The miraculous recovery of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has focused attention on the advances in treatment for brain injuries previously thought to be non-survivable. So-called “aggressive care” practices developed in the civilian medical world have been perfected in military hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan, where death rates from these injuries are reportedly less than 10 percent.
The military’s techniques in treating penetrating brain injuries have been transferred to civilian hospitals, and a recent study of a San Francisco hospital demonstrates the great leap in brain trauma care over the last 5 years. According to a report in the Washington Post, 47 percent of patients with penetrating brain injury, mostly all from bullets, “survived with moderate or no disability” at San Francisco General Hospital. Only 29 percent of the patients died. This is a dramatic reversal of what one doctor called the “self-fulfilling prophesy” in medical treatment, that a patient was sure to die from a gunshot wound to the head. Tack one up for military doctors.
On the other hand, veterans advocate Paul Rieckhoff paints a much less rosy picture of military medicine, specifically in regard to the diagnosis of traumatic brain injury in veterans. Rieckhoff warns there may be untold thousands of undiagnosed veterans who incurred injuries from bomb concussions.