VA Helps Vietnam Veteran Get His Life Back

An elderly male Veteran in a wheelchair, entering a van.

Dale Herb of Marietta, Ohio, prepares to enter his new van, which he can drive himself using hand controls.


Photo by Peyton Neely, Marietta Times. Used with permission

Dale Herb knew something was going terribly wrong with him, but he couldn’t figure out what it was.

“Eleven years ago I had to stop working because of my health,” said the 67-year-old Vietnam Veteran. “I was getting weaker and weaker.  I was breaking down physically. So I went to the VA because I thought they might have an idea what was wrong with me.  And they did.”

Not Good News

Herb’s doctors at the Chillicothe VA Medical Center told him he had Parkinson’s disease, a long-term degenerative disorder of the central nervous system.

“I got exposed to a lot of chemicals in Vietnam,” said the Army Veteran, who lives with his wife Deborah in Marietta, Ohio. “I guess I’m paying the price for serving my country, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat.  I went out into the jungle and did what I was supposed to do.  All of us did.  We did our jobs.”

Herb said he’s glad he turned to the VA for help.

“I found out I had benefits I wasn’t aware of, so that’s been very helpful to me,” he said. “The VA has been taking care of me.  I’m lucky, because there’s no way I could have paid for the medicine they’re giving me.  It’s very expensive.  Without the VA I would have had to choose between food or medicine.”

But no amount of medicine can permanently halt Parkinson’s in its tracks. It’s a relentless disease that just keeps progressing.

“About a year ago I lost the use of my legs,” Herb said. “I was homebound.  I couldn’t go anywhere.  It was hard on me and hard on my family.  It was hard on my wife because of all the strain it put on her.  She has health issues too.”

That’s when the VA stepped in once again with a solution.

On the Road Again

“They gave me a special van* that I could drive using just my hands,” he said. “They paid for six driver rehab lessons so I could learn how to drive my new van.  Then they gave me a powered wheelchair so I can go up the ramp and into my van.  I can get around now.  I’ve got my independence again.  After a year at home I’m getting reacquainted with my community.”

“The quality of his life will be so much better now,” said Herb’s wife, Deborah. “This is exciting.  I can’t explain what this means to us.”

“If you’re a Veteran and you need help, I would strongly encourage you to go to the VA.

Herb said the best part about his new van is that he can visit his three adult children and nine grandchildren whenever he wants.

“They all live within four miles of us,” he said, “so we’re blessed. Just last week I went to see my oldest grandson play in a basketball game.”

Good People

The Army Veteran said he’s also grateful to the VA for helping him out with yet another health issue: the post traumatic stress he developed as a result of his service in Vietnam.

“I had a very good doctor at the Chillicothe VA who helped me through some rough times,” he said. “She’s an extraordinary person, and she’s the reason I’m alive today.  There were times when I was ready to give up, but she made all the difference in the world.  And she does this for Veterans on a day-to-day basis.

“I believe there are some people who don’t just have a job…they have a gift,” he continued. “She has a gift.”

He reflected for a few moments, then added: “There are a lot of good people at the VA.”

To learn more about Parkinson’s disease, the research VA is conducting on Parkinson’s or where to find help if you have this disease or think you might, visit http://www.parkinsons.va.gov/care.asp

*Eligibility criteria: For financial assistance in purchasing a new or used automobile, a Veteran must be service-connected for a disability resulting in: loss or permanent loss of use of one or both feet; loss or permanent loss of use of one or both hands.

Other eligibility criteria include: impairment of vision in both eyes, certain severe burn injuries, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

This entitles Veterans to an automobile grant (purchase of the car). They are also entitled to adaptive equipment for that car (lifts, seats, steering, etc.) if they have the disabilities listed above.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2017/April/VA-Helps-Vietnam-Veteran-Get-His-Life-Back.asp

Veteran Volunteer to Celebrate 100th Birthday

FC Vincent Savarino, bottom right corner, with members of the 8th Field Artillery, Battery A on a beach in Oahu, Hawaii in 1935

PFC Vincent Savarino, bottom right corner, with members of the 8th Field Artillery, Battery A on a beach in Oahu, Hawaii in 1935

We make a living by what we do, but PFC Vincent Savarino has been making a life by what he has given to his comrades for over 31 years at the VA Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

As the medical center’s oldest active volunteer, Savarino’s work ethic is like no other. Refusing to retire although he will reach 100 years of age April 23, he jokingly explains that, “My pay would be docked if I didn’t show up for a day of work.”

Savarino volunteers at the medical center each week as an Information Desk Ambassador and as a member of the Popcorn Committee where he makes and sells popcorn to benefit inpatients.

“My age compared to theirs, they’re all youngsters.”

After serving two tours of duty in the Army from 1935-1941, he remembers the distress of the Great Depression and World War II.

“It was a time of rationing and shortages of food” Savarino says. “Workers worked long hours. I joined the Army to keep myself out of trouble. Things were rough back then. I was shining shoes on my knees in front of the post office at West Farms, Bronx, New York, for a nickel with my brother and sisters before I enlisted.”

Volunteering at the medical center provides Savarino the opportunity to continue to serve his peers.

“Our volunteers give selflessly of their time for many reasons,” explains Russell E. Lloyd, medical center director. “They may enter our doors seeking experience, something to do after retirement, a way to keep up with fellow Veterans, or simply wanting to say thank you. Mr. Savarino’s commitment reminds us of the critical role we have in our mission to care for America’s Veterans by serving and honoring them daily. We are inspired by his dedication and proud to call him a member of our medical center’s team.”


Veteran Volunteer Savarino to mark 100th Birthday

Savarino insists that he will continue to serve as long as he is able. “The way I look at it, these guys all had to go into the service. My age compared to theirs, they’re all youngsters. I choose to volunteer here because I felt that I should help them out. Many of these guys can’t remember what the service was like. I like to help them remember. Whatever I’m doing here, I figure it’s something good for the Veterans.”

This year marks a significant accomplishment for the volunteer. His 100th birthday will be celebrated at the medical center in Wilkes-Barre during National Volunteer Week.

Debra Schlosser, chief of Voluntary Service, is coordinating the special celebration for the volunteer. “Mr. Savarino is a stunning example of the camaraderie and support that highlights our volunteer program here at the medical center. We’re incredibly honored to celebrate this milestone with him. The Medical Center looks forward to saluting Mr. Savarino on his 100th birthday and thanking him for his service to this country.”

This year, VA Voluntary Service joins the nation in celebrating National Volunteer Week, April 23-29, by honoring the selfless service of people like Mr. Savarino, who lend their time and talents to Veterans and their families.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2017/April/Veteran-Volunteer-to-Celebrate-100th-Birthday.asp

With VA’s Help, Waco Veteran Gets a Second Chance

male patient resting in bed following surgery

Air Force Veteran Stephen Jacinto shortly after his operation to remove a tumor from his brain stem.

Photos courtesy of KWTX, Waco, Texas. Used with permission.

Thirty-year-old Stephen Jacinto survived two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq with barely a scratch.  No small feat considering the countless hours he spent in the air, flying over hostile territory.

“I was an engine mechanic for the AC-130 gunships,” said the Air Force Veteran.  “They would fly me all over the place to fix these gunships when something happened to them, and all I would bring was my toolbox.  I’d fix the plane, then they’d fly me back on the plane I’d just fixed.” 

“If I die tomorrow I’ll chalk it up as a win, because I’ve been there, done that and got the tee-shirt.”

Upon leaving the military Jacinto returned to his family and friends in Waco, Texas, where he soon heard about a study the VA was doing.  He decided to volunteer for the study, which was being conducted right there in Waco at the VA Center of Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans.

“The idea that my brain would be used to help potentially thousands of Vets was why I volunteered,” he said.  I wanted to be a part of that.  I just thought it would be cool.”

There it was

“We were doing a study called MAVEREX,” said Dr. Geoff  May, a psychiatrist and researcher with the VA Center of Excellence.  “We were looking at how traumatic brain injury affects functional connectivity; that is, how different parts of the brain talk to each other.”  

The study began with a simple MRI.

“We did an anatomical scan on Stephen to gather fine details of how his brain is laid out,” May explained. “Because the scan is so detailed, the mass growing in his brainstem was apparent right away.  In fact, our MRI technician saw it first.  It was what we call an incidental finding; we weren’t looking for anything like that, but there it was.”

Air Force Engine Mechanic Stephen Jacinto in Iraq with the plane he was responsible for keeping in the air, the AC-130 gunship.Air Force Engine Mechanic Stephen Jacinto in Iraq with the plane he was responsible for keeping in the air, the AC-130 gunship. 

White Coat Syndrome

It fell upon May to deliver the bad news to Jacinto.  “Usually when the guy in the white coat shows up to talk to you it’s not good news,” the researcher said.  “This time I was the guy in the white coat.”

“He came in and told me they found a mass growing near my brainstem,” Jacinto said. “I go, ‘What?’  And he says, “Yeah, we found a mass.’  Then he told me they couldn’t tell if it was cancerous.  All they could tell me was that there’s something there.  I was scared.  But I didn’t break down and cry or anything.  I did that later, when I was by myself.”

“He was understandably distressed,” May said.  “One of his first questions was, “Am I going to die?”  I was pretty blunt with him.  My answer was, “It’s too early to tell.”  It’s a terrible thing to hear, but then we talked for a while and we came up with a plan of action.”

The plan of action was, in fact, ready to go long before Stephen Jacinto’s tumor was discovered.  Dr. Steven Nelson, chief of the Neuroimaging Core at the Waco Center of Excellence, said Jacinto’s case is not the first time that a previously undiagnosed issue has come to light during a study.  Nor will it be the last.

“We were ready,” Nelson said.  “We’ve worked hard to develop procedures so that if we spot a problem with any of the patients in our studies, we can get them the care they need in a quick and timely manner.”

And quick and timely it was.

The Last Thing I Remember

“I alerted his primary care physician here at the VA,” May said. “We requested a consultation with a radiologist and we immediately ordered a second scan, one with contrast.  We wanted to determine the borders of the tumor, and we wanted to determine if it was operable.  As it turned out, it was.”

The young Veteran was promptly scheduled for surgery.  The procedure would be a dangerous one.  Not only was the tumor growing in one of the most delicate areas of Jacinto’s brain; it was also wrapped around a major nerve cord.

“The last thing I remember is seeing the anesthesiologist,” Jacinto said.  “The surgery started in the a.m. and I woke up that night around 7:30.”

Stephen Jacinto:  a grateful survivor with a new outlook on life.Stephen Jacinto:  a grateful survivor with a new outlook on life.

An Eloquent Area

“Neurosurgeons call the brainstem one of the most ‘eloquent’ areas,” May explained. “That means if it’s damaged, there is no other part of the brain that can take over what it does. You can’t lose your brainstem.  If you lose your brainstem you’re not going to make it.” 

May said the brainstem plays an important role in the regulation of cardiac and respiratory function. It also regulates the central nervous system, and is pivotal in maintaining consciousness.

Despite everything that could have gone wrong during Jacinto’s grueling 12-hour operation, nothing did.      

“There were no complications during surgery,” May reported.  “And the tumor turned out not to be malignant.  So there was lots of good news.”

“Glad I woke up.”

Recently, while soaking up the sunshine on a Florida beach with his girlfriend Jana, the Air Force Veteran reflected on the whole experience.  He said he fully realizes he’s been given what few people get:  a second chance.

“I definitely would have been dead if the VA hadn’t done that first MRI,” he said.  “So now I look at the world differently.  All the stuff that used to matter, it just doesn’t.  Money and fame aren’t important.  Helping somebody else is important.  Making people happy is important…

“Everybody gets upset about the wrong things,” he continued, “like somebody cutting you off in traffic or the bartender not showing up with your beer nuts fast enough.  We worry about stupid stuff.  We should be worried about leaving the world a better place for our kids.”

He paused for a few moments, listening to the sound of the ocean and feeling the sun’s warmth on his skin.  “It’s 100 percent your own fault if you wake up unhappy,” he concluded. “I tell everybody, I’m just glad I woke up this morning.”

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2017/April/With-VAs-Help-Waco-Veteran-Gets-a-Second-Chance.asp

With VA’s Help, Waco Veteran Gets a Second Chance

male patient resting in bed following surgery

Air Force Veteran Stephen Jacinto shortly after his operation to remove a tumor from his brain stem.

Photos courtesy of KWTX, Waco, Texas. Used with permission.

Thirty-year-old Stephen Jacinto survived two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq with barely a scratch.  No small feat considering the countless hours he spent in the air, flying over hostile territory.

“I was an engine mechanic for the AC-130 gunships,” said the Air Force Veteran.  “They would fly me all over the place to fix these gunships when something happened to them, and all I would bring was my toolbox.  I’d fix the plane, then they’d fly me back on the plane I’d just fixed.” 

“If I die tomorrow I’ll chalk it up as a win, because I’ve been there, done that and got the tee-shirt.”

Upon leaving the military Jacinto returned to his family and friends in Waco, Texas, where he soon heard about a study the VA was doing.  He decided to volunteer for the study, which was being conducted right there in Waco at the VA Center of Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans.

“The idea that my brain would be used to help potentially thousands of Vets was why I volunteered,” he said.  I wanted to be a part of that.  I just thought it would be cool.”

There it was

“We were doing a study called MAVEREX,” said Dr. Geoff  May, a psychiatrist and researcher with the VA Center of Excellence.  “We were looking at how traumatic brain injury affects functional connectivity; that is, how different parts of the brain talk to each other.”  

The study began with a simple MRI.

“We did an anatomical scan on Stephen to gather fine details of how his brain is laid out,” May explained. “Because the scan is so detailed, the mass growing in his brainstem was apparent right away.  In fact, our MRI technician saw it first.  It was what we call an incidental finding; we weren’t looking for anything like that, but there it was.”

Air Force Engine Mechanic Stephen Jacinto in Iraq with the plane he was responsible for keeping in the air, the AC-130 gunship.Air Force Engine Mechanic Stephen Jacinto in Iraq with the plane he was responsible for keeping in the air, the AC-130 gunship. 

White Coat Syndrome

It fell upon May to deliver the bad news to Jacinto.  “Usually when the guy in the white coat shows up to talk to you it’s not good news,” the researcher said.  “This time I was the guy in the white coat.”

“He came in and told me they found a mass growing near my brainstem,” Jacinto said. “I go, ‘What?’  And he says, “Yeah, we found a mass.’  Then he told me they couldn’t tell if it was cancerous.  All they could tell me was that there’s something there.  I was scared.  But I didn’t break down and cry or anything.  I did that later, when I was by myself.”

“He was understandably distressed,” May said.  “One of his first questions was, “Am I going to die?”  I was pretty blunt with him.  My answer was, “It’s too early to tell.”  It’s a terrible thing to hear, but then we talked for a while and we came up with a plan of action.”

The plan of action was, in fact, ready to go long before Stephen Jacinto’s tumor was discovered.  Dr. Steven Nelson, chief of the Neuroimaging Core at the Waco Center of Excellence, said Jacinto’s case is not the first time that a previously undiagnosed issue has come to light during a study.  Nor will it be the last.

“We were ready,” Nelson said.  “We’ve worked hard to develop procedures so that if we spot a problem with any of the patients in our studies, we can get them the care they need in a quick and timely manner.”

And quick and timely it was.

The Last Thing I Remember

“I alerted his primary care physician here at the VA,” May said. “We requested a consultation with a radiologist and we immediately ordered a second scan, one with contrast.  We wanted to determine the borders of the tumor, and we wanted to determine if it was operable.  As it turned out, it was.”

The young Veteran was promptly scheduled for surgery.  The procedure would be a dangerous one.  Not only was the tumor growing in one of the most delicate areas of Jacinto’s brain; it was also wrapped around a major nerve cord.

“The last thing I remember is seeing the anesthesiologist,” Jacinto said.  “The surgery started in the a.m. and I woke up that night around 7:30.”

Stephen Jacinto:  a grateful survivor with a new outlook on life.Stephen Jacinto:  a grateful survivor with a new outlook on life.

An Eloquent Area

“Neurosurgeons call the brainstem one of the most ‘eloquent’ areas,” May explained. “That means if it’s damaged, there is no other part of the brain that can take over what it does. You can’t lose your brainstem.  If you lose your brainstem you’re not going to make it.” 

May said the brainstem plays an important role in the regulation of cardiac and respiratory function. It also regulates the central nervous system, and is pivotal in maintaining consciousness.

Despite everything that could have gone wrong during Jacinto’s grueling 12-hour operation, nothing did.      

“There were no complications during surgery,” May reported.  “And the tumor turned out not to be malignant.  So there was lots of good news.”

“Glad I woke up.”

Recently, while soaking up the sunshine on a Florida beach with his girlfriend Jana, the Air Force Veteran reflected on the whole experience.  He said he fully realizes he’s been given what few people get:  a second chance.

“I definitely would have been dead if the VA hadn’t done that first MRI,” he said.  “So now I look at the world differently.  All the stuff that used to matter, it just doesn’t.  Money and fame aren’t important.  Helping somebody else is important.  Making people happy is important…

“Everybody gets upset about the wrong things,” he continued, “like somebody cutting you off in traffic or the bartender not showing up with your beer nuts fast enough.  We worry about stupid stuff.  We should be worried about leaving the world a better place for our kids.”

He paused for a few moments, listening to the sound of the ocean and feeling the sun’s warmth on his skin.  “It’s 100 percent your own fault if you wake up unhappy,” he concluded. “I tell everybody, I’m just glad I woke up this morning.”

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2017/April/With-VAs-Help-Waco-Veteran-Gets-a-Second-Chance.asp

With VA’s Help, Waco Veteran Gets a Second Chance

male patient resting in bed following surgery

Air Force Veteran Stephen Jacinto shortly after his operation to remove a tumor from his brain stem.

Photos courtesy of KWTX, Waco, Texas. Used with permission.

Thirty-year-old Stephen Jacinto survived two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq with barely a scratch.  No small feat considering the countless hours he spent in the air, flying over hostile territory.

“I was an engine mechanic for the AC-130 gunships,” said the Air Force Veteran.  “They would fly me all over the place to fix these gunships when something happened to them, and all I would bring was my toolbox.  I’d fix the plane, then they’d fly me back on the plane I’d just fixed.” 

“If I die tomorrow I’ll chalk it up as a win, because I’ve been there, done that and got the tee-shirt.”

Upon leaving the military Jacinto returned to his family and friends in Waco, Texas, where he soon heard about a study the VA was doing.  He decided to volunteer for the study, which was being conducted right there in Waco at the VA Center of Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans.

“The idea that my brain would be used to help potentially thousands of Vets was why I volunteered,” he said.  I wanted to be a part of that.  I just thought it would be cool.”

There it was

“We were doing a study called MAVEREX,” said Dr. Geoff  May, a psychiatrist and researcher with the VA Center of Excellence.  “We were looking at how traumatic brain injury affects functional connectivity; that is, how different parts of the brain talk to each other.”  

The study began with a simple MRI.

“We did an anatomical scan on Stephen to gather fine details of how his brain is laid out,” May explained. “Because the scan is so detailed, the mass growing in his brainstem was apparent right away.  In fact, our MRI technician saw it first.  It was what we call an incidental finding; we weren’t looking for anything like that, but there it was.”

Air Force Engine Mechanic Stephen Jacinto in Iraq with the plane he was responsible for keeping in the air, the AC-130 gunship.Air Force Engine Mechanic Stephen Jacinto in Iraq with the plane he was responsible for keeping in the air, the AC-130 gunship. 

White Coat Syndrome

It fell upon May to deliver the bad news to Jacinto.  “Usually when the guy in the white coat shows up to talk to you it’s not good news,” the researcher said.  “This time I was the guy in the white coat.”

“He came in and told me they found a mass growing near my brainstem,” Jacinto said. “I go, ‘What?’  And he says, “Yeah, we found a mass.’  Then he told me they couldn’t tell if it was cancerous.  All they could tell me was that there’s something there.  I was scared.  But I didn’t break down and cry or anything.  I did that later, when I was by myself.”

“He was understandably distressed,” May said.  “One of his first questions was, “Am I going to die?”  I was pretty blunt with him.  My answer was, “It’s too early to tell.”  It’s a terrible thing to hear, but then we talked for a while and we came up with a plan of action.”

The plan of action was, in fact, ready to go long before Stephen Jacinto’s tumor was discovered.  Dr. Steven Nelson, chief of the Neuroimaging Core at the Waco Center of Excellence, said Jacinto’s case is not the first time that a previously undiagnosed issue has come to light during a study.  Nor will it be the last.

“We were ready,” Nelson said.  “We’ve worked hard to develop procedures so that if we spot a problem with any of the patients in our studies, we can get them the care they need in a quick and timely manner.”

And quick and timely it was.

The Last Thing I Remember

“I alerted his primary care physician here at the VA,” May said. “We requested a consultation with a radiologist and we immediately ordered a second scan, one with contrast.  We wanted to determine the borders of the tumor, and we wanted to determine if it was operable.  As it turned out, it was.”

The young Veteran was promptly scheduled for surgery.  The procedure would be a dangerous one.  Not only was the tumor growing in one of the most delicate areas of Jacinto’s brain; it was also wrapped around a major nerve cord.

“The last thing I remember is seeing the anesthesiologist,” Jacinto said.  “The surgery started in the a.m. and I woke up that night around 7:30.”

Stephen Jacinto:  a grateful survivor with a new outlook on life.Stephen Jacinto:  a grateful survivor with a new outlook on life.

An Eloquent Area

“Neurosurgeons call the brainstem one of the most ‘eloquent’ areas,” May explained. “That means if it’s damaged, there is no other part of the brain that can take over what it does. You can’t lose your brainstem.  If you lose your brainstem you’re not going to make it.” 

May said the brainstem plays an important role in the regulation of cardiac and respiratory function. It also regulates the central nervous system, and is pivotal in maintaining consciousness.

Despite everything that could have gone wrong during Jacinto’s grueling 12-hour operation, nothing did.      

“There were no complications during surgery,” May reported.  “And the tumor turned out not to be malignant.  So there was lots of good news.”

“Glad I woke up.”

Recently, while soaking up the sunshine on a Florida beach with his girlfriend Jana, the Air Force Veteran reflected on the whole experience.  He said he fully realizes he’s been given what few people get:  a second chance.

“I definitely would have been dead if the VA hadn’t done that first MRI,” he said.  “So now I look at the world differently.  All the stuff that used to matter, it just doesn’t.  Money and fame aren’t important.  Helping somebody else is important.  Making people happy is important…

“Everybody gets upset about the wrong things,” he continued, “like somebody cutting you off in traffic or the bartender not showing up with your beer nuts fast enough.  We worry about stupid stuff.  We should be worried about leaving the world a better place for our kids.”

He paused for a few moments, listening to the sound of the ocean and feeling the sun’s warmth on his skin.  “It’s 100 percent your own fault if you wake up unhappy,” he concluded. “I tell everybody, I’m just glad I woke up this morning.”

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2017/April/With-VAs-Help-Waco-Veteran-Gets-a-Second-Chance.asp

With VA’s Help, Waco Veteran Gets a Second Chance

male patient resting in bed following surgery

Air Force Veteran Stephen Jacinto shortly after his operation to remove a tumor from his brain stem.

Photos courtesy of KWTX, Waco, Texas. Used with permission.

Thirty-year-old Stephen Jacinto survived two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq with barely a scratch.  No small feat considering the countless hours he spent in the air, flying over hostile territory.

“I was an engine mechanic for the AC-130 gunships,” said the Air Force Veteran.  “They would fly me all over the place to fix these gunships when something happened to them, and all I would bring was my toolbox.  I’d fix the plane, then they’d fly me back on the plane I’d just fixed.” 

“If I die tomorrow I’ll chalk it up as a win, because I’ve been there, done that and got the tee-shirt.”

Upon leaving the military Jacinto returned to his family and friends in Waco, Texas, where he soon heard about a study the VA was doing.  He decided to volunteer for the study, which was being conducted right there in Waco at the VA Center of Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans.

“The idea that my brain would be used to help potentially thousands of Vets was why I volunteered,” he said.  I wanted to be a part of that.  I just thought it would be cool.”

