Give Now  »

Indiana Public Media | WFIU - NPR | WTIU - PBS

News Contact IPM News Indiana Public Media News

{ "banners": { "tv" : [ {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592884800000", "endingDate" : "1593143940000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593144000000", "endingDate" : "1593489540000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593489600000", "endingDate" : "1593575940000"} ], "radio" : [ {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592580600000", "endingDate" : "1592625540000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592625600000", "endingDate" : "1592798340000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592798400000", "endingDate" : "1592884740000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592884800000", "endingDate" : "1592971140000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592971200000", "endingDate" : "1593057540000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593057600000", "endingDate" : "1593115200000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593115260000", "endingDate" : "1593143940000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593144000000", "endingDate" : "1593489540000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593489600000", "endingDate" : "1593575940000"} ] }}
{ "lightboxes": { "tv" : [ {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592884800000", "endingDate" : "1592971140000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593144000000", "endingDate" : "1593230340000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593489600000", "endingDate" : "1593575940000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593489600000", "endingDate" : "1593575940000"} ], "radio" : [ {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592798400000", "endingDate" : "1592884740000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592884800000", "endingDate" : "1592971140000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592971200000", "endingDate" : "1593057540000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593057600000", "endingDate" : "1593115200000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593115260000", "endingDate" : "1593143940000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593403200000", "endingDate" : "1593489540000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593489600000", "endingDate" : "1593575940000"} ] }}
{ "item" : [ {"label" : "t", "mp3" : "as", "startingDate" : "1568692800000", "endingDate" : "1569124800000"} , {"label" : "h", "mp3" : "k", "startingDate" : "1568001600000", "endingDate" : "1568433600000"} ] }

Veteran Says Experimental PTSD Therapy Changed Her Life

This is one of two stories in a series on PTSD. The second story focuses on the struggles associated with PTSD.

Increased cases of Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among military veterans have become one of the legacies of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Studies have shown TBI and PTSD to be a leading cause of the increasingly high number of veteran suicides, which is up to 22 a day.

While there's no proven treatment to cure TBI and PTSD, a new law has state officials looking into alternative treatments, including a controversial one- Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy.

According to the latest census from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Indiana has 490,000 veterans ranging from the Vietnam War to the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. From that number, it is estimated that some 70,000 veterans in Indiana could have a Traumatic Brain Injury or suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Katie Patterson, who served in the U.S. Army from 2004-2006, is one of those 70,000.

How Brain Injuries Impact Veterans After Service

Patterson suffered two head injuries, one while training in Virginia, and another while deployed in Kuwait. Both were secondary blast injuries, and even though she wasn't close to the blast sites, she felt the impact.

I remember my physician saying that Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is bogus medicine,and that it would kill me. - Katie Patterson

"It was recorded in my military paperwork that I had short-term memory deficits, headaches, things like that," Patterson said.

Upon her discharge from the army, Patterson was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury. When she returned home, she had a hard time juggling college, a full-time job, and a household.

To make matters worse, she suffered another head injury in a skateboarding accident after she was out of the service. It left her paralyzed and her struggles, most apparent in school, intensified.

"I'd record my professors talking, I would leave the class and listen to it for hours and hours and hours, and then I would read and record myself reading my notes and listen and listen and nothing was happening," Patterson said. "I was not able to retain the information."

Patterson went to the VA for help. She says the VA put her on fifteen different medicines for her PTSD, depression, anxiety, and sleeplessness.

"I went to Web MD, and the meds they had me on combined would have killed me if I'd have taken them," Patterson said.

Patterson started researching other therapies.

She came across Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, a treatment which uses oxygen pressurized about 15 times what we normally breathe and causes more oxygen-rich blood to flow to organs and tissues in the body.

It's been FDA approved for several ailments, including decompression sickness, crush injuries and burns, but not PTSD.

"I asked the VA hospital, you know, there's this Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, can I get it? It's shown great results," Patterson said. "And, I remember my physician saying that Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is bogus medicine and that it would kill me, and I disagreed."

Some Veterans See Positive Impacts From Oxygen Treatment

Patterson eventually found the Rocky Mountain Hyperbaric Institute, a facility near Boulder, Colorado, that offers the treatment free to veterans and even provides them with housing during their treatment.

In the summer of 2013, Patterson went to the institute. She did 40 to 50 pressurized "dives." Each one lasted about an hour, during which Patterson would read, listen to music, or watch TV while breathing pure oxygen through a mask.

