Hospital Helps Retrain Brain Injured Troops
By Carolyn Johnson

Feb. 27 - KGO - Roadside bombs and blasts now account for two-thirds of all combat injuries in Iraq. Of those injured troops, about 60 percent suffer some form of traumatic brain injury, just as Bob Woodruff did. The V.A. Hospital in Palo Alto is one of four polytrauma sites in the nation focused on treating these brain-injured troops.

Staff Sgt. A.P. Apineru, Marines: "I got hit with a bomb, a roadside bomb. I remember I tried to stop the blood, but my hand went inside."

The blast injured his brain and broke nearly every bone in the face of Marine Staff Sergeant A.P. Apineru. For two years he's been receiving treatment at the V.A. Hospital in Palo Alto.

Dr. Harriet Zeiner, Neuropsychologist: "He wasn't remembering things, so we taught him to live by a structure where the routine repeats and then you can become more functional and become more independent."

Dr. Harriet Zeiner is a neuropsychologist specializing in brain injuries. Early treatment, she says, is critical.

Dr. Harriet Zeiner: "The window of opportunity is sort of 18 to 24 months. That's the period of time the brain is healing."

Sgt. Brett Miller, National Guard: "I couldn't dial a phone number without remembering the next three digits or what it was I was calling."

It took more than a year before Sgt. Brett Miller of the National Guard had his brain injury properly diagnosed. He's been living at the V.A. Hospital since October, finally getting the treatment he needs most to help heal.

Sgt. Brett Miller: "Here they know exactly what it is that needs to be worked on, the telltale signs of what's causing people to misfire."

It was a roadside blast that changed Miller's life, his firefighting career over.

Sgt. Brett Miller: "I can't multi-task and supervise people when their lives or safety are on the line."

Army Corporal Rob Engelbrecht's physical injuries are much more noticeable. His right arm partially paralyzed, an eye and leg lost, but he too is recovering from a brain injury.

Cpl Rob Engelbrecht, Army: "I meet people, and I meet 'em, and they tell me their name and five minutes later, I don't remember their names."

He's also lost his inhibitory cells that allow one to hold back and size up a situation.

Dr. Harriet Zeiner: "He has learned artificially to delay, to let you have your turn to speak, to say not everything that he thinks, which can be a major, major disruption for social interaction."

That retraining and re-wiring of the brain is allowing these veterans to move forward with their lives.