There it was

“We were doing a study called MAVEREX,” said Dr. Geoff  May, a psychiatrist and researcher with the VA Center of Excellence.  “We were looking at how traumatic brain injury affects functional connectivity; that is, how different parts of the brain talk to each other.”  

The study began with a simple MRI.

“We did an anatomical scan on Stephen to gather fine details of how his brain is laid out,” May explained. “Because the scan is so detailed, the mass growing in his brainstem was apparent right away.  In fact, our MRI technician saw it first.  It was what we call an incidental finding; we weren’t looking for anything like that, but there it was.”

Air Force Engine Mechanic Stephen Jacinto in Iraq with the plane he was responsible for keeping in the air, the AC-130 gunship.Air Force Engine Mechanic Stephen Jacinto in Iraq with the plane he was responsible for keeping in the air, the AC-130 gunship. 

White Coat Syndrome

It fell upon May to deliver the bad news to Jacinto.  “Usually when the guy in the white coat shows up to talk to you it’s not good news,” the researcher said.  “This time I was the guy in the white coat.”

“He came in and told me they found a mass growing near my brainstem,” Jacinto said. “I go, ‘What?’  And he says, “Yeah, we found a mass.’  Then he told me they couldn’t tell if it was cancerous.  All they could tell me was that there’s something there.  I was scared.  But I didn’t break down and cry or anything.  I did that later, when I was by myself.”

“He was understandably distressed,” May said.  “One of his first questions was, “Am I going to die?”  I was pretty blunt with him.  My answer was, “It’s too early to tell.”  It’s a terrible thing to hear, but then we talked for a while and we came up with a plan of action.”

The plan of action was, in fact, ready to go long before Stephen Jacinto’s tumor was discovered.  Dr. Steven Nelson, chief of the Neuroimaging Core at the Waco Center of Excellence, said Jacinto’s case is not the first time that a previously undiagnosed issue has come to light during a study.  Nor will it be the last.

“We were ready,” Nelson said.  “We’ve worked hard to develop procedures so that if we spot a problem with any of the patients in our studies, we can get them the care they need in a quick and timely manner.”

And quick and timely it was.

The Last Thing I Remember

“I alerted his primary care physician here at the VA,” May said. “We requested a consultation with a radiologist and we immediately ordered a second scan, one with contrast.  We wanted to determine the borders of the tumor, and we wanted to determine if it was operable.  As it turned out, it was.”

The young Veteran was promptly scheduled for surgery.  The procedure would be a dangerous one.  Not only was the tumor growing in one of the most delicate areas of Jacinto’s brain; it was also wrapped around a major nerve cord.

“The last thing I remember is seeing the anesthesiologist,” Jacinto said.  “The surgery started in the a.m. and I woke up that night around 7:30.”

Stephen Jacinto:  a grateful survivor with a new outlook on life.Stephen Jacinto:  a grateful survivor with a new outlook on life.

An Eloquent Area

“Neurosurgeons call the brainstem one of the most ‘eloquent’ areas,” May explained. “That means if it’s damaged, there is no other part of the brain that can take over what it does. You can’t lose your brainstem.  If you lose your brainstem you’re not going to make it.” 

May said the brainstem plays an important role in the regulation of cardiac and respiratory function. It also regulates the central nervous system, and is pivotal in maintaining consciousness.

Despite everything that could have gone wrong during Jacinto’s grueling 12-hour operation, nothing did.      

“There were no complications during surgery,” May reported.  “And the tumor turned out not to be malignant.  So there was lots of good news.”

“Glad I woke up.”

Recently, while soaking up the sunshine on a Florida beach with his girlfriend Jana, the Air Force Veteran reflected on the whole experience.  He said he fully realizes he’s been given what few people get:  a second chance.

“I definitely would have been dead if the VA hadn’t done that first MRI,” he said.  “So now I look at the world differently.  All the stuff that used to matter, it just doesn’t.  Money and fame aren’t important.  Helping somebody else is important.  Making people happy is important…

“Everybody gets upset about the wrong things,” he continued, “like somebody cutting you off in traffic or the bartender not showing up with your beer nuts fast enough.  We worry about stupid stuff.  We should be worried about leaving the world a better place for our kids.”

He paused for a few moments, listening to the sound of the ocean and feeling the sun’s warmth on his skin.  “It’s 100 percent your own fault if you wake up unhappy,” he concluded. “I tell everybody, I’m just glad I woke up this morning.”

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2017/April/With-VAs-Help-Waco-Veteran-Gets-a-Second-Chance.asp

With VA’s Help, Waco Veteran Gets a Second Chance

male patient resting in bed following surgery

Air Force Veteran Stephen Jacinto shortly after his operation to remove a tumor from his brain stem.

Photos courtesy of KWTX, Waco, Texas. Used with permission.

Thirty-year-old Stephen Jacinto survived two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq with barely a scratch.  No small feat considering the countless hours he spent in the air, flying over hostile territory.

“I was an engine mechanic for the AC-130 gunships,” said the Air Force Veteran.  “They would fly me all over the place to fix these gunships when something happened to them, and all I would bring was my toolbox.  I’d fix the plane, then they’d fly me back on the plane I’d just fixed.” 

“If I die tomorrow I’ll chalk it up as a win, because I’ve been there, done that and got the tee-shirt.”

Upon leaving the military Jacinto returned to his family and friends in Waco, Texas, where he soon heard about a study the VA was doing.  He decided to volunteer for the study, which was being conducted right there in Waco at the VA Center of Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans.

“The idea that my brain would be used to help potentially thousands of Vets was why I volunteered,” he said.  I wanted to be a part of that.  I just thought it would be cool.”

There it was

“We were doing a study called MAVEREX,” said Dr. Geoff  May, a psychiatrist and researcher with the VA Center of Excellence.  “We were looking at how traumatic brain injury affects functional connectivity; that is, how different parts of the brain talk to each other.”  

The study began with a simple MRI.

“We did an anatomical scan on Stephen to gather fine details of how his brain is laid out,” May explained. “Because the scan is so detailed, the mass growing in his brainstem was apparent right away.  In fact, our MRI technician saw it first.  It was what we call an incidental finding; we weren’t looking for anything like that, but there it was.”

