The Face of the Enemy

For so long we heard that brain cells cannot regenerate. False. They do it all the time in petrie dishes. Why not in injured brains of living people? Behold that bright, colorful picture above, and don’t be fooled by the rainbow…this is the enemy of every person striving to recover function and potential after a brain injury. Meet the Nogo protein.

This protein, along with a few of his similar-minded friends are called “outgrowth inhibitors”; they tell injured cells not to regrow. They are the reason that precious stem cells don’t seem to have much of an impact on recovery. We are loading our loved ones with millions of cells of potential, only we are putting them into an environment that will not allow them to develop. It’s sort of like sitting in a Ferrari at a stoplight…you can imagine the possibilities, but if the light never changes color, that possibility is never a reality.

Lately, I’ve been fairly obsessed with this little devil, and my research has shown that as long as five years ago scientists were having success in disrupting the action of Nogo in the injured brains of rats, who exhibited functional gains as a result. I wonder…how far down the road we are towards trials in primates and humans.

And, I wonder if you know that in this country there are:

— Around 5.3 million people living with some form of disability from traumatic brain injury — this figure does not take into account survivors of anoxic injury like Abbie.

— 1 million people who are treated and released from an ER every year because of traumatic brain injury

— 230, 000 people who are hospitalized annually, and survive

— 50,000 people who die every year from TBI

By comparison, the American Cancer Society statistics show 184,450 new cases of breast cancer last year. While the American Heart Association reports that the most current data assessed shows 920,000 Myocardial Infarctions (heart attacks) in 2005. I wear pink ribbons gladly, and Ray sits on the board of the Heart Association…so, EVERY malady that affects people is important. But I wonder….where are the national spokesmen, women, and campaigns, the fundraising efforts, the legislation, and the well-funded research for the forgotten, invisible brain injury survivors and their families?

You know where they are? Focused on battles that seem winnable because the enemy has been defined: cancer cells, artery plaque…while brain injury has seemed a shadowy, one-way hallway where you don’t even know there’s an enemy, much less can you name and identify him.

As an Army officer I learned that to defeat an enemy, you must KNOW him, and know him well. I am encouraged by the research I see exposing the ways and means of Nogo. But, an Army also needs supplies, weapons, and support. We must frame our issue more appropriately, and more precisely in order to attain what is needed to win the battle on our particular front.

I have written a letter to the chairperson of the Brain Injury Association of America, Mr Joseph C. Richert, as well as the president of my state’s chapter to encourage them to frame brain injury recovery as more than a shot in the dark, to define the challenges limiting recovery (name names!!) and to ask for research focusing on making the environment in the brain conducive to recovery. We now have someone to shoot at (not Mr. Richert, but Nogo!), and that makes all the difference. If you are a brain injury family, would you consider doing this as well?

Seeing a picture of Nogo gave me great hope, not only because I can envision the scientific victory, but because this very day, I can now pray very specifically. God need not wait for elegantly-designed studies and new techniques…he could strike Mr. Nogo dead in his tracks right now. Will you join me in praying for that…for Nogo to be corralled back to his normal function in the body?

I fervently believe that especially in the body of a child, whose primary urge is to grow, if we could find a way to turn that light from red to green, those little axons would sprout like spring wildflowers.

Speaking of blossoms, my little Blooming Flower and I have been enjoying these unexpected cast-free days by running together each morning. Abbie gives me encouragement and joy while surveying the dogs, birds and flowers along the way. I found out last weekend she also gives me extra training, when I went running without her. I am so used to pushing her stroller that probably weighs 65 pounds with her, the suction machine, and some counter-balance dumbbells in the foot wells, that it doesn’t feel like effort to me. As I came to a hill last Saturday I fell in behind a musclebound jock-dude, thinking he would set a good pace. Five steps later I had to pass him, as he seemed to be plodding along while I fairly flew to the top. I felt so bad for him, getting smoked by a girl and all, that I thought perhaps I should explain that I’d been trained by the best:)!

As I continued my run I realized that hill was just like life. When God instructed us to “run the race marked out” for us, he didn’t mean for it to be burden-free, for it’s that additional weight that makes us strong, builds our character, and conforms us to His image. There will come a day, however, when we run freely, the burdens permanently lifted in the blink of an eye. We will rejoice in what we carried, for it will have given birth to the wings on our feet. If my Saturday run was a foretaste, I cannot wait! When you see me, I will be the one sprinting to the top of the hill with a goofy smile, trying to catch that rascally girl in front of me.

3 thoughts on “The Face of the Enemy

  1. I love the last paragraph! It’s so easy to get bogged down on the hills (I’m afraid sometimes that I’m like that male jogger – being passed by many).
    You are a perfect spokeswoman for brain injury research and I pray that your voice is heard by those who most need to hear!
    In His Love and Blessings,

  2. I enjoyed reading your blog post. I have tears in my eyes as I type. Your last paragraph hit home. My sister is 24 and 4 years ago this month she was in a car accident hit by a drunk driver and she has a Traumatic Brain Injury. My Mother takes care and exhausts herself with the struggle but never grows weary. It is an uphill battle. TBI is unfortunatlely a grossly ignored subject in America. I will check out the weblink that you posted. Thank you for sharing your blog!

  3. May Jesus continue to give you His strength to run the race, precious Tiffany!! We are praying for many more brilliant rainbows to shine upon Abbie, each & every day! Give your lil' Blooming Flower a big hug & kiss luv us all!
    K & crew ; )
    Lam 3:22-23
    Ps 27:14

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