Soldier Inspires Others With Brain-injury Recovery

WASHINGTON — His first sig­nif­i­cant brain injury was a set­back, but when he expe­ri­enced sev­er­al more a few years lat­er, Army Capt. Galen Peter­son fig­ured he’d reached the end of his mil­i­tary career.
“One of the biggest things that I strug­gled with when I was going through [trau­mat­ic brain injury] is the impres­sion that my career and life as I knew it was over, that there was no way I could stay on active duty, much less an armor offi­cer,” he said.

But with hard work and per­se­ver­ance, he was able not only to remain on active duty, but also to take on his cur­rent job as the rear detach­ment com­man­der for the 1st Bat­tal­ion, 68th Armor Reg­i­ment, at Fort Car­son, Colo. 

While he endured sev­er­al attacks, Peter­son first was sig­nif­i­cant­ly injured when a road­side bomb explod­ed next to his tank in Iraq in 2006. He suf­fered shrap­nel wounds, an injured shoul­der and a mild trau­mat­ic brain injury, com­mon­ly known as a concussion. 

“We were doing a patrol,” he said. “I don’t real­ly remem­ber much else.” 

Peter­son was evac­u­at­ed to Bal­ad, and then on to Land­stuhl, Ger­many. He returned to his unit toward the end of the deploy­ment, just in time to return with them to Fort Car­son. About a year lat­er, Peter­son returned to Iraq to take part in the offen­sive in Sadr City. In March 2008, Peterson’s unit was called on to build a wall around Sadr City as part of the anti-insur­gency effort, and under­went intense fire from rock­et-pro­pelled grenades and impro­vised explo­sive devices. In April, Peterson’s tank again was hit by an IED

While he expe­ri­enced symp­toms, includ­ing severe vom­it­ing, he hid them from his medic and unit for fear of being “benched” again. How­ev­er, Peter­son again was injured in June, when his tank was struck with anoth­er IED. This time, he suf­fered a dis­lo­cat­ed shoul­der, bro­ken ribs and anoth­er TBI, which knocked him uncon­scious for a few hours fol­low­ing the blast. Peter­son was sent to a com­bat sup­port hos­pi­tal, and even­tu­al­ly to Fort Car­son. He was diag­nosed with mod­er­ate TBI this time, which can result in short- or long-term prob­lems with inde­pen­dent func­tion, and entered reha­bil­i­ta­tion that would last for about nine months. 

“It was pret­ty dif­fi­cult,” he said. “I think the first sev­er­al months though, I just exist­ed, and that was about it. I don’t think I real­ly had a whole lot of thoughts dur­ing that period.” 

Peter­son strug­gled with severe symp­toms relat­ed to the brain injuries, includ­ing a “per­ma­nent migraine,” bal­ance and vision issues, and dif­fi­cul­ty read­ing, focus­ing and even thinking. 

Ear­ly on, Peter­son said, he focused on the “here and now,” but as his recov­ery pro­gressed, he strug­gled with frus­tra­tion over what he per­ceived as his “stu­pid­i­ty,” a tough pill to swal­low for an accom­plished offi­cer and West Point graduate. 

“I was­n’t sure what kind of recov­ery I would get,” he said. “And then as ther­a­py went along, one of the frus­trat­ing things was [that] it was hard for me to see progress, because it’s very slow, very sub­tle progress.” 

Peter­son under­went inten­sive phys­i­cal, occu­pa­tion­al and speech ther­a­py. It was a tough time, he said, but look­ing back now, he acknowl­edges how much of a dif­fer­ence even the most chal­leng­ing aspects of ther­a­py made. 

“It was very frus­trat­ing, it was very painful, but it was pret­ty good stuff,” he said. “It made a huge dif­fer­ence. “When I was done, my ther­a­pist showed me … my work over the course of the sev­er­al months of rehab,” he added. “Look­ing back on it now and talk­ing with peo­ple who knew me and were around for my recov­ery, it’s pret­ty impres­sive to look at it from my standpoint.” 

Peter­son cred­its much of his recov­ery to a strong sup­port sys­tem that includes his rear detach­ment, friends and fam­i­ly, and his wife, Sarah, who is a nurse at a local hos­pi­tal. The cou­ple met before his first deploy­ment, but did­n’t tie the knot until Peter­son was near­ing the end of his recovery. 

“She’s been a pil­lar of sup­port in terms of moral sup­port,” he said of his wife. The cou­ple now has a daugh­ter, Brynn, who was born in Decem­ber. These days, Peter­son said, he’s “pret­ty much com­plete­ly back to normal.” 

“There are a few things that trip me up, that I still have issues with, but by and large I’m back in the full swing of things,” he said. “I’m able to do my duties with­out … inter­fer­ence. I’m able to keep track of all the dif­fer­ent pieces of infor­ma­tion that are con­stant­ly run­ning through my head from day-to-day oper­a­tions. I’m able to work out with­out hav­ing headaches or falling over. I’m about as close to 100 per­cent as you can expect.” 

With his life back on track, Peter­son now has turned his atten­tion to help­ing oth­er ser­vice mem­bers. He’s bring­ing a mes­sage of hope to oth­ers fac­ing brain injuries through a video pro­file post­ed on the Defense Cen­ters of Excel­lence for Psy­cho­log­i­cal Health and Trau­mat­ic Brain Injury website. 

Peter­son said he hopes oth­er peo­ple will be inspired by his recov­ery sto­ry –- a sto­ry he would like to have heard when he first was injured. The key mes­sage he’d like to get across is for peo­ple to “hang in there.” 

“Don’t give up hope on it,” he said. 

The video also con­tains a mes­sage about the impor­tance of seek­ing help. “It takes strength to admit that you need help, and it takes a lot more strength to be patient enough with your­self to allow your­self to recov­er, and even­tu­al­ly you do,” Peter­son said in the video. “There’s no shame in get­ting checked out like you’re sup­posed to.” 

Peter­son also advis­es sol­diers to keep an eye out for symp­toms in their bat­tle bud­dies, who may be bet­ter able to rec­og­nize symp­toms in oth­ers than them­selves. Some com­mon symp­toms of mild TBI include headache, dizzi­ness, bal­ance prob­lems, fatigue, ring­ing in ears, poor con­cen­tra­tion, mem­o­ry prob­lems, anx­i­ety, irri­tabil­i­ty and depression. 

Most peo­ple recov­er from mild TBI with­in three months, accord­ing to a TBI fact sheet, and even if some­one has had more than one con­cus­sion, a full recov­ery is expected. 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

Face­book and/or on Twit­ter

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →