McGowan Institute faculty member Ross Zafonte, DO, chairman of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and vice president of clinical rehabilitation services for University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, is concerned with brain injuries to soldiers from explosions, such as those from roadside bombs used in Iraq. Even if there is no outward evidence of damage to a soldier’s head, invisible shock waves moving through the air can severely injure the brain, resulting in lifelong mental problems, speech impairments, memory loss, and sometimes death.
Because of improved body armor, soldiers today are surviving explosions that would yesterday cause serious injuries to their lungs, hearts, and other vital organs. The military reports, however, that among veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, about 65 percent have traumatic brain injuries—an injury that more physical injuries of the past would mask.
Testifying before Congress, Dr. Zafonte told Congress that nearly 2 million Americans suffer a form a traumatic brain injury every year, and about 50,000 die. He said, “This is probably the most under-sung disease…of our generation.”
Dr. Zafonte’s testimony was in support of the Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury Act. If passed, it would authorize more than $80 million to establish four Veterans Affairs centers across the nation for traumatic brain injury research and treatment. Veterans would be screened for it, and a registry for treatment would be established.
Dr. Zafonte is the principal investigator in a number of studies involving rehabilitation for traumatic brain injuries, the author of numerous publications about traumatic brain injuries and other rehabilitation topics, and he has also given more than 100 national and international presentations on these topics.
Illustration: McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
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