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Therapy program helps Fort Campbell soldiers heal from brain injuries

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FORT CAMPBELL, KY (WSMV) -

A unique treatment program at Fort Campbell is changing the lives of soldiers recovering from brain injuries.

One of the patients receiving treatment, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Hall, was in Afghanistan on his fourth deployment when a rocket propelled grenade went off.

"We received some RPG rounds - some close to me and other soldiers," Hall said. "From those RPGs I suffered a concussion along with another couple soldiers."

Almost immediately, there were sleepless nights, headaches and dizziness.

Hall is now back on the job and back at home, but he's still working through some issues you can't always see.

Last year, some 560 soldiers came through the program known as the National Intrepid Center of Excellence Satellite at Fort Campbell. A part of its approach is physical therapy.

"For me, personally, I think it helps me with my eyes not wanting to work together after a concussion. It helps me with fine motor skills," Hall said.

Another exercise has helped Hall with balance and dizziness.

"That doesn't mean all their dizziness goes away, but they have dramatic improvements and quality of life," said physical therapist Dr. Tamara Moreland.

Occupational therapy is Hall's next stop on a day that can typically last anywhere from four to six hours.

Soldiers gain a better understanding of how the brain works and how to process information. It also helps soldiers cut down on anxiety.

"Anxiety reduces the ability to attend to the situation at hand. For him, as he's gone through exercises here, his anxiety has been understood better and controlled. So he's able to perform and can go to a restaurant more comfortably and have a meal with his family," said occupational therapist Dr. Mark Showers.

Hall next moves to the neuro-psychology department, where new technology is front and center.

"We're able to image a service member's electro activity, looking at brain wave activity, and can associate that with problems they have," said Dr. Marc Zola, director of psychology.

Once doctors know the problem, they work with the soldier to adjust the problem areas using what look like high-tech video games.

"We can program a car racing around the track to only move when service member is able to stabilize those particular brainwaves. And by getting feedback when the car goes around track, they learn to train brain to be normal again and they experience relief from PTSD," Zola said.

While the technology is certainly impressive, it's the overall approach to care that sets this program apart.

Once a week, doctors and therapists meet to talk over each soldier's treatment and their progress.

"It's just so much information about the complete patient - the patient as a whole - not just the physical therapy aspect that I would be seeing," Moreland said.

Peer learning has become another part of care.

"Soldiers tend to learn the most from each other. They know how to talk to one another about shared experiences and relate better and can share best practices. Some of our treatments are group treatments where they can help one another out," said Dr. Theresa Benchoff, medical director.

Hall was very candid about what it took to get here, saying that some men and women might struggle with seeking help.

"When you get injured, you don't want to quit on your men. So, you try to hide stuff, I guess. And you don't want to show weakness in front of your men. That's tough, but when you come to a program like this, you learn to deal with those inner demons," Hall said.

And he knows his hard work is paying off. As a husband and father, he excited for his next chapter.

"Life does go on, and it's going to be awesome." Hall said "Just watching my son grow up and little league baseball. Hopefully he'll be a St. Louis Cardinal."

Hall says his life has changed for the better both at work and at home since he started this program.

"The biggest thing I enjoy is the amount of happiness in my home life I have right now. And that is due in part to the doctors here taking the time, really trying to get to know me and my situation," Hall said.

That personalized attention is another aspect of this program that sets it apart from others.

Hall goes through what you could call a final exam on Friday. It's a course meant to simulate life on the front lines that will test issues like PTSD.

We'll let you know how it goes.

Copyright 2014 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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