Van E. Harl

SHAKEN AIRMAN SYNDROME

For years babies have died with what appeared to be no injuries. No noticeable blunt force trauma or external wounds. The problem was these small children were being shaken very hard by a parent or care giver and this violence damaged the newly developing brain. The baby with its weak, undeveloped neck muscles could not hold the head safely in place as the body was being whipped about. Many times after the actual shaking the baby is thrown into a crib. This rapid acceleration followed by a sudden deceleration as the child slams onto the mattress causes brain tissue damage. This causes enormous pressure in the baby’s skull. Blood vessels are compressed and the structure of the infant’s delicate brain suffers irreversible damage. In the medical and criminal world we call this shaken baby syndrome (SBS).

Unfortunately there are a lot of children trying to function in our society that are a product of SBS. As an infant they survived their trauma and undetected brain damage. They now manifest all types of mental and anti-social behavior that the unsuspecting public does not understand why. But brain damage caused by sudden and violent forced movement of a human brain is not just an infant problem.

Our troops currently serving in harm’s way are increasing suffering brain trauma in combat. They are surviving the attack not knowing they endured this violent shaking of their brain tissue and now are demonstrating many of the same symptoms that a surviving baby/victim of SBS present to the public. The current favorite weapon of choice of the Muslim extremist world is the improvised explosive device (IED). They set off a road side explosion as a US convoy drives by and the shock wave of the blast violently throws the Airman around inside the vehicle. His/her body armor and helmet protects him/her from flying secondary missiles, but these items cannot keep their head from flying around unsupported during the attack. What happens is, the person inside all the expensive personal protection equipment is being subjected to Shaken Airman Syndrome (SAS). I would suggest if it was a Marine, Sailor, or Solider it would be Shaken Marine, Sailor, or Solider Syndrome. When they attack is over that Airman may only appear to have suffered minor cuts and scrapes so he/she presses on with her convoy duties.

But what has happened is their brain tissue has just violently suffered the same rapid acceleration and deceleration that is associated with a baby suffering SBS. Many of the same symptoms that a surviving SBS child has are newly manifesting in the SAS Airman survivors: hearing loss, seizures, impaired intellect, problems with memory and attention. Because of improvements in modern body armor and ballistic resistant helmets the current American combat trooper has the highest rate of battlefield survivability. This however also means that soldiers who suffer traumatic body damage, such as multiple loss of limps now survives the battle unlike the WWI and WWII combat injured. Rescue helicopters crews are the Prince and Princess of the modern battlefield. If they can get your injured body out of the combat zone and to advanced medical help within an hour of the attack you most likely will survive.

In our current conflict the US military is seeing unusually high rates of traumatic brain injuries (TBI). In many cases the brain trauma is causing lifelong damage. As the exterior wounds heal and fade away the brain tissue does not heal correctly or heal at all. Our Veterans Affairs hospital system has four faculties that are set up to treat TBI and their patient load is on the increase. They are also rethinking some the protocols that were used to treat veterans of earlier conflicts who are diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Symptoms that were believed to be emotional related trauma caused in combat could in fact be because of SAS that caused undetected brain damage, damage that does not repair its self.

The House Veteran’s Affairs Committee is trying to direct between $12 and $19 million to the VA to use in increased research into TBI. There is also a Defense and Veteran Brain Injury Center that is working this extremely timely issue. Ever since the French Army first put metal helmets on their soldier’s heads, the survival rate in combat has gone up. It makes you wonder how many WWI troops survived a SAS situation only to be accused of failing in their military duties because they suffered undetected brain tissue damage.