TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Doctors prescribed seven different medications to Staff Sgt. Christopher Liby, retired U.S. Marine Corp/U.S. Army, when he returned to Vail.
Liby's unit was hit by a blast from an IED on June 24, 2008 in Afghanistan. He survived and ignored any pain in order to return to duty. But Liby's injuries caught up with him two months later.
A combination of back, neck and head pain plus PTSD provided Liby with enough troubles to visit multiple doctors whom he said typically changed his prescriptions.
"I always felt medication sick, I guess you would call it," he said. "There were many times where I would refuse to take them at times and it would put me in the hospital."
A referral landed him at the office of Dr. Carol Henricks and her hyperbaric oxygen chamber. Through the support of local organizations, Henricks is able to provide treatment free of charge to two veterans. She said veterans with similar brain injuries to Liby are dealing with the same troubles when they return from service.
"They're confused," she said. "They have headaches. They can't sleep. Their families know that they're not themselves."
Liby said he was angry when he wasn't in a haze from his pills. There were times when he would run people off the road because they cut him off in traffic. His own children noticed something wasn't right.
"I wouldn't say they were scared of me," said Liby. "They would just go to mommy first for everything."
For the last month, Liby's traveled north of Tucson from Vail in order to spend an hour breathing pure oxygen in the pressurized chamber. Inside he can watch TV, but Henricks provides magazines and puzzles to stimulate better brain activity.
Since he started, Liby has stepped down his pain medication and other prescriptions from seven to three and he credits Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy. He said his anger issues are gone and he feels more clear in his thinking and his interactions with his children.
"Now they're coming to me for everything and asking me to come play with them and do all that stuff," he said. "It's great."
Despite testimonials like Liby's, a study by the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs earlier this year found oxygen therapy to be ineffective in treating concussion-related injuries. Another study is scheduled to be complete by 2016.
Henricks said veterans with brain injuries aren't properly diagnosed because MRIs and CT scans aren't sensitive enough to detect the damage that can be healed through HBOT.
Oklahoma now has a law that provides HBOT to veterans at no cost to them and lawmakers in Texas are considering a similar bill. Henricks and Liby are working with a State Senator in Arizona to draft one as well.
"We know many, many stories of veterans who were suicidal who were truly helped by the therapy to recover," said Henricks.