WASHINGTON (AP) – Brain injury specialists at the Army’s premier medical center have taught Spec. Jamie Brown how to exercise his mind and get it working again.

He is learning to recall the last thing he read and remember the next place he is going, just as he learned to be a cook and college student in civilian life – and a forward artillery observer for the Indiana National Guard.

Brown, 22, knows progress can be slow after a grenade explodes in your tent and the blast sends you hurtling into a metal pole.

Brown came to Washington, D.C.’s Walter Reed Army Medical Center in a medicated stupor in early December. At the combat hospital in Iraq where he was first treated, he learned that he had lost a kidney, his adrenal gland and spleen. His pancreas were damaged. Shrapnel in his stomach caused a stabbing pain.

And his brain was damaged.

Brown became a patient in the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center at Walter Reed. It is one of eight brain-injury facilities run jointly by the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

The centers report that traumatic brain injuries now account for 14 percent to 20 percent of casualties for those who survive combat.

Brown was lucky, his doctors said. His brain damage was mild enough to permit recovery, even though he was injured when he was not wearing body armor or his helmet.

“He’s made remarkable progress,” said Dr. Lou French, a neuropsychologist who has been guiding Brown through rehabilitation.

French and other specialists have tried to improve Brown’s memory, problem-solving ability, speech, use of language and speed in making decisions.

Among the techniques are:

– a short story about a storm, with a dozen details to be recalled.

– plastic balls, arranged in patterns, to be duplicated by the patient with the fewest number of moves.

– 14 minutes of nonstop concentration on a computer screen, with a mouse click needed every time a designated letter appears.

“It was very draining,” Brown said.

Brown was injured on Nov. 20, 2003, in Iraq while sitting in his tent. He said he was watching a movie with fellow guardsmen when a grenade exploded about 8 feet away.

“The next thing I know, boom. I can remember feeling the heat, I can remember seeing the dirt and the sand fly everywhere,” he said.

Brown arrived at Walter Reed two weeks later. For a while, every day was a blur. His weight had dropped from 170 pounds to 110. He awoke one day to find his wife next to him.

It was the start of a long distance race to recovery as Brown learned the first day he had a dental appointment at the hospital.

“I asked my wife six times where we were going,” he said. “I may have to read something a couple of times instead of just once.”

Brown’s first test of retention and memory “suggested he wasn’t retaining things the way he should,” French said.

“He had a tendency to get an idea in his head and he couldn’t let it go. There would be one part of a story he would keep repeating.” the doctor said.

“In an explosion, there are emotional problems,” said Dr. George Zitnay, who runs the Virginia NeuroCare facility.

“There are people with lingering fears, nightmares and anxiety. They are afraid of the future: Will I be able to go home, get a job, get back in the military?”

Brown said his most dramatic improvement came in April when he went back to familiar territory, his home town of Evansville, Ind., for a short leave. The surroundings improved his mental state, Brown said.

Brown now is thinking about the future. He’d like to return to college, at least part time.

“We want to see any pattern that he’s forward-looking,” French said. “Looking forward helps recovery.”


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