I’d like to tell you a short story about how Stephanie Strum got her life back.

Stephanie is a Moorhead, Minnesota, mother of three who sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) last August after crashing her mountain bike into the side of a Gooseberry Park hill. The accident left her with bleeding in the brain, and after her hospital stay ended, her mental fogginess and double vision did not. After months of no progress and the potential of corrective eye surgery looming, Stephanie began to explore other options to treat her TBI.

Her search led her to Fargo’s Healing with Hyperbarics Clinic and Dr. Daphne Denham, a general surgeon with more than a decade of experience treating people with hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). HBOT, which is currently FDA-approved for more than a dozen conditions, is a medical treatment where a patient breathes 100 percent oxygen in what’s called a hyperbaric chamber, and the result is a dramatic increase in the amount of oxygen in the blood and a dramatic decrease in swelling and inflammation.

Stephanie underwent five HBOT sessions total, noticing a significant difference both immediately and over time.

“After the first one, my eyes felt awesome,” she said in a recent interview. “They just felt so light. They’d been so heavy. I was on such a bad track, and all of a sudden, after those five treatments, I feel like it hit the reset button. After the (HBOT), I noticed that my personality came back. Before, I was just kind of a blank slate, and now I feel good and bubbly and energized again. I can drive. I’m back at work. It’s so exciting.”

Not only was she able to avoid eye surgery altogether, but just a couple months after her first HBOT treatment, she was back to her normal daily activities.

With March being Brain Injury Awareness Month, I want people around the region to know that Stephanie’s outcome is not an anomaly. Hundreds of others like her have seen similar results during and after the completion of Dr. Denham’s HBOT protocol, and every day, more and more people are realizing that “wait and see” isn’t the only option following a head injury. Whether you or a loved one suffered a concussion last week or a severe TBI 10 years ago, I want you to know that there is hope and a potential treatment option.

There’s also promising evidence that HBOT can treat many of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, welcome news to the nearly 1 million American veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD. If we can help even one of the nearly 20 vets who commit suicide each day across the country, isn’t HBOT worth spreading the word about and investing in further? We at Dakota Medical Foundation (DMF) certainly think so.

Last fall, in partnership with Dr. Denham, we established a pair of funds to provide HBOT for both concussed student-athletes and local veterans suffering from PTSD, respectively. The funds serve a dual purpose of treating those who would most benefit from hyperbaric and collecting the necessary data to convince policymakers and private insurers of its efficacy. Those efforts took a big step forward recently, with the North Dakota House unanimously passing a bill that would use HBOT to treat a whole spectrum of brain-injured North Dakotans.

I’d like to close by recognizing North Dakota entrepreneur and philanthropist Gary Tharaldson, without whom none of this would have been possible. He’s the one who first saw potential in HBOT, he’s the one who nudged Dr. Denham to leave her Chicago-area practice and move to Fargo last summer, and he’s the one who funded and got a clinic up and running in just six months. Having worked closely with both him and Dr. Denham over the past nine months and having seen countless patient testimonials, it’s easy to see why they’ve both made it their personal mission to ensure access to this revolutionary treatment.

Pat Traynor is the Executive Director at the Dakota Medical Foundation.

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