This article comes to us from The Australian, an Australian news source. This story is about an Australian soldier who suffered from traumatic brain injury (and post traumatic stress disorder) which cause the dementia he died from earlier this month. To read more about TBI and dementia, please see my previous posts on Head Injuries and Dementia and on Sports and Dementia.
SEPTEMBER 4, 2015
When an improvised explosive device blew up Trooper Matt Millhouse’s armoured vehicle in Baghdad a decade ago, he was briefly knocked out. But he composed himself and then rushed to protect his wounded commander.
Trooper Millhouse was inside one of two ASLAVs when Lieutenant Garth Callender, who was manning the turret, received horrific injuries. Lieutenant Callender recovered fully from his injuries, but Trooper Millhouse, though physically unscathed, went on to suffer depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and, finally, early-onset dementia.
Last week, Trooper Millhouse succumbed to the dementia, which caused his brain to die. He was 36. He is survived by his wife Terese and young daughter Eleanor. His funeral was held yesterday in Hobart, while Australian soldiers serving in Iraq also held a service to mark his passing.
Ms Millhouse posted online last week that her husband “went peacefully surrounded by family”. “Rest now my beloved,” she wrote. “I love you more forever. You will be always in our hearts and memories. Your legacy will live on.”
Trooper Millhouse had calmly recounted how he was unafraid that day in Baghdad in October 2004 because he knew he could count on his mates.
“Yeah we were in a bad place and bad things could happen but as long as you are confident and work with good people, that is what gets you through because you are willing to follow them anywhere because you know they’ve got your back,” he said in a Defence interview.
Ms Millhouse has no doubt that her husband’s dementia was caused by the blast. After he was first diagnosed with depression and PTSD, she noticed that he was not moving properly, and that his speech was slurred. She thought he might have had a stroke, but then he was diagnosed with dementia at the age of 33.
“I believe he was affected by a traumatic brain injury caused by the explosion because I can’t see any other reason for it,” she told the NineNetwork. “It’s the only one that makes sense.”
Ian Hickie, a mental health expert at Sydney University, said there was a “recognised link” between traumatic brain injury and early onset dementia.
Lieutenant Callender said the blast had taken the life of his mate. “I owe Matt a lot,” he wrote in his book After the Blast.
“He helped protect me when I was injured in the streets of Baghdad, when I couldn’t protect myself. He assisted in my evacuation to hospital. He sat by my bed when I was in recovery after surgery.”
When he visited Trooper Millhouse a year ago, Lieutenant Callender was shocked to see that he could not walk or speak properly. Ms Millhouse told him that his condition was deteriorating quickly and that she noticed weekly changes.
“It appears that the bomb blast I survived in Iraq will kill a soldier,” he wrote.
Professor Hickie said there was a considerable amount of research in the US into tracing the linkages between exposure to blasts and brain injury, largely because there had been so many such injuries.
While the Australian Defence Force was doing a number of surveys on mental health, it was not looking at this specific issue. “We’ve not made the same investment into tracing these difficulties,” Professor Hickie said.
Department of Veterans’ Affairs figures show that 8486 veterans from conflicts since 1999 have an accepted health condition linked to their service. Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan make up more than half this number.
The number of Afghanistan veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD is now more than 1000 and is rising at a rate of 300 cases each year.