For many men and women serving in the armed forces, the battle does not end when they return home. Such was the case for Sgt. First Class Andrew Marr, whose career as an Army Special Forces Green Beret explosive breacher was brought to a premature end.
The nature of his work, which began in 2006 and included three tours in Afghanistan, placed Marr in and around numerous explosions and caused him to suffer multiple traumatic brain injuries (TBI), eventually leading to his military medical retirement. When he returned home to his wife and five children in Washington, he was a changed man.
“I would just have these bouts where I would be overcome with emotion and I couldn’t stop crying, I couldn’t control it,” Marr told FoxNews.com. He began suffering from insomnia and distancing himself from his family and friends. For Marr, who said he suffered from no symptoms prior to 2013, the answers did not come easily.
“Constantly agitated, finding myself irritable and that would turn into a burning rage, which was very uncomfortable to deal with, especially when you don’t want to be feeling like that and you try to turn it off and it won’t turn off,” he said while describing his symptoms.
According to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, more than 27,000 new medical diagnoses of TBI were made in 2013. Nearly 314,000 cases of TBI have been diagnosed since 2000, with the Army's number of instances far outpacing other branches of the military.
Marr was placed on medication, and he began drinking heavily. Under the impression that the medications were adding to his symptoms or possibly creating new ones, Marr turned to online research to find alternative ways to heal.
Through America’s Mighty Warriors, Marr was put in touch with the Carrick Brain Center, and within 10 days he was in Dallas getting ready to begin his two-week healing journey. The center, which opened its doors in January 2014, treats both civilians and veterans, but does not accept insurance. Veterans’ treatments and expenses are covered under research contracts or private donations, while civilians pay out of pocket for treatment.
“We started with professional athletes, TBI, then we branched out to Alzheimer’s and stroke patients,” Kara Williams, director of veterans and military affairs at Carrick Brain Centers, told FoxNews.com No prior diagnosis is needed for post-9/11 veterans seeking treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and TBI.
Patients are enrolled for two weeks and undergo three treatments per day which include mental health counseling and physical workouts with a local UFC champion. There are also fishing and camping trips offered for weekend activities.
“We want to reintegrate these guys into civilian society as productive members who are maintaining employment,” Williams said. Of the 140 veterans the center treated in 2014, about 65 percent were Special Forces.
The therapies offered at Carrick focus on rewiring the brain in order to restore functionality to different areas of the brain. Each patient is offered a customized treatment plan which includes vision exercises, diet guidelines, supplements or hormones. The Carrick center also offers its patented Off Vertical Axis Rotational Device (OVARD) therapy, which provides neurological rehabilitation.
The patient is fastened into the OVARD, which rotates the patient in a precisely controlled manner. The specific angle, roll and speed of the rotations are targeting the patient’s vestibular system which controls balance, spatial orientation and movement. The movement stimulates the vestibular system to encourage neural activity in parts of the brain that have been affected by illness or injury. The rotations are pre-determined by diagnostic testing on the patient.
“If you can’t stimulate that [injured] part of the brain, other parts won’t work as well,” Dr. Cagan Randall, founder and head clinician at Carrick Brain Center told FoxNews.com.
“The way that you interpret gravity is 24/7, even when you’re asleep you’re constantly having to maintain balance and posturability helps you push your eyes into certain directions, helps you not get motion sickness,” Randall said. “It’s a very important system and if you damage it, it needs to be rehabilitated with sensitive therapy,” he said.
Marr did not undergo OVARD therapy during his time at Carrick, but he did undergo extensive diagnostic testing, and was told most issues were stemming from astigmatism in his eye and his eye movements. He was given sensorimotor therapy and worked on eye movement exercises to stimulate neglected areas of his brain, and to stimulate different parts of his body that weren’t communicating effectively.
The exercises included subtle whole-body movements, such as turning his head a certain way. For about three days, some symptoms worsened, but after Marr said it was “basically non-existent.”
“It worked really well,” Marr said of his time at Carrick in October 2014. He noticed immediate changes in his sleep habits, and he hasn’t touched alcohol since arriving at Carrick.
“My short-term memory has greatly improved from where it was, from that I was able to start feeling better and thinking clearer so I took myself off of all of the different medications I was on and that stuck,” he said.
“When I was there they made it very clear to me that my alcohol consumption was killing me as much as anything else,” Marr said. “For the first time they really made it clear what I was doing with my body.”
Marr has also noticed other areas of his health improving, as well, after his time at Carrick. Before he left, he was experiencing deep vein thrombosis and embolic aneurysms. He had poor circulation in his left foot and leg, which through the eye movement therapies has been corrected.
Marr credits the Carrick center with “changing my life and or saving it as well.”
There is currently a waiting list for veterans seeking treatment due to a lack of funding. Marr started the Warrior Angels Foundation to raise both awareness and funds.
“We need people to step up and help us, the foundations are irrelevant, the issues are real,” he said.