Capt. Sean Niquette struggled to be himself. He was anxious, dizzy and sensitive to light. As his never-ending headaches lingered, his mind wandered and he couldn’t relate to others.
The soldier came back a different man than when he left for a nine-month deployment in Iraq, where he was exposed to a blast in July 2011. Although Niquette didn’t receive physical damage, he suffered from a concussion and continued the four months left in his deployment. When he returned to Fort Hood, Niquette recognized the feelings he was having as symptoms of traumatic brain injury and sought help.
“I was in a lot of pain, kind of to the point where I was unable to function,” he said.
Niquette shared his story of recovery Thursday during an open house at the Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic. Carl. R. Darnall Army Medical Center hosted the event as part of March’s National Brain Injury Awareness Month.
A traumatic brain injury, or concussion, consists of disruptions of the brain that occur following a blow or jolt to the head or penetrating head injury and can range from mild to severe.
In 2012, the Defense Department reported 29,668 cases of traumatic brain injury militarywide. Among those injuries, 18,836 were sustained by active-duty, guard and reserve soldiers in the Army. Those totals are down from 2011, where reports showed 32,609 traumatic brain injuries militarywide and 20,945 within the Army.
More than 80 percent of traumatic brain injuries to soldiers occur in nondeployment settings, according to the Defense Department website.
Capt. Sarah Gibbons, officer in charge of the clinic, said the open house was the first time they hosted a brain injury awareness event and she hopes to make it an annual thing.
“It’s important for the community to be aware of TBI,” she said. “It affects so many soldiers, especially with the recent conflicts we’ve been involved in and all the (roadside bomb) blasts and everything that’s been going on with concussions.”
Niquette, who also was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, said the counseling at the TBI clinic helped him deal with grief and process the loss of life that he saw overseas.
In need of organization, he said they also worked to improve his memory through concentration games and teaching him common-sense ways to remember things, such as putting reminders for things in his cellphone.
“He was struggling in his job being the platoon leader and keeping track of his soldiers,” said his wife, Lauren Niquette. Before his injury, his job was kind of second nature to him and he really enjoyed it and how he was struggling with it.”
There was a period of time, where he had to visit the clinic daily, but with the clinic’s services as well as little pushes from his wife to get out of the house and outside his comfort-zone, Sean Niquette has seen himself improve and is almost back to being himself again.
“It’s definitely been a struggle, just seeing him come back a different person, but it’s been a real joy to see him progress this last year and really recover from his TBI,” Lauren Niquette said.