Air Force Engine Mechanic Stephen Jacinto in Iraq with the plane he was responsible for keeping in the air, the AC-130 gunship.Air Force Engine Mechanic Stephen Jacinto in Iraq with the plane he was responsible for keeping in the air, the AC-130 gunship. 

White Coat Syndrome

It fell upon May to deliver the bad news to Jacinto.  “Usually when the guy in the white coat shows up to talk to you it’s not good news,” the researcher said.  “This time I was the guy in the white coat.”

“He came in and told me they found a mass growing near my brainstem,” Jacinto said. “I go, ‘What?’  And he says, “Yeah, we found a mass.’  Then he told me they couldn’t tell if it was cancerous.  All they could tell me was that there’s something there.  I was scared.  But I didn’t break down and cry or anything.  I did that later, when I was by myself.”

“He was understandably distressed,” May said.  “One of his first questions was, “Am I going to die?”  I was pretty blunt with him.  My answer was, “It’s too early to tell.”  It’s a terrible thing to hear, but then we talked for a while and we came up with a plan of action.”

The plan of action was, in fact, ready to go long before Stephen Jacinto’s tumor was discovered.  Dr. Steven Nelson, chief of the Neuroimaging Core at the Waco Center of Excellence, said Jacinto’s case is not the first time that a previously undiagnosed issue has come to light during a study.  Nor will it be the last.

“We were ready,” Nelson said.  “We’ve worked hard to develop procedures so that if we spot a problem with any of the patients in our studies, we can get them the care they need in a quick and timely manner.”

And quick and timely it was.

The Last Thing I Remember

“I alerted his primary care physician here at the VA,” May said. “We requested a consultation with a radiologist and we immediately ordered a second scan, one with contrast.  We wanted to determine the borders of the tumor, and we wanted to determine if it was operable.  As it turned out, it was.”

The young Veteran was promptly scheduled for surgery.  The procedure would be a dangerous one.  Not only was the tumor growing in one of the most delicate areas of Jacinto’s brain; it was also wrapped around a major nerve cord.

“The last thing I remember is seeing the anesthesiologist,” Jacinto said.  “The surgery started in the a.m. and I woke up that night around 7:30.”

Stephen Jacinto:  a grateful survivor with a new outlook on life.Stephen Jacinto:  a grateful survivor with a new outlook on life.

An Eloquent Area

“Neurosurgeons call the brainstem one of the most ‘eloquent’ areas,” May explained. “That means if it’s damaged, there is no other part of the brain that can take over what it does. You can’t lose your brainstem.  If you lose your brainstem you’re not going to make it.” 

May said the brainstem plays an important role in the regulation of cardiac and respiratory function. It also regulates the central nervous system, and is pivotal in maintaining consciousness.

Despite everything that could have gone wrong during Jacinto’s grueling 12-hour operation, nothing did.      

“There were no complications during surgery,” May reported.  “And the tumor turned out not to be malignant.  So there was lots of good news.”

“Glad I woke up.”

Recently, while soaking up the sunshine on a Florida beach with his girlfriend Jana, the Air Force Veteran reflected on the whole experience.  He said he fully realizes he’s been given what few people get:  a second chance.

“I definitely would have been dead if the VA hadn’t done that first MRI,” he said.  “So now I look at the world differently.  All the stuff that used to matter, it just doesn’t.  Money and fame aren’t important.  Helping somebody else is important.  Making people happy is important…

“Everybody gets upset about the wrong things,” he continued, “like somebody cutting you off in traffic or the bartender not showing up with your beer nuts fast enough.  We worry about stupid stuff.  We should be worried about leaving the world a better place for our kids.”

He paused for a few moments, listening to the sound of the ocean and feeling the sun’s warmth on his skin.  “It’s 100 percent your own fault if you wake up unhappy,” he concluded. “I tell everybody, I’m just glad I woke up this morning.”

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2017/April/With-VAs-Help-Waco-Veteran-Gets-a-Second-Chance.asp

With VA’s Help, Waco Veteran Gets a Second Chance

male patient resting in bed following surgery

Air Force Veteran Stephen Jacinto shortly after his operation to remove a tumor from his brain stem.

Photos courtesy of KWTX, Waco, Texas. Used with permission.

Thirty-year-old Stephen Jacinto survived two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq with barely a scratch.  No small feat considering the countless hours he spent in the air, flying over hostile territory.

“I was an engine mechanic for the AC-130 gunships,” said the Air Force Veteran.  “They would fly me all over the place to fix these gunships when something happened to them, and all I would bring was my toolbox.  I’d fix the plane, then they’d fly me back on the plane I’d just fixed.” 

“If I die tomorrow I’ll chalk it up as a win, because I’ve been there, done that and got the tee-shirt.”

Upon leaving the military Jacinto returned to his family and friends in Waco, Texas, where he soon heard about a study the VA was doing.  He decided to volunteer for the study, which was being conducted right there in Waco at the VA Center of Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans.

“The idea that my brain would be used to help potentially thousands of Vets was why I volunteered,” he said.  I wanted to be a part of that.  I just thought it would be cool.”

There it was

“We were doing a study called MAVEREX,” said Dr. Geoff  May, a psychiatrist and researcher with the VA Center of Excellence.  “We were looking at how traumatic brain injury affects functional connectivity; that is, how different parts of the brain talk to each other.”  

The study began with a simple MRI.

“We did an anatomical scan on Stephen to gather fine details of how his brain is laid out,” May explained. “Because the scan is so detailed, the mass growing in his brainstem was apparent right away.  In fact, our MRI technician saw it first.  It was what we call an incidental finding; we weren’t looking for anything like that, but there it was.”

Air Force Engine Mechanic Stephen Jacinto in Iraq with the plane he was responsible for keeping in the air, the AC-130 gunship.Air Force Engine Mechanic Stephen Jacinto in Iraq with the plane he was responsible for keeping in the air, the AC-130 gunship. 

White Coat Syndrome

It fell upon May to deliver the bad news to Jacinto.  “Usually when the guy in the white coat shows up to talk to you it’s not good news,” the researcher said.  “This time I was the guy in the white coat.”

