partnered with other providers to establish the Healing Our Heroes Foundation in an effort to improve the quality of life for combat veterans experiencing these conditions. We will establish a working definition for both TBI and PTSD, to give you a snapshot of what the foundation stands for and is working on, as well as let you know how you can get involved with this worthwhile cause.
PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health problem developed by certain individuals after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening or life-altering event. Although many people equate PTSD with the military, the truth is that it is experienced by anyone who has found themselves in a traumatic situation, whether in a combat zone or a bad auto accident. Natural disasters leave more than a mess to clean up in their wake, as many affected persons report life consequences that mirror those experienced by combat veterans. In fact, much of the research that allows practitioners to define and treat PTSD came in the wake of two completely different life-altering events: 911 and Hurricane Katrina. In both cases, first responders began experiencing symptoms such as upsetting memories, feeling on edge, loss of appetite, and trouble sleeping. These symptoms correlated strongly with similar symptoms reported by combat veterans, leading researchers to make the connection that both groups experience similar pathophysiological consequences and should be classified under the same umbrella as PTSD.
What is a TBI?
A traumatic brain injury, or TBI, is a complex injury type with a broad spectrum of symptoms. Unlike most of the rest of the human body, brains do not heal the same way, because the brain is essentially a lump of jelly! Further, the brain not only defines our level of function, but it also defines our personality and individuality. As a result, traumatic brain injury affects all other aspects of the affected individual’s life. Recovery is an uncertain process, and the mechanisms remain a mystery for the most part. Unlike many other types of cells, brain cells (neurons) may not regrow once damaged. The brain simply reroutes neurological pathways to circumvent the damaged area. This mechanism for healing is great for minor bumps and minor concussions, but not so for large-scale damage and concussive blast injuries. The three most prevalent causes of TBI’s are falls, firearms, and car accidents. Another cause of TBI which is of particular interest in-this-case is concussive shock trauma. While not all service members in combat are fall victim to direct gunfire or explosion, the concussive blast that comes from being adjacent to mortar fire or the detonation of an IED can traumatize your brain as easily and effectively as blunt force trauma from an object or vehicle. These injuries are hard to pinpoint, as there is no direct exterior trauma. But these types of trauma are still classified as “deceleration injuries”, caused by rapid acceleration and deceleration of the brain within the skull. And being jelly-like those jerky movements can cause pathophysiological changes that may or may not be visible to the naked eye examination of a traumatized brain. Many veterans and active-duty service members are susceptible to these types of injuries due to the nature of the work they perform.
How are These Conditions Correlated?
Although the same traumatic stimuli and injury can cause both conditions, there is a causal relationship between the event and both conditions but not between the conditions themselves. Correlation does not equal causation, nor is the reverse true. There is a strong correlation, however, between the co-occurrence of these conditions within the military veteran community. Due to the high occurrence of concussive shock injuries during combat and combat training environment, TBI’s are commonly treated by military physicians and field medics. PTSD has been around almost as long as the concept of military warfare, formerly referred to as, “soldier’s heart”, “combat shock”, “shell shock” (which probably carried with it a TBI element as well), and “combat fatigue”. Although researchers and behavioral scientists are gaining more insight into the mechanisms of therapy and understanding of the underlying causes, the fact is that soldiers have been experiencing what is now known as “PTSD” for as long as humanity has been around, fighting wars.
How are These Conditions Commonly Treated?
Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) are considered a neurological trauma, whereas PTSD is regarded as a psychological disorder. Their causes may be similar, but the therapy modalities practiced on symptoms couldn’t be more different. TBI regimen begins shortly after injury, focusing initially on stabilization of the patient. Surgical care, if required may be used to prevent any secondary injury and to maintain blood flow and oxygen to the affected areas of the brain, minimizing swelling and pressure. Rehabilitative care will allow the patient to gradually transition back into a normal routine and deal with any lasting symptoms as a result of their injury. In the case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, therapy focuses not only on the physical complaints such as lack of sleep or appetite, disturbing dreams or flashbacks, and general anxiety; but also, the emotional, social, and coping (if the traumatizing event or events are still part of the patient’s life) aspects of the disorder. Psychotherapy (talk therapy) and medication are the main aids practiced today for PTSD. The overarching goal for therapy is to teach a patient about trauma and its effects, identify triggers and either face or avoid them, anger management and control and better sleep, help people identify any guilt or shame about the event and effectively deal with these feelings, and focus on how to change the way they react to their PTSD symptoms.
