Celebrating Our Heroes

Indiana funds pilot program offering treatment option specifically for veterans

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy helps Indiana veteran

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – A few weeks ago, News 8 met Chuck Lee at his office in Trafalgar. Lee is a partner and director of veterans affairs for Tuc Track Inc. and Tracks4Vets. His office is set in a barn in rural Johnson County.

The day we met, Lee had one picture of his time in the service, taken as he jumped from an aircraft.

Lee joined the Army and became a member of the 82nd Airborne Division based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He spent nine years in the Army and if he had his way, he would still be in uniform.

“If you asked me if I was do it all over again, I would be the first one on the plane. That’s how much I love this country and the people in it,” Lee said. “I believe you have to stand up and fight for our country and we have to fight for the ones that can’t stand up and fight for themselves.”

Lee first saw action in 1989 with Operation Just Cause to overthrow Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega. While with the 82nd Airborne Division, he saw action during the Gulf War.

After nine years of combat, jumping out of planes and exposure to chemicals, he came back to Indiana a much different man.

“When I first got back, I drank heavy, more beer than anything. But you know what, you are lost. You lose your team, you try, and you are trying to fit back into society,” said Lee.

Lee’s service to his country presented him with another fight: the fight for his life.

“I hit rock bottom, got stuck behind the four walls. Depression crept in. The PTSD it just eats you up,” Lee said. “The hardest part was watching my wife and kids go through it with me. I didn’t realize how much they were going through. I thought it was just ‘me, me, me, me, me.’ But it wasn’t. They were going through it just as much as I was.”

Lee’s liver was failing, his brain was broken, and he was confined to a wheelchair by the pain coursing through his body. Doctors prescribed every painkiller on the market, but the pain persisted, and he’d had enough.

Lee then shared with News 8 something his wife has never heard.

“One morning, she left for work and I made my way to the bathroom and had the gun to my head and she came back in,” Lee said. “She forgot something and when she came in the door, she hollered and I hit the floor and started crying like a baby. I hid the weapon and I never said anything from that point on, I just let it go… She needs to know… between her and my family and God, that has been my biggest support.”

Lee turned to alternative medicine. He discovered hyperbaric oxygen therapy, commonly called HBOT.

During HBOT, the patient breathes pure oxygen in a pressurized room or tube. The air pressure is increased to three times higher than normal air pressure. Under these conditions, your lungs can gather more oxygen than normal. For Lee, the treatments were nothing short of a miracle.

“Yeah that was my first session of HBOT, down in North Carolina. I did 40 dives down there, two weeks,” Lee said. “(I) didn’t really notice a difference in the first week going through it, but I started noticing a difference the second week. And I started noticing a little bit the, actually I didn’t even know what it was because I hadn’t felt it in so long. I had the energy, the overall sense of well-being.

“I felt like I was back in high school again as the treatment started going. The progression of my symptoms kind of started dying down, diminishing,” Lee added. “I mean, the inflammation to the muscle tremors and spasms, even my blood pressure and high cholesterol, liver enzymes, it started changing the effects of what was happening to my body over there and it was all positive.”

In 2017 the Veterans Administration began offering HBOT to a small group of veterans suffering from traumatic brain injuries. The treatment is considered “off-label” and is not widely supported in the VA.

But there is hope for Indiana veterans. Two years ago, state lawmakers approved an HBOT pilot program. Purdue’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering and Clark Memorial Hospital in Jeffersonville will use HBOT treatments on 15 veterans with mild to moderate traumatic brain injuries.

Art Terlep of the Purdue Neurotrauma Group and a former captain in the Air Force is helping administer the pilot program.

“Well there is a lot of anecdotal evidence and it is not just anecdotal. There is also a lot of survey data that kind of backs up what is going on,” Terlep said. “Our job at Purdue is to establish the efficacy from a physical MRI standpoint, and we want to make sure that we have. We kind of of identify the physical mechanisms that are at play within the brain that are actually changing as the HBOT is going on, so if there is something to be found here, we are gonna find it.”

The chosen veterans will undergo 40 HBOT treatments and a series of MRI’s before, during and after the treatments. The pilot program will take a year. 

Purdue is actively recruiting veterans for this program. To be considered, there are a couple of guidelines. Veterans with shrapnel or metal implants will most likely not qualify.

Interested candidates should contact Art Terlep at the Purdue Neurotrauma Group at purduehbot@gmail.com.