"There was no prescription, no side effects, no ‘you're gonna get drowsy,' no ‘you're gonna vomit,' no ‘you're gonna have sleep issues,'" Patterson said. "I would so much rather breathe oxygen than take pills filled with tons of side effects that might be worse than your actual issue itself."

Patterson says she saw results almost instantly.

After a few dives, she noticed her short -term memory improving, and soon she no longer needed to use GPS to get to the Institute for treatment. She regained peripheral vision, which had been impaired after her last head injury severed her optic nerve.

Her sleep patterns improved, as well, going from four hours of fitful sleep a night, to eight to nine hours regularly.

While she hasn't had a CT scan or an MRI since getting the treatment, Patterson did see a cognitive psychologist both before and after the treatment. The psychologist had her do various memory and IQ exercises, and Patterson says the difference was significant.

"To see the results from pre-HBOT, I had the memory and IQ scale of like an eight year old," Patterson said. "But, the doctor who did my testing over the past few weeks hasn't finished analyzing them, but he said I have a higher than normal ability to retain."

Patterson wishes other veterans struggling with TBI and PTSD could have the same experience, and says she would love to get more HBOT, if it were more readily available.

The Cost Of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

But while there are more than 30 facilities in Indiana that offer Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, the VA doesn't cover it, and the treatment isn't cheap.

Since there is no known cure for PTSD, the VA continues to prescribe medications to treat the symptoms.

In an effort to address this issue, Governor Pence signed Senate Bill 180 into law in March. It calls for the creation of a research panel comprised of state board of health and veterans administration officials to investigate various PTSD therapies, such as HBOT, and whether the state should fund them. The law required the panel to issue recommendations based on their findings to the legislative council by September 1. However, the report has yet to be released.

The panel heard from several presenters beginning in June, including retired Brigadier General James Bauerle. He represents the Military Veterans Coalition of Indiana and is a strong proponent of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy.

Bauerle says the controversy over HBOT is due to flawed studies that haven't had true control groups.

"What the VA and army people did, they used regular air, pure oxygen vs. regular air, and we'll give this group 1.2 atmospheres instead of 1.5, and we'll give this group two atmospheres, so they're dramatically different- the amount of oxygen and pressures different," Bauerle said. "Well, that's flawed, and the reason that's flawed, is air that we're normally breathing is 21 percent oxygen."

Bauerle says the other main argument against HBOT is the cost, though he says that the $13,000 to $16,000 HBOT is estimated to cost per person is small compared to the price of current treatments.

"The Remus Systems study along with a study from Ball State has concluded that an untreated individual with a TBI or PTSD costs Indiana between $36,000 and $40,000 a year for the rest of their working life," Bauerle said.

Dr. Brent Masel is the President and Medical Director of the Transitional Learning Center, a brain injury treatment facility in Galveston, TX. He is also the National Medical Director for the Brain Injury Association of America.

Masel has been researching hyperbarics as a possible treatment for brain injuries for the last fifteen years. He says that current studies haven't shown that HBOT has had much of an impact on traumatic brain injuries, though he has seen cases where it has.

He says we simply don't know enough about it yet.

"I think that we are in the same place that Alexander Fleming was in in 1928, when he said, ‘I've got this stuff, and I'm gonna call it penicillin, and I think it helps with infections, but I don't know what infections it helps, I don't know how long to give penicillin, nor do I have any idea how much penicillin to give.' And, that's where we are with hyperbarics," Masel said.

Masel says the only way to find out what the true benefits of HBOT are for brain injuries is more research, and because of cost, the money is going to have to come from the federal government or the Department of Defense.

On the acute side of things, it can make a difference.

- Dr. Brent Masel

But, while Masel has to base his official medical opinion on the research that's available, his personal feelings on HBOT are perhaps telling.

"I told my wife, if something happens to me, if I have a stroke or a bad brain injury, as soon as I am stable, you get me into a hyperbaric chamber, because I think on the acute side of things, it can make a difference," Masel said.

Back in Indiana, Katie Patterson is a full-time student at Indiana State University, working toward her bachelor's degree in Recreational Therapy. She's completed three semesters since her treatment, and earned all A's and two B's. She's very active on campus- she's a senator in student government, she's in a business fraternity, and she's involved in veteran's organizations. While she acknowledges that she still has problems from time to time, she marvels at how far she's come.

"I think that once you've suffered a brain injury, you become a lot more critical of yourself, like I am one to be like, huuh, I got a B in a class? I should have gotten an A," Patterson said. "Because I have something to prove to the world, I can show the VA, or my boss, or whomever that I have overcome three traumatic brain injuries and look at me."

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

Find Us on Facebook