Life “When the Organ that Turns a Body into a Person is Damaged”

From The Washington Post’s story today on traumatic brain injury, with which 180,000 military service members have been diagnosed since 2000:

No two traumatic brain injuries - signature wounds of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - are the same, but the patients on 7 East, [Dr. David] Williamson’s TBI unit [at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD], demonstrate what life is like when the organ that turns a body into a person is damaged.

There’s the Marine whose injury robbed him of the ability to understand speech even though he could still read, another who could no longer laugh, one who could see out of both eyes but only to the left, and one soldier who became dangerously impulsive and started spending thousands of dollars on junk he didn’t need.

Although their injuries might not be as visible as a severed limb, TBI victims’ damaged neurons and altered brain chemistry can cause all sorts of behavioral problems. Those injuries are about much more than a lump of tissue sitting between the temples. “It’s about who they are,” Williamson says. “How they see the world. How they process different experiences. It’s about how their personality changes. It’s about their humanity.”

The Post’s is an affecting multimedia story, “part of year-long series on the impact of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars back home,” including photo, video, and a blog post in which reporter Christian Davenport describes how he came to the story and how Dr. Williamson advised him to best tell it.

Today’s package focuses on a handful of soldiers with TBI, including 20-year-old Army Spec. Robert Warren whose head, Davenport writes, “is cratered, like an apple with a bite taken out of it” (as captured by photographer Marvin Joseph).

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.