Troops With Traumatic Brain Injury Face Long Road to Recovery

But the raw numbers have left VA clinicians with mixed reactions. Some display a heady sense of accomplishment. "If you bring them back alive, we've taken care of them," says physician Steven Scott, head of the polytrauma center here in Tampa.

Others are more cautious. "We still know almost nothing about [the brain] and how it restructures itself and what you can do to support it over time," says Mcnamee, the VA polytrauma director in Richmond. "We [in this area of science] are in the dark ages of brain injury medicine. We can turn the dials a little bit. ... Hopefully it's enough to kick somebody over the edge. And they start to recover."

'Every Day, He Surprises Me'

As of mid-January, Cory Remsburg had successfully managed two key tasks consistently.

He followed commands — displaying two, three or four fingers on request or sticking out his tongue — and used objects, trying to brush his hair or his teeth, or throwing a ball, says VA speech therapist Erline Nakano.

Remsburg subsequently began using a treadmill despite significant paralysis on his left side. Suspended from a harness, he is assisted by four therapists — one helping with each leg, a third behind him and a fourth on the treadmill computer.

More recently, speech has gradually returned.

"Every day, he surprises me with some new movement or ability to do something," says physical therapist Barbara Darkangelo. "It's just the way he's built. ... He wants to keep trying."

In an interview, answering questions on a computer keyboard with his stronger right hand, Remsburg is by turns optimistic and disappointed.

He says he loves the treadmill and is "without a doubt" confident of regaining the body and mind of a Ranger. But progress is agonizingly slow and he still feels "0 percent" of the man he once was.

He ends on a pensive note: "Never thought I'd be here."

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