Brain Injury Awareness Day on Capitol Hill
The Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA) and the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force hosted a virtual Brain Injury Awareness Day congressional briefing on March 3, 2021, in honor of Brain Injury Awareness Month. This event is the 20th of its kind to occur, however, instead of an in-person reception and briefing in Washington D.C., it was held online to raise awareness of the ways the pandemic has impacted persons with brain injuries.
Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) impact an estimated 5.3 million people in the United States today, according to the CDC, with TBIs being the leading cause of death and disability in children and young adults.
Brain injury is a bipartisan issue that both Democrats and Republicans in this country care deeply for, with Representatives Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) and Don Bacon (R-Neb.) heading the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force.
“To see this grow from infancy, from when a few congressmen in a phone booth would have represented us, to now, is amazing,” said Pascrell on the growth of the Brain Injury Task Force. Over time, the issues that the task force has had to deal with have greatly evolved, with Covid-19 creating huge challenges. “Covid-19 has been documented to cause a loss of consciousness, confusion, strokes, seizures and headaches.
“The United States has over 28 million confirmed Covid cases with an unknown number of survivors with short and long-term brain injuries,” said Michael J. Hall, Ph.D., a Neuropsychologist in the Iowa City Veterans Affairs Health Care System.
Hall continued, “One of the reasons why we think Covid is having such an effect on people’s neurological functioning is because it is neurotoxic and crosses over people’s blood-brain barrier (BBB), into their brain matter and spinal cord tissue. This raises the concern that Covid could have long-term impacts because once it’s in the central nervous system, it could lay dormant and come back and be a problem at a later time.”
“In one study, 53 percent of Covid patients had altered mental status, 24 percent had fatigue, 20 percent had strokes, and 14 percent were discharged with a moderately severe disability,” stated Hall.
Brain injuries are ever-present in civilians, including individuals who play sports, and those who have served in the military. Representative Bacon, a veteran who now advocates for military members with brain injuries, spoke of the unique circumstances service members face. “In Iraq, you could feel the car bomb concussions from a half-mile away. There were a lot of people walking around with TBIs and the military had to lead the way with addressing this problem.”
Eric Washington, a former college football player, sustained a few concussions that ultimately lead to the development of his TBI. Along with his brain injury, at the start of the pandemic, he was diagnosed with stage 3 multiple myeloma and given 6 months to live. “My doctor said, ‘Honestly Eric, you do not have to worry about Covid and what is outside, but what is killing you inside.’”
“My mother came down Oct.1 to be with me after my bone marrow transplant. My mother and I contracted Covid while she was visiting, and I must have picked it up from the hospital I was transported from. My mother then passed away on Oct.13 and 10 days later I found out my transplant was unsuccessful.”
Washington was suffering from a brain injury, the neurological effects of Covid, the impacts of chemotherapy, and on top of all of that, the death of his mother. This instance serves as a perfect example of the way that persons with brain injuries have been severely impacted by the pandemic. “Now everyone knows how it feels to have a brain injury, where you are able to do something one day, and another it is taken away.”
“There needs to be future longitudinal studies to prove the long-term impacts of Covid-19 on brain injuries and neurology,” concluded Hall on the future of neurological research. Currently, Congress has allocated over $1.15 billion in funding over the next four years for the NIH to research the prolonged health consequences of Covid-19.
Pascrell concluded, “The brain injury community needs more resources to help both existing and new brain-injured Americans to ensure they recover the care and rehab they need. We need you to let your representatives know how TBI impacts their districts and how important these resources are. We are ready for the next chapter.”