CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Images from his service in Iraq are still vivid for 31-year-old former Marine Matt Thomas.
“For the rest of your time over there, you are wondering am I next, is my buddy next?” he said.
In the eight years since he returned home to Charlotte, powerful memories have nearly paralyzed him.
He tried to numb it all with alcohol and drugs, and he ended up homeless.
“Labeled anxiety disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar, manic depression,” Thomas said.
Fourteen months ago, Thomas hit rock bottom.
“I figured at this point, why not just end it? ” Thomas said. “It will take the pain away, and they won't have to deal with this. My family won't have to keep trying and trying, and more importantly, they won't have to watch me keep going through this.”
Then Thomas met veterans' advocate Lane Ostrow, who told him about a doctor in Chicago and a breakthrough treatment.
“He started to tell me about this miracle shot,” Thomas said. “I'm like, ‘I've heard this before,’ miracle cure.”
Dr. Eugene Lipov pioneered the use of a shot to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. He says the stellate ganglion block, which involves an injection into the neck, has a 92 percent success rate.
“This ganglion happens to be sympathetic fibers, which is fight or flight, so from here, it is connected to the brain, so when you do the shot here (in the neck), that is why it can have an effect in the brain,” Dr. Lipov said.
Dr. Lipov said severe stress or trauma can spark an overproduction of what's known as nerve growth factor, or NGF.
In the brain, that triggers an overgrowth of the nerves that control anxiety.
“When you put a local anesthetic in the neck, it reduces NGF and it kills off the nerves that should not be there. That's why it is called a reboot back to your pre-trauma state.”
Thomas flew to Chicago and got the injection just a few weeks ago.
“I woke up and came to in tears,” Thomas said. “It was as close to night and day as you can get. Through this shot, I've had a peace over me.”
Ostrow runs Dr. Lipov's Global PTSI Foundation based in Charlotte.
He is committed to those who have served and are now suffering because of it.
“That is the work of the foundation,” Ostrow said. “We pay for the treatments and transport people to get there.”
Statistics show that 22 veterans commit suicide each day.
Thomas said he is grateful he won’t be one of them.
“It feels really good. It feels good to have freedom,” Thomas said. “I feel like this injection has catapulted me above and beyond my own problems, so I can do what we as veterans do best, which is to get out there and help our fellow brothers and sisters.”
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