The parents of a former Columbus North High School basketball standout offered testimony in an Indiana Senate hearing about how their son’s hyperbaric oxygen chamber treatments are helping in his recovery from a traumatic brain injury.
Dave and Lisa Speidel provided information to the Veterans’ Affairs and The Military Committee on Tuesday for Senate Bill 454, a bill authored by Sens. Mike Delph, R-Indianapolis, Michael Crider, R-Greenfield, and Frank Mrvan, D-Hammond.
The bill proposes to use a lottery scratchoff system to fund a trial assessing the benefits of hyperbaric oxygen chamber treatments for veterans who have suffered traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Josh Speidel, the Columbus North graduate who now is studying at University of Vermont and is a member of the Catamounts basketball team, received nine of the treatments in Carmel as recently as Christmas vacation, his mother said.
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During the Senate hearing, Lisa Speidel took Senate committee members back to Feb. 1, 2015, when Josh Speidel was injured in a car crash on U.S. 31 in Taylorsville, suffering a severe traumatic brain injury with diffuse axonal injury.
“We learned that 90 percent of people with a severe DAI don’t live, and 10 percent live in a vegetative state,” she told committee members.
Lisa is an assistant principal at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School in Seymour, and Josh served as a classroom assistant there during the 2015-16 school year. Josh’s father works for Frontier Communications in Seymour.
Josh, who was only 18 when the accident happened, spent 16 days at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis in a coma that doctors evaluated in the range of “brain dead,” his mother said.
After Methodist, Josh went to Select Specialty Hospital for 35 days and then spent 68 days at Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana — and it was at Select that he began to emerge from the coma, she said.
He received physical, occupational and speech therapy, but Lisa said viewing the situation as his mother, she wanted more.
“I believed there was more out there that could help Josh recover. He believed he could make it to the University of Vermont. As parents, we wanted to do everything possible to help him reach his goal of being a Division I student-athlete,” she said.
While he was continuing his therapy in Indianapolis three days a week, a friend called the family to tell them about hyperbaric oxygen chamber therapy and that it was available at Wellness Origin in Carmel.
After researching the therapy, Lisa said she learned the service was traditionally not available for traumatic brain injuries and was not covered by the family’s insurance.
Despite that, the family met with Wellness Origin personnel in October 2015 and began having Josh go occasionally for the hyperbaric oxygen treatments, funded through the GoFundMe account that was established by then-Columbus North senior Keirsten White to help the family after the accident.
Along with diet modifications and vitamins, after about 10 sessions, Josh’s voice became clearer, and he started moving with a smoother gait, his mother told the committee.
At the time, he was relearning to do everything, his mother said.
“His brain did not recognize the left side of his body. He would take his right hand and grab his left to make it move. He had to learn how to walk again,” she said.
Then, Josh was using a walker, leg brace and gait belt and could not get in and out of the hyperbaric oxygen chamber without assistance, she said. As other therapies continued along with 10 hyberbaric oxygen treatments in a row, a significant jump in his recovery occurred, his mother said.
“His focus was much clearer, his speech was much clearer, his ability to carry on conversation improved — he got rid of his walker and his gait became much steadier,” Lisa said.
By January 2016, he was taking two classes at Ivy Tech Community College’s Columbus campus.
Although the family could take him for treatments only one time a week until June, testing showed he had progressed to the point he could attend college with accommodations, Lisa said.
“We were told he would never be able to handle a college class load, especially one at Vermont,” she said. “Prior to leaving for University of Vermont, he did another two-week session, and we again saw a leap in his recovery.”
Then, Joshl began to take a couple of steps while dribbling a basketball with his right hand, his focus continued to improve, his voice levels increased and he was reading novels and working on improving his short-term memory, Lisa said.
At this point, he wanted to go back for more hyperbaric oxygen treatments, saying he felt better with the treatments.
After a full semester at University of Vermont in the fall of 2016, he completed another nine sessions of treatments in Carmel while on Christmas break at home, Lisa said.
“Three days after he returned to campus, his trainers sent us a video of Josh running for the first time, dribbling the length of the court and then doing side shuffles while dribbling with his left hand,” she said.
In a few days, he was running full-on sprints and doing left-handed layups, she said.
Lisa emphasized that her son was not a part of any study, and she could not say definitively that the hyperbaric oxygen treatments were the catalyst for her son’s amazing recovery.
“But we do believe it was a key piece of therapy along with craniosacral massage, physical therapy, occupational therapy and cognitive rehabilitation training,” she said. “He has completed 61 hyperbaric oxygen treatment sessions and will do more when home for the summer. We believe Josh is a living, walking miracle.”
In a telephone interview, Delph said he has determined that all 10 members of the committee hearing the Senate bill, which includes Republicans and Democrats, are in favor of the legislation and will move the bill forward.
Right now, the committee could not vote on the measure, as it requires a change in the contract with Indiana’s privately run lottery to allow the state to ask for the special scratchoff ticket program to fund the study, Delph said.
If that change can be negotiated, Delph’s bill and a similar bill to provide homelessness services to veterans could be funded through the lottery program, he said.
Delph, who is a major in the Army Reserves, said he combined his interest in alternative medicine with his commitment to help veterans get the treatment they need to restore meaning to their lives and make them whole. His interest in hyperbaric therapy comes from his experience as a scuba diver.
“As a commander, you take care of your soldiers,” he said of the idea to try the therapy for veterans. “You do everything to help them succeed in your mission, and you don’t leave anyone behind.”
Delph said the Speidel family’s story was one of parents who when faced with the unthinkable that their son might be in a vegetative state in a nursing home, who simply refused to accept it.
“His mother, she just said, ‘That’s not happening,’” Delph said. “They refused to quit. And we won’t quit on our veterans.”
During her testimony, Lisa said she couldn’t hold back the tears when talking about her son’s recovery. She had asked her husband to hold her shoulder if it seemed she was about to get emotional, but that didn’t stop the tears, she said.
“What Dave and I both said from the beginning of this journey is that we wanted it to turn to the positive in some way,” she said.
“And if this is the way we could take something horrible and make something positive about it, we believe very strongly that we should take our life experiences and use it to help other people,” said. “If there is a chance that hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatments can help a veteran suffering from PTSD or a traumatic brain injury, that’s what we want to do.”
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized room. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a well-established treatment for decompression sickness, a hazard of scuba diving. Other conditions treated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy include serious infections, bubbles of air in blood vessels and wounds that won’t heal as a result of diabetes or radiation injury.
In a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber, the air pressure is increased to three times higher than normal air pressure. Under these conditions, lungs can gather more oxygen than would be possible breathing pure oxygen at normal air pressure.
Blood carries this oxygen throughout the body. This helps fight bacteria and stimulate the release of substances called growth factors and stem cells, which promote healing.
— The Mayo Clinic
Senate Bill 454 is a request for a veterans’ treatment pilot program to be funded through a state lottery scratchoff game to provide health care to Indiana veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder related to the individual’s service as a member of the armed forces. Treatment would be provided at no cost to the veterans, and the state health commissioner would appoint an advisory board for the program.
While testimony on the bill was heard Tuesday in the Senate chamber, no vote was taken as senators are working out how the bill would work with the privately managed Indiana lottery system.
The bill is authored by Sens. Mike Delph, R-Indianapolis, Michael Crider, R-Greenfield, and Frank Mrvan, D-Hammond.