Now, an area doctor says an injection commonly used to control pain, can also help a traumatized brain.
The sights and sounds of war. For some veterans the images and feelings don't go away.
"A lot of dead bodies, the destruction. Telling people to do things that could get them killed. That weighs a lot on my mind," said Shane Wheeler, veteran.
After two separate tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, 35-year-old Shane Wheeler made it home with no physical wounds. He thought he left the war behind but the memories of what he experienced in combat wouldn't go away.
"Seeing a few of my friends died in front of me," said Wheeler. "I think that put me over the edge."
Shane now suffers from post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Symptoms vary but for many it involves re-living traumatic episodes. Researchers believe part of the brain becomes stuck in an overactive state.
"I haven't been able to function with a normal life since I got back," said Wheeler.
And that's why Shane has traveled from Radford , Virginia to Hoffman Estates. He's hoping an experimental procedure involving an injection in his neck will work. It's called a stellate ganglion block.
"It's to reset the area of the brain that has become abnormal where they have this heightened sense of excitement," said Dr. Jay Joshi, anesthesiologist, Advanced Pain Centers.
Dr. Eugene Lipov and his team have been doing this procedure for years to treat severe hot flashes. And now they say it appears to work on PTSD patients.
Shane is the second veteran to give it a try.
A common numbing medication is injected around a group of nerves in the neck.
Dr. Lipov says the medication quiets a substance called nerve growth factor involved in triggering the over excitement in the brain.
The procedure is quick and the patient leaves with just a band aid.
"It seems to work between three months to six months, maybe 9 months," said Dr. Eugene Lipov, anesthesiologist, Advanced Pain Centers.
Kurtis Noblett at the Hines VA Hospital is a PTSD specialist. He supports efforts to find newer options. But for now he says he is skeptical about this treatment.
"I'm also going to be skeptical about treatments that claim to be a quick fix. PTSD is very complex with a whole host of symptoms and problems and associated difficulties that in my mind needs a broader approach to treatment," said Dr. Noblett.
Shane says he tried more conventional treatments but nothing seemed to work. After his first injection there wasn't much change but after the second he now feels calmer and less anxious. Shane also hopes that means he'll eventually go back to being an EMT.
"You have to be mentally strong to be in that kind of position. I mean we will just have to wait and see what happens and I'll go from there," said Wheeler.
Dr. Lipov says he's been in contact with pain specialists at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He says they are in the process of evaluating this procedure as a possible treatment for PTSD. The V.A. says this technique is experimental and there are conventional therapies that work. The key for patients is getting diagnosed, then finding the treatment that works for them.
Dr. Eugene Lipov
Advanced Pain Centers
2260 W. Higgens Rd.
Hoffman Estates, Il.
Hines VA Hospital
5000 S. Fifth Ave.
Hines, Il 60141
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
National Center for PTSD