“He came in and told me they found a mass growing near my brainstem,” Jacinto said. “I go, ‘What?’  And he says, “Yeah, we found a mass.’  Then he told me they couldn’t tell if it was cancerous.  All they could tell me was that there’s something there.  I was scared.  But I didn’t break down and cry or anything.  I did that later, when I was by myself.”

“He was understandably distressed,” May said.  “One of his first questions was, “Am I going to die?”  I was pretty blunt with him.  My answer was, “It’s too early to tell.”  It’s a terrible thing to hear, but then we talked for a while and we came up with a plan of action.”

The plan of action was, in fact, ready to go long before Stephen Jacinto’s tumor was discovered.  Dr. Steven Nelson, chief of the Neuroimaging Core at the Waco Center of Excellence, said Jacinto’s case is not the first time that a previously undiagnosed issue has come to light during a study.  Nor will it be the last.

“We were ready,” Nelson said.  “We’ve worked hard to develop procedures so that if we spot a problem with any of the patients in our studies, we can get them the care they need in a quick and timely manner.”

And quick and timely it was.

The Last Thing I Remember

“I alerted his primary care physician here at the VA,” May said. “We requested a consultation with a radiologist and we immediately ordered a second scan, one with contrast.  We wanted to determine the borders of the tumor, and we wanted to determine if it was operable.  As it turned out, it was.”

The young Veteran was promptly scheduled for surgery.  The procedure would be a dangerous one.  Not only was the tumor growing in one of the most delicate areas of Jacinto’s brain; it was also wrapped around a major nerve cord.

“The last thing I remember is seeing the anesthesiologist,” Jacinto said.  “The surgery started in the a.m. and I woke up that night around 7:30.”

Stephen Jacinto:  a grateful survivor with a new outlook on life.Stephen Jacinto:  a grateful survivor with a new outlook on life.

An Eloquent Area

“Neurosurgeons call the brainstem one of the most ‘eloquent’ areas,” May explained. “That means if it’s damaged, there is no other part of the brain that can take over what it does. You can’t lose your brainstem.  If you lose your brainstem you’re not going to make it.” 

May said the brainstem plays an important role in the regulation of cardiac and respiratory function. It also regulates the central nervous system, and is pivotal in maintaining consciousness.

Despite everything that could have gone wrong during Jacinto’s grueling 12-hour operation, nothing did.      

“There were no complications during surgery,” May reported.  “And the tumor turned out not to be malignant.  So there was lots of good news.”

“Glad I woke up.”

Recently, while soaking up the sunshine on a Florida beach with his girlfriend Jana, the Air Force Veteran reflected on the whole experience.  He said he fully realizes he’s been given what few people get:  a second chance.

“I definitely would have been dead if the VA hadn’t done that first MRI,” he said.  “So now I look at the world differently.  All the stuff that used to matter, it just doesn’t.  Money and fame aren’t important.  Helping somebody else is important.  Making people happy is important…

“Everybody gets upset about the wrong things,” he continued, “like somebody cutting you off in traffic or the bartender not showing up with your beer nuts fast enough.  We worry about stupid stuff.  We should be worried about leaving the world a better place for our kids.”

He paused for a few moments, listening to the sound of the ocean and feeling the sun’s warmth on his skin.  “It’s 100 percent your own fault if you wake up unhappy,” he concluded. “I tell everybody, I’m just glad I woke up this morning.”

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2017/April/With-VAs-Help-Waco-Veteran-Gets-a-Second-Chance.asp

With VA’s Help, Waco Veteran Gets a Second Chance

male patient resting in bed following surgery

Air Force Veteran Stephen Jacinto shortly after his operation to remove a tumor from his brain stem.

Photos courtesy of KWTX, Waco, Texas. Used with permission.

Thirty-year-old Stephen Jacinto survived two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq with barely a scratch.  No small feat considering the countless hours he spent in the air, flying over hostile territory.

“I was an engine mechanic for the AC-130 gunships,” said the Air Force Veteran.  “They would fly me all over the place to fix these gunships when something happened to them, and all I would bring was my toolbox.  I’d fix the plane, then they’d fly me back on the plane I’d just fixed.” 

“If I die tomorrow I’ll chalk it up as a win, because I’ve been there, done that and got the tee-shirt.”

Upon leaving the military Jacinto returned to his family and friends in Waco, Texas, where he soon heard about a study the VA was doing.  He decided to volunteer for the study, which was being conducted right there in Waco at the VA Center of Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans.

“The idea that my brain would be used to help potentially thousands of Vets was why I volunteered,” he said.  I wanted to be a part of that.  I just thought it would be cool.”

There it was

“We were doing a study called MAVEREX,” said Dr. Geoff  May, a psychiatrist and researcher with the VA Center of Excellence.  “We were looking at how traumatic brain injury affects functional connectivity; that is, how different parts of the brain talk to each other.”  

The study began with a simple MRI.

“We did an anatomical scan on Stephen to gather fine details of how his brain is laid out,” May explained. “Because the scan is so detailed, the mass growing in his brainstem was apparent right away.  In fact, our MRI technician saw it first.  It was what we call an incidental finding; we weren’t looking for anything like that, but there it was.”

Air Force Engine Mechanic Stephen Jacinto in Iraq with the plane he was responsible for keeping in the air, the AC-130 gunship.Air Force Engine Mechanic Stephen Jacinto in Iraq with the plane he was responsible for keeping in the air, the AC-130 gunship. 

White Coat Syndrome

It fell upon May to deliver the bad news to Jacinto.  “Usually when the guy in the white coat shows up to talk to you it’s not good news,” the researcher said.  “This time I was the guy in the white coat.”

“He came in and told me they found a mass growing near my brainstem,” Jacinto said. “I go, ‘What?’  And he says, “Yeah, we found a mass.’  Then he told me they couldn’t tell if it was cancerous.  All they could tell me was that there’s something there.  I was scared.  But I didn’t break down and cry or anything.  I did that later, when I was by myself.”

“He was understandably distressed,” May said.  “One of his first questions was, “Am I going to die?”  I was pretty blunt with him.  My answer was, “It’s too early to tell.”  It’s a terrible thing to hear, but then we talked for a while and we came up with a plan of action.”

