New Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment Center in Afghanistan

Story written by Sgt. Ken Scar
From the 7th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Laura Comacho, of New Braunfels, Texas, the non-commissioned officer-in-charge of the new mild traumatic brain injury recovery clinic on Forward Operating Base Sharana, puts some finishing touches on the living room of the new clinic. (Photo by Sgt. Ken Scar)

The Department of Defense estimates that 22 percent of all combat casualties from Operation Enduring Freedom are brain injuries. Of those, the majority are mild traumatic brain injuries (MTBIs). Victims of MTBIs don’t have the extreme symptoms of the more serious TBI, but even mild damage to the brain can last a lifetime.

Fortunately, sufferers of MTBI have an excellent chance at making a full recovery if the injury is treated properly within the first 72 hours, so treating MTBI has become increasingly important to health care professionals in the field.

The medical treatment facility at Forward Operating Base Sharana now has a posh new facility to treat those casualties during the most crucial time in their recovery, the first 24 hours.

“Within the first 24 hours is when the brain is going to heal the most, so we’ve tried to give them a simple place that’s quiet to sleep,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Laura Camacho, the non-commisioned officer-in-charge of the facility. “The brain is healing when they’re sleeping. If they’re thinking, reading, writing, playing a computer game – the brain is working. We don’t want any stimulation – just stillness. I hate to say it, but we almost offer a spa-like retreat.”

Comacho explains the careful planning put into every detail of the new facility as she leads a tour through the immaculate rooms of the center, all simply decorated with comfortable beds and chairs, dimly lit with strings of Christmas lights, and walls painted with a muted burnt umber color which, she explains, helps to prevent headaches.

Creating this refuge for injured soldiers has been a labor of love for the soldiers of Company C, 122nd Aviation Support Battalion, Task Force Blackhawk, who currently operate the Sharana Medical Treatment Facility.

“Our soldiers have worked really hard to make this place better than when we received it,” said Staff Sgt. Lucas White, of Coffeyville, Kan., who is the NCOIC of the Sharana MTF. “There was nothing wrong with how we received it, but you always want to make a mark where you’ve been.

“We’ve seen approximately 140 MTBI’s since we’ve been here,” he said, noting that the unit is about nine months into their one-year deployment. “We return the large majority of them to duty after 72 hours.”

“83 percent are returned to duty,” said Comacho. “We are giving them the best place we can to recover, and that’s pretty important.”

The new facility is a vast improvement from the last building they used, which was the typical FOB plywood structure with no separate rooms and little temperature control, Comacho said. The new MTBI recovery center has separate, centrally heated and cooled accommodations for up to 10 patients.

“This is a huge, huge improvement because if you don’t give them a comfortable environment, they’ll do whatever it takes to get out of here,” Comacho added. “They may not be 100 percent, but tell you that they are because they just want to get out. With this place, they’ll wait until they are well and we feel good letting them go.”

“Now we can provide a nice, quiet, comfortable environment that will allow their brain to rest,” said Capt. Cindy Dean, from Fort Belvoir, Va., the officer in-charge of the new center.

“It’s so inclusive and comfortable in here sometimes it’s hard to walk outside into the light,” she added, laughing.

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