The key to a better recovery

Leon Bridge

As a gunner, riding high, Leon Bridge, 29, had been thrown when his team's vehicle struck a roadside bomb.

 

Reaching out to veterans

Emory and the Atlanta VA Medical Center

Returning (all the way) home

Where the magic comes from

In the bright, amazingly quiet rooms of the hospital in Germany, they told him his buddies had dragged him to safety. He was given a medical discharge, much to his pregnant wife's relief, and returned to south Georgia to work in a family friend's plumbing company.

The pain was bearable, most days, but life back home did not go as smoothly as he had hoped. As much as he loved Patty and their infant son, the pressures of family life sometimes got to him. He was increasingly angry at home. And work? His plumbing partner, at first so buddy-buddy, complained about him constantly for confusing work orders, losing addresses, or packing the wrong tools for a job.

At first he didn't believe the doctors when they talked about a mild brain injury. But then he began to see the sense in what Emory neuropsychologist Anna Moore was telling him. For example, because of the location of his injury, he could handle language, but he had problems with visual images, like maps.

At work, he had always been the navigator and his partner, the driver, but now they switched roles. Plumbing manuals were filled with pictures, so he wrote words over the pictures to explain them to himself. He began to rely more on lists. But it was talking about his problems that changed him most—one-on-one and couples counseling and participation in a weekly support group at the VAMC with other veterans.

Traumatic brain injury is the "signature wound" of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in part because faster access to specialized care means that soldiers often survive injuries that once would have killed them. Almost one in three soldiers who requires medical evacuation for battle-related wounds has some form of traumatic brain injury (TBI). That's why the TBI clinic is one of the Atlanta VAMC's busiest. Successes like those with patients like Bridge are why clinicians find working there so rewarding, says Moore.

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