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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

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Winning the Battle

A soldier returns unscathed from Iraq, only to watch his son suffer the “signature wound” of the war

War Story continued...

One comrade suffered a concussion in a vehicle accident; another was standing too lose to a bomb that detonated in Baghdad. Often angry and frustrated, the men still struggle to regain their memory and language skills and “make sense of the world,” Story says. “All of that just made me aware of the risks of mental challenges or injuries, and the rehabilitation and recovery process associated with trauma.”

As for his own fears of getting hurt, he says, “As a young man, I felt immortal, that I could survive anything. I took too many risks in hindsight, as a young man and a young officer. When I went off to war, even for the second time, I still believed that nothing bad was going to happen to me. I was nonetheless aware that it could and I accepted that risk.”

Parenting was a different story. When his two daughters started driving and staying out late, he worried he’d get one of those calls a father never wants to get. And when Austin, a strong athlete, took up football, lacrosse and weight lifting, Story cautioned the boy not to take too many chances. Stubborn and sometimes reckless, Austin didn’t always listen.

The Unthinkable Happens

Story helplessly witnessed the end of Austin’s fall that day as if it were happening in slow motion. Landing near the bottom of the waterfall, the teenager rolled onto the ground, hitting his left thigh, shoulder and, finally, his head. Story hurried to his son’s side. Blood covered the rocks, but Austin didn’t appear to have any broken bones. Story picked Austin up, started to carry him and soon realized that he was too heavy. A friend comforted Lisa and called 9-1-1, and several ambulances arrived moments later. “At that point, when I knew somebody else had control of him, I collapsed, weeping,” Story remembers.

A few miles away, a MedEvac helicopter was waiting to transport Austin to Morristown Memorial Hospital. There he underwent successful emergency surgery for an epidural hematoma, and doctors induced a temporary coma to let his brain heal. His neck was bruised but his spine was intact.

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