The plan of action was, in fact, ready to go long before Stephen Jacinto’s tumor was discovered.  Dr. Steven Nelson, chief of the Neuroimaging Core at the Waco Center of Excellence, said Jacinto’s case is not the first time that a previously undiagnosed issue has come to light during a study.  Nor will it be the last.

“We were ready,” Nelson said.  “We’ve worked hard to develop procedures so that if we spot a problem with any of the patients in our studies, we can get them the care they need in a quick and timely manner.”

And quick and timely it was.

The Last Thing I Remember

“I alerted his primary care physician here at the VA,” May said. “We requested a consultation with a radiologist and we immediately ordered a second scan, one with contrast.  We wanted to determine the borders of the tumor, and we wanted to determine if it was operable.  As it turned out, it was.”

The young Veteran was promptly scheduled for surgery.  The procedure would be a dangerous one.  Not only was the tumor growing in one of the most delicate areas of Jacinto’s brain; it was also wrapped around a major nerve cord.

“The last thing I remember is seeing the anesthesiologist,” Jacinto said.  “The surgery started in the a.m. and I woke up that night around 7:30.”

Stephen Jacinto:  a grateful survivor with a new outlook on life.Stephen Jacinto:  a grateful survivor with a new outlook on life.

An Eloquent Area

“Neurosurgeons call the brainstem one of the most ‘eloquent’ areas,” May explained. “That means if it’s damaged, there is no other part of the brain that can take over what it does. You can’t lose your brainstem.  If you lose your brainstem you’re not going to make it.” 

May said the brainstem plays an important role in the regulation of cardiac and respiratory function. It also regulates the central nervous system, and is pivotal in maintaining consciousness.

Despite everything that could have gone wrong during Jacinto’s grueling 12-hour operation, nothing did.      

“There were no complications during surgery,” May reported.  “And the tumor turned out not to be malignant.  So there was lots of good news.”

“Glad I woke up.”

Recently, while soaking up the sunshine on a Florida beach with his girlfriend Jana, the Air Force Veteran reflected on the whole experience.  He said he fully realizes he’s been given what few people get:  a second chance.

“I definitely would have been dead if the VA hadn’t done that first MRI,” he said.  “So now I look at the world differently.  All the stuff that used to matter, it just doesn’t.  Money and fame aren’t important.  Helping somebody else is important.  Making people happy is important…

“Everybody gets upset about the wrong things,” he continued, “like somebody cutting you off in traffic or the bartender not showing up with your beer nuts fast enough.  We worry about stupid stuff.  We should be worried about leaving the world a better place for our kids.”

He paused for a few moments, listening to the sound of the ocean and feeling the sun’s warmth on his skin.  “It’s 100 percent your own fault if you wake up unhappy,” he concluded. “I tell everybody, I’m just glad I woke up this morning.”

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2017/April/With-VAs-Help-Waco-Veteran-Gets-a-Second-Chance.asp

Robotic Brace for Veterans of Spinal Cord Injury

Veteran Brandon Myers removes his shoes from a wheelchair he used to harness an exoskeleton walking device

Veteran Brandon Myers removes his shoes from a wheelchair he used to harness an exoskeleton walking device

In a series of thumps, whirrs and clattering noises, Brandon Myers was able to achieve what his body would no longer let him do on his own. Augmented by brace support, motion sensors and a computer control system and further aided by his caregiver and crutches, he slowly walked forward in an upright posture. His steps were small and unbalanced at first but became more fluid as he got used to the machine saddled to his torso, hips and legs.

“This exoskeleton is not quite as fluid or fast as a robot you would see in a science fiction movie but its light years apart from what I can do in a wheelchair,” Myers said as his face lights up with a smile. “Now I can walk.”

The Navy Veteran participated in a trial demo at VA San Diego Healthcare System on March 14 with the intention of moving one step closer to the goal of owning his own exoskeleton. For many with spinal cord injuries (SCI) causing paralysis to the lower extremities, being able to walk again is the promise of a better quality of life.

Since losing the use of his legs during active military service, Myers has dreamed of being able to do the little things again that often require a standing position, like making dinner on a countertop. With the exoskeleton, many abilities lost by having a spinal cord injury are possible again.


Veteran Brandon Myers participates in a trial of the exoskeleton brace with the help of physical therapist John Colaneri

According to John Colaneri, VA physical therapist trained on the system, the ReWalk Exoskeleton equipment has motors at the hip and knee region that give the user the ability to stand from a seated position. With the assistance of a caregiver and the use of forearm crutches, wearers bear weight through their bones in their legs, allowing them to take steps without needing to contract muscles. In addition, the structural support of the exoskeleton at the hips and knees helps with moving the patient forward.

“Because it requires assistance from a caregiver and crutches, the exoskeleton doesn’t give a patient the ability to walk completely independently and won’t fully replace the need for a wheelchair,” said Colaneri. “Instead, it allows users to walk within their communities and perform some functional tasks while standing.”

“I faced harder goals in the military.”

Health-wise, using the exoskeleton also improves gastrointestinal function and circulation and may improve bone density as dormant bone structures in the legs become active once more.

While it’s currently being offered to patients paralyzed by spinal cord injuries, they must meet medical requirements that include the Veteran retaining use and strength of the upper body and a dedicated caregiver to assist when using the exoskeleton.

An interdisciplinary care team evaluates the patient for other criteria including height and weight requirements and a battery of screening tests that require medical, social work, occupational health and physical therapy approval. Once approved, the patient can begin trials.


Veteran Brandon Myers tests the exoskeleton brace

Trials feature a 45-day period of learning how to use the exoskeleton in the SCI gym, followed by another 45-day training period for home use. At the conclusion, if the Veteran is still interested and has met all of the goals of the training program, the medical center will put in a request to have the equipment ordered for personal use at no additional cost.

“It’s a long road to get one of these things,” said Myers of the exoskeleton. “But I faced harder goals in the military and harder challenges since my injury. Compared to either, the testing and screening really is a small price to pay for being able to stand on your own two feet.”

In addition to San Diego, this technology is also being offered at the following VA Medical Center locations: Bronx, West Roxbury, Syracuse, Richmond, Tampa, Houston, Dallas, Long Beach, Palo Alto, Seattle and Cleveland.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2017/March/Robotic-Brace-for-Veterans-of-Spinal-Cord-Injury.asp


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