Not all physical injuries are visible.
A documentary that puts a spotlight on the devastating effects of traumatic brain injuries is coming to Cody, and its message is one of hope.
“Quiet Explosions” will be playing at Big Horn Cinemas on Tuesday at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m., and will be shown free of charge, thanks to a collaboration between theater owner Tony Beaverson, the nonprofit organization Downrange Warriors, and the film’s director, Jerri Sher. Sher, an Emmy-award winning director, was drawn to the topic once she realized how widespread the impact of TBIs really are.
“Most of the people who have tremendous traumatic brain injury and PTSD end up trying to commit suicide,” said Sher. “I mean, 22 veterans commit suicide each day. So it’s staggering. And I did not know that there were these doctors working on methods and treatments that are not exactly what you would expect.”
Traumatic brain injuries happen when a sudden blow or jolt causes damage to the brain, as in a closed head injury; or when an object penetrates the skull. An average of two million people per year are diagnosed with TBIs, and they are a leading cause of death and disability in the United States, according to the CDC. For those who suffer a TBI, the effects can last from days to years.
Todd Bray is the president of Downrange Warriors, a nonprofit group based in Cody made up of veterans and civilian volunteers who are dedicated to helping other veterans cope with life after the military. He said he heard about the documentary after his organization was asked to assist a veteran who had gotten into some legal trouble in Park County this past summer - and that veteran led Bray to the neuroendocrinologist featured in the film, Dr. Mark Gordon.
“The entire time with that veteran, he kept saying ‘I need my meds,’” Bray recalled. “Turns out they were holistic meds from a doctor in California, Dr. Gordon. Then I started doing homework and ran across Andrew Marr, who is the Green Beret that the movie is made about, and come to find out that Dr. Gordon is the guy that turned Andrew Marr around.”
Marr, a Special Forces Green Beret who suffered multiple brain injuries while performing his duties as an explosives expert, is one of the stories at the center of “Quiet Explosions.” Although the VA prescribed over a dozen mind-altering medications, including narcotics, Marr continued to suffer fatigue, depression, panic, anxiety, disorientation, memory loss, and chronic pain. In a last desperate attempt to find relief from his condition, Marr found Dr. Gordon, whose therapies saved his life.
“When the head gets knocked, whether you’re in war, or you’re on the football field, or fall off a ladder, the pituitary gland doesn’t work anymore, so you’re not getting the hormones in your brain that you need to exist,” Sher explained. “You have more than 18 hormones in your brain at all times that you have to have. So then they do blood work, and they find out what’s missing, and how much is missing. And when these hormones are missing, that’s when all these symptoms start.”
“What we’re finding is, there are at least four or five major treatment lines you can take for brain damage and the restoration thereof,” Bray pointed out.
The film, “Quiet Explosions,” features experts in the field of brain health, including Dr. Daniel Amen, a clinical neuroscientist and psychologist; Neuroscientist Kristen Willeumier; and Dr. Scott Sherr, an integrative health doctor; along with celebrities like Joe Rogan, who has featured Dr. Gordon and Andrew Marr on his radio show. Victims of TBIs appearing in the film include professional athletes, military veterans and first-responders – all of whom have suffered severe PTSD and depression following a brain injury. Additionally, the documentary highlights the issue of emotional traumas that act on the brain in the same way as physical injuries.
“I never knew that you could have emotional trauma that equated in the brain to a TBI,” Bray said.
One of the most relatable people featured in the documentary is Sher’s own husband, Alan.
“My husband had a heart attack at the age of 50,” Sher said. “And since then, he hasn’t worked at anything because he has so much brain impairment. And I was telling Mark (Dr. Gordon) about it. And he started on the blood work and sure enough, everything (all the hormones) in his brain was missing. And they started on the protocols, and he got better and better and better.”
Sher said that when she mentioned to her editor that if time were a factor, she could cut Alan from the final film - but the editor disagreed.
“She’s like, ‘Oh, no, he’s like the guy next door. He is the guy from Kalamazoo. He’s the guy from Montana. Everybody will be able to relate to him because not everyone is a star surfer or a quarterback,’” Sher recalled. “I mean, he was suicidal, he had all the same exact symptoms as the other characters you’ll see. It’s pretty astounding.”
In rural Wyoming, civilian injuries are all too common. Bray’s own daughter suffered a TBI last year after a ranching accident. Through his contact with the film’s director, Bray has found help for his daughter’s injury.
“My oldest daughter, Presley, was in a very serious ranch accident over a year ago and was knocked unconscious,” Bray explained. “And we’re seeing some of the signs of the TBI.”
Bray said he had mentioned the incident to Sher while making arrangements for her to come to Cody for the presentation on January 25.
“About two weeks ago, I get a phone call in the middle of the evening and it’s Dr. Gordon,” he said. “Jerri talked to Dr. Gordon, and Dr. Gordon is now taking an interest in treating Presley. And so this whole full circle thing is to make the public aware that it’s not just military – it’s also athletic and civilian injuries, and to try to help everybody understand the unbelievable progress that they have made in treating TBI and brain injuries. A huge amount of neurological knowledge is now being discovered.”
The documentary highlights alternative therapies that are proving useful in helping those who have suffered TBIs.
“The hyperbaric oxygen therapy is another treatment used which I was not aware of,” Sher said. “I knew HBOT was good for burn victims, but I had no idea they could use it to restore oxygen in the brain. And TMS, which is transcranial magnetic stimulation, is what football player Mark Rypien used (as a TBI treatment). And of course diet, you know, lifestyle. It was staggering to think that there’s so much out there that people either don’t know about or don’t realize can help them.”
“One of our challenges is to find people in the VA who want to work with us,” Bray said, referring to the alternative therapies featured in the documentary. “We can show them the results of what’s going on that might just help Dr. Gordon’s efforts in some way.”
Bray said his eyes have been opened in so many ways because of this documentary, and the people that it’s put him in contact with.
“I thought it was only combat veterans,” he said. “And it is not. It’s athletic guys, and it’s people with civilian injuries. And what we have learned is, through hormonal therapy or oxygen therapy or magnetic therapy, or all these other areas, they can use those to get back more to the human being they were before the accident happened.”