Can Breakthroughs in Regenerative Medicine Help PTSD and TBI Sufferers?
If you’ve been faithfully following our blog series, you’ve no doubt read about the phenomenal things researchers have been doing with stem cells. From healing sports-related injuries without costly surgery and long recovery times to helping osteoarthritis sufferers regain their independence. There is even research into targeting specific parts of the brain to help patients with Parkinson’s and autism spectrum disorder. It is no surprise that the physiological aspects of PTSD have been on regenerative medicine’s radar for some time. In the case of TBI, a documentary film called Wise Endurance from independent film company Working Pictures features a collection of stem-cell physicians working with two brave veterans to provide cutting-edge therapeutic interventions. In the film, one of the veterans (along with his 14-year old son who has Cerebral Palsy) document their therapy and positive outcomes utilizing “Autologous Stem Cell Therapy”. Autologous stem cells are simply those which originate within the patient’s own body, similar to how we do administer stem cells at Gulf Coast Stem Cell and Regenerative Center. Rather than using donor cells, these stem cells are harvested from the patient’s own subcutaneous fat deposits and reintegrated into the body, crossing the blood-brain barrier to the sites of damage. In this method, there is no chance of rejection, and the cells morph into the type of cells that body requires for healing (brain cells, nerve cells, cardiac tissue, bone cells, etc). The veteran’s son, in the “Heal Our Heroes Foundation” video, is shown transitioning from non-verbal to verbal interactions, expressing himself increasingly clearly, through the course of his therapy. The other veteran featured, who was shot in the head during a combat mission, credits his stem cell therapy with being able to live his life normally and run again. For a former track star, this means more than regaining coordination and motor skills; it means a return to what was once a part of his normal life. The success of autologous stem cell therapy in both brave men’s lives has inspired them to become advocates for their fellow servicemen. As a result, they, the doctors, and the filmmakers have created the Healing Our Heroes Foundation. This nonprofit organization has the goal of not only treating combat veterans with adipose (fat) derived stem cells, but to study the results to further advocate and encourage other doctors to offer the same services to veterans. Their plan is to use the findings to create a national study and database to further the healing of concussive injuries in the military population and beyond.
Because there is no recognized medical therapy for TBI, stem cell therapy could mean the difference between a lifetime of detrimental consequences for selfless service or a chance for returning servicemen and women to regain the quality of life they have rightfully earned. A national network of providers is already committed to treating some select combat veterans, and further fundraising is planned through the sale of the documentary and private donations. Thanks to a partnership with the Cell Surgical Network, regenerative medicine physicians and researchers who are already working to provide positive clinical outcomes through trials and study, practitioners are standing by ready to work with veterans and provide therapeutic interactions. Most importantly, vets who have been injured and fulfill the criteria TBI/PTSD are invited to patriciate in this study, completely free of charge. The main burden of the costs will be carried by people like us, with some help from CSN and Healing Our Heroes Foundation. So, veterans experiencing symptoms of TBI and/or PTSD are encouraged to contact us sign up for inclusion in this clinical trial. The more veterans who are treated utilizing these methods, the stronger the case is for a wider application of autologous stem cells in the reduction of combat injury symptoms and the stronger the case would be to pressure insurance companies into paying for this therapy for other ailments orthopedic, neurological, vascular, autoimmune and degenerative.
As affiliates of Cell Surgical Network, we are excited to participate in Healing Our Heroes IRB approved investigation. This study will look to give qualified patients SVF in order to repair the structural damage while measuring key psychological and physiological changes through the course of their therapy and beyond. If you or someone you know is a combat veteran who has sustained a TBI and are/is suffering from PTSD, please contact Gulf Coast Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine Center to ascertain your eligibility to participate in this study.
Please Call (866) 885-4823 or visit our website to learn more.