RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. (WNCN) – Post-traumatic stress disorder affects about 20 percent of combat veterans, according to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
It can be one of the most mentally debilitating effects of war. But now, there’s a very real possibility it could be treatable, if not totally curable.
“It has the potential to become a really big deal and potentially help hundreds of thousands of individuals — not only in the United States, but around the world,” said Kristine Rae Olmsted. She is a behavioral epidemiologist at RTI International in Research Triangle Park.
For nearly 100 years, a procedure called stellate ganglion block has been used for pain management. It was only in the last few years that researchers realized the neck injection could also help PTSD. It basically numbs a group of cells and nerves that regulate the body’s fight or flight reaction.
Results published in mid-November in the Journal of the American Medical Association are stunning. One of the trials includes results from a trial featuring patients at Fort Bragg’s Womack Army Medical Center.
“The patient gets an IV for safety purposes. They lay down in their street clothes and it’s a very fast procedure — less than five minutes, although a good provider will spend a good 45 minutes with the recipient,” said Rae Olmsted. “The area is prepared, sterilized, and a small amount of numbing medication is injected into the area and then the local anesthetic medication, whichever one’s being used by the provider, is injected.
“The patient usually stays around for about 20 minutes. They have to have a driver and they go about their way.”
“We heard stories about service members sitting up on the table and bursting into tears because they felt like the weight had been lifted from their shoulders,” Olmsted continued.
It’s a personal journey and mission for her. She said her dad is a Vietnam veteran and suffers from PTSD.
“There’s always been a part of me that wonders — has wondered — what is wrong with dad and how can we fix it?” Olmsted said.
Her father was awarded the bronze star. He brought much of Vietnam home with him. It’s a story told over and over by many others with many different sorts of trauma.
“Arguably, there are people in the study who suffered from military sexual trauma, perhaps vehicle crashes, certainly combat trauma,” Olmsted said.
Trauma that might become more of the past than the present.
“My dad, of course, has played a huge role in my life, and the thought that I could potentially help him and others like him has been really powerful,” Olmsted said.