Panama City - Traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder are becoming the signature injuries of the Iraq and Afhgan wars. With symptoms like depression, irritability, hyper-vigilance, short-term memory loss, and difficulty sleeping, some affected vets have trouble doing the simplest things. But now some vets are finding help in an unusual way. A treatment developed to cure the Bends in divers is now being used to heal the brain and cure vets suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder that resulted from traumatic brain injury.
When Sgt. Joshua Cope's humvee was hit by an IED in Iraq in 2006, his external injuries were apparent, he lost both legs in the blast and badly injured his right arm. But it was the unseen injury, the damage to his brain, that went virtually untreated. "I was depressed all the time. Not looking toward the future," said Cope.
The same was true for Brian Schiefer who, after three deployments, was injured when his humvee flipped during a training exercise in Ft. Irwin, CA. "I was not able to concentrate on anything, even something as simple as sending an e-mail. I was feeling anxious and on edge all the time," said Brian Schiefer, USAF TACP.
"The injury that most of these, actually all of these people, has been shown to be injury to the white matter of the brain where there are many fibers that conduct impulses and there is a sheering action. So therefore the brain is not completely connected with the other parts because the fibers have been sheered," said Dr. Eddie Zant of Hyberbaric Medicine Oxygen Therapy in Fort Walton Beach and Destin.
Schiefer says the VA told him there was no treatment. "They wanted to put me on medications which I was totally against just because I don't take pain medication for anything else," said Schiefer. Dr. Zant treated both men for free at his hyberbaric oxygen therapy facility in Destin with a series of hour-long treatments. "The hyperbaric will actually repair the injuries to the brian, it will stimulate stem cells to the injured areas, increase the blood flow. There are some neurotransmitters that are out of whack from the injury, it will repair those, if the DNA, which is the makeup of the gene is fragmented, it can repair that."
Typically your blood oxygen level is 95. One hundred percent oxygen is pressurized in the chamber, pushing it into the liquid part of the blood. Bringing the blood oxygen level up to 1500 even 2000. The benefit comes over a series of treatments. "After about 40 I started noticing a huge difference. I did another 40 and now honestly I feel like I am almost back to myself before the accident, before I had my TBI issues. I went from being anxious and depressed to having my life back," said Schiefer.
"He's much more mellowed out now, and social, and getting along with everybody and enjoying life," said Erica Cope, Joshua's wife. The couple says they wish they would have known about HBOT years ago. "I've started my own business since the treatments, I'm doing something I enjoy," said Joshua.
But the VA does not currently cover hyberbaric oxygen therapy and at at least $175 per treatment, the treatments are out of reach for so many. "They would rather pump pharmaceuticals into these guys instead of actually curing what is ailing them. It just blows my mind," said Schiefer.
When NewsChannel 7 spoke to the regional office of Veterans Affairs in Biloxi we were told HBOT is not even being considered as treatment for TBI and PTSD. We called the office in Washington D.C. to find out why, but no one has offered a response. We'll keep trying. In the meantime, Joshua Cope and Brian Schiefer are still realizing lasting benefits from the treatments.