JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
The "Brain Injury Repair Kit," available through the 10 in 10 Project, focuses on keeping the brain active and energetic to retain as much information for both short- and long-term memory. Sgt. Tony Wood and his wife, Joedi, right, go through a kit with Lisa Keller, left, who helped create the kit. Wood suffered brain damage while stationed in Iraq. CLICK FOR LARGE
Fighting through wounds
A soldier survived multiple injuries in a bombing in Iraq, but struggles with brain trauma
EVERY DAY IS a frustration. It's just one frustration after frustration," says Sgt. Tony Wood, a 40-year-old soldier from Ahuimanu who is suffering from traumatic brain injury.
Once an avid scuba diver and professional Windward Oahu cowboy, Wood now suffers from short-term memory loss. "I went through three wallets in a month," he said recently.
But what remains vivid in Wood's mind is what occurred on July 27, 2005, in Iraq as he was returning from a mission near the Iranian border as a military police officer with the 720th Military Police Battalion out of Fort Hood, Texas.
"My up-armored Humvee was struck by three IEDs (improvised explosive devices), with the first one being a penetrator type and the other two shrapnel types," Wood recalled.
"The blast immediately killed my driver and gunner. You couldn't find any traces of them and they were sitting just inches from me. I remember seeing the door on the driver's side just flapping in the wind; yet there was no one in the vehicle.
"I didn't see or hear or feel the blast.
"The Humvee had crashed into the median setting off two frag grenades that we carried inside the truck with me still in it.
"I have sketchy memories of being worked on by our medic outside of the Humvee along the side of the road and remember seeing the rotor blades of a the medevac helicopter."
Wood's next memories are waking up at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington with his wife, Joedi, standing over him. "My first question was, 'What are you doing in Baghdad?'"
Wood had been in a coma for 45 days.
All of his organs except his heart had been damaged. Army doctors later told Wood that they nearly lost him twice.
Wood is now assigned to Tripler Army Medical Center awaiting an evaluation from an Army medical board. The nagging thought that haunts each day is how will he be able to take care of his wife, his two teenagers, a son and a daughter, and the four other children he has taken under foster care.
Despite the recent controversy surrounding the care of soldiers at Walter Reed and other mainland military hospitals, Wood said he has "absolutely no complaints" about Tripler's medical holding unit.
"They have taken good care of me," said Wood, who has served in the active military and the Georgia and Hawaii Army National Guard for 21 years. "There were some minor issues, but they were resolved very quickly."
Joedi Wood, who met her husband when he was stationed at Schofield Barracks in 1986, has chronicled her husband's injury with photos, including one that was taken while a medic worked on him as he lay wounded in an Iraqi street.
She said outwardly her husband looks normal since there are no visible signs of a brain injury.
"Before the injury," her husband read at least two books a week, said Joedi, a 1984 Castle High School graduate.
"He's not able to do that anymore. He was going to college and getting As and Bs and was close to getting his bachelor's degree. Now he can't continue that."
Kit helps patients adjust to brain injuries
For several months, Sgt. Tony Wood has been using a new kit for brain injury patients, which his wife, Joedi, describes as her "light at the end of dark tunnel."
The "Brain Injury Repair Kit" is available through the 10 in 10 Project, a New York-based nonprofit group.
Lisa Keller, a brain injury victim who helped create the kit and who visited the Woods this month, acknowledges that the kits are not a cure-all. They contain a DVD with eight hours of instruction to help the patient through four "keys" of recovery, she explained. They also contain a bright orange day planner and organizer and a voice recorder to help the patient remember important details and events.
"The color orange is used to help the patient remember things," said Keller. "We used orange because it is not a color one usually sees. Using a magic marker, the patient is taught to highlight in orange key events in the day planner."
Keller said the four "keys" of recovery include:
» Having a buddy to help the patient.
» Rest, since brain injury patients need rest throughout the day to function better.
» Acceptance, because life will never be the same.
» Routine, because a more orderly life results in less stress.
"These four keys are attempts to be supportive," Keller said, "without being critical."
Keller said that in Hawaii there are at least 20,000 patients afflicted with brain injuries, which she calls the "silent epidemic." Symptoms may include an inability to return to work, memory loss, an inability to maintain relationships, family breakups, alcohol and drug abuse, frustration, anger and isolation.
Lt. Col. Pete Kinney, a member of the 10 in 10 project, said the nonprofit organization is only eight months old. "Our priority now is trying to get these kits to injured soldiers and their families."
The project's name reflects its goal, which is to change the National Institute of Health statistic that only two in 10 people who suffers from brain injury will get help. The group wants to change that to 10 in 10.
The organization believes there are at least 5.3 million people afflicted with brain injuries. Estimates range as high as 7,000 for servicemembers suffering from memory loss, isolation and the inability to maintain relationships or work.
HOW TO HELP
In December, the nonprofit group 10 in 10 Project launched the "Ticket of Hope" campaign to raise funds to provide patients suffering from traumatic brain injury with support after they are discharged from the hospital.
Contributions can be in any amount, but each Brain Injury Recovery Kit costs $600. The kit is given to a person suffering from a brain injury.
For more information visit 10in10project.org or call the free hotline at (877) 989-1010.