MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY PONT, N.C. --
From the outside looking in, Staff Sgt. Brian Murphy is an outspoken, motivated Marine. On the inside, he is learning to come to terms with a traumatic brain injury that is part of his everyday life.
Due to the increasing number of Marines being diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries, the Marine Corps is taking a comprehensive approach to treat them by emphasizing our core components: prevent, provide, track and train, states Marine Administrative Message 294/12.
“A traumatic brain injury is an injury to the head that can either be closed, where you can’t actually see the injury, or open, for example where you can see shrapnel sticking out of the head,” said Lt. Cmdr. Erin M. Simmons, the department head of Mental Health at the Cherry Point Naval Health Clinic.
Murphy sustained his injury while working as a machine gunner in Iraq on Feb. 7, 2005. The Humvee he was in struck a roadside bomb.
The administrative chief with Marine Wing Support Squadron 271’s explosive ordnance section doesn’t remember exactly what happened after the blast, but he remembers the shrapnel lodged into his face.
“I went to a couple of different medical facilities where I got CAT scans to make sure that I didn’t have any intracranial bleeding,” he said. “After that, I went back to my unit.”
Murphy said the medical treatment Marines receive now for traumatic brain injuries is worlds apart from the care he received.
“Back in 2005, there was no real focus on TBIs like there is now,” he said. “Blast injuries weren’t as prevalent. Now that we are in Afghanistan, we are a lot more foot mobile.”
The Marine Corps’ traumatic brain injury program exists at installations across the Marine Corps to assist Marines dealing with brain injuries sustained in garrison and combat.
“A lot of my friends in the EOD field have sustained brain injuries,” he said. “The care and treatment they’ve received is amazing.”
Although his injury isn’t visible, the damage Murphy experienced from the incident constantly reminds him what happened on that day.
The Pierre, S.D., native said he felt relieved when he was formally diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury. TBIs can oftentimes get misconstrued with other injuries because it has the symptoms of many common injuries, he said.
“It’s not like having a broken leg; everybody can see that it’s a broken leg. When you have a broken brain it’s very hard to see that from the outside,” said Murphy. As a result of his injury, Murphy sometimes his speech. He also suffered some hearing loss and he has short-term memory loss.
“I can tell you where I was 10 years ago, but if you ask me where I was three days ago I would have to really think about it,” he said.
The Purple Heart recipient says that he has learned how to overcome minor set-backs he encounters on a daily basis at work.
“If I had three things that I needed to get done, and I don’t write them down, chances are two of those things are going to be forgetten before I finish the first thing,’’ he said. He always keeps at least two notepads on his desk so he can make notes and double check his lists.
“Traumatic brain injuries are one of the things in life that you learn to live with,” he said. “Sometimes we know what we have to do to deal with it, but it’s hard because there is no cure for it.”
However, Murphy said he is hopeful about his future and the progress he has made with his injury.
“Among our community we know it’s an injury,” said Murphy. “Trying to get this recognized by medical specialists outside of the military community has been difficult. I’m glad that people are beginning to become more aware of our injuries, it’s a good feeling to finally have people recognize what those who have TBIs go through.”
The new MARADMIN affects Marines of all ages who are dealing with injuries sustained recently and throughout past decades, and ensures they get the help they need, not only to treat their injury, but progressively get better as well.
People who suffer from traumatic brain injuries experience a range of symptoms from severe disabilities to no symptoms at all. More than 80 percent of people who sustain a mild traumatic brain injury get better over time with little or no treatment at all, said Simmons.
“I have a path forward,” said Murphy. “I have now figured out how to integrate this injury into my life and career.”