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First Lady Visits Military Brain Injury Center

First Lady Michelle Obama

By Rita Rubin
WebMD Health News

First Lady Michelle Obama toured a new outpatient center for active-duty service members diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and then met privately with some of their caregivers.

On the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the first lady started her visit by helping children of wounded service members make patriotic banners and crafts. “Do you realize you guys are heroes?” she said to the children at Fort Belvoir’s USO Warrior and Family Center, the largest USO center in the world.

Michelle Obama has focused on helping military families as part of her mission.

The Intrepid Spirit One, at an Army installation just south of Washington, D.C., is the first of nine satellites of the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, based on the campus of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Center patients have mild-to-moderate traumatic brain injury complicated by mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Fort Belvoir facility, which opened in July, expects to work with 600 patients and their families each year, says director Heechin Chae, MD, a neuropsychiatrist. A second satellite center has just been completed at Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps base in North Carolina, and ground has been broken for a third at Fort Campbell, an Army installation that straddles the Kentucky/Tennessee border.

The 25,000-square-foot center at Fort Belvoir includes a spacious gym, featuring an anti-gravity treadmill that can simulate a low-gravity environment and gradually increase it as patients become stronger. A functional studio apartment helps simulate scenarios patients might encounter in real life, such as performing multiple tasks—answering the phone while loading laundry into a washing machine, for example—at the same time.

Besides physical activity, the center addresses shortcomings in patients’ sleep and nutrition habits, both of which play key roles in their recovery, Chae says. Up to 40 percent of people with traumatic brain injury also have sleep apnea, compared to fewer than 10 percent of the rest of the population, he says.

Michelle Obama ended her visit by talking privately to caregivers of wounded service members.

Photo: Rita Rubin

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