Racing Dedication Story

This weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the Armed Forces Foundation (AFF), Kurt Busch and Phoenix Racing honored SSG Joseph Altmann, who was killed in action in Afghanistan on Dec. 25, 2011. His widow, Nikki Altmann, traveled from Texas to be there for the dedication. What follows is a letter from Nikki to the AFF.

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Dear Armed Forces Foundation,

I want to first say thank you to the Armed Forces Foundation’s (AFF) Patricia Driscoll, Kurt Busch and the Phoenix Racing team. This was a wonderful and memorable weekend where my husband, SSG Joseph Altmann, was honored for his service. He was KIA in Afghanistan on Dec. 25, 2011.

This weekend started off with the flights from Texas to New Hampshire. Friday morning I went to the track to watch the practice runs. There I met with Craig of Kurt Busch Inc. (KBI), who took me to see the No. 51 car! There on the A-pillar, right behind the window, was the dedication to my husband, Joe. My heart leaped with joy and honor as my eyes filled with tears. I remember the team was working on the car and getting it ready to run. They stopped and introduced themselves and took in this moment with me. It was an incredible sight to see, as this team’s heart truly showed its colors. To take this moment with a complete stranger, to show respect and honor to a fallen soldier, blew me away and I will forever be grateful.

To see the patriotic side of NASCAR up close assured me that there are those out there proud to be an American and grateful for what our military does. They showed that my husband died with honor. This was their way to say thank you and it showed that actions speak louder than words.

As Saturday rolled around with the Nationwide Series, I had the privilege to meet with Patricia Driscoll, President and Executive Director of the Armed forces Foundation, who I have come to find out is a native of Texas, oh yeah! I feel this gave us a closer connection. She has a heart of gold and spoke so highly, with poise, dignity and honor of the AFF. She sat with me and asked me everything about Joe and his life – wanting to hear my story in person. She is an amazing person, a loving mom, which I saw with her son Houston; future driver of NASCAR I am sure! He loves being at the races and everyone welcomed me into their life and behind the sense of NASCAR. I am proud to say I will definitely be following NASCAR now, as this is one intense sport, filled with true American pride and people who want to make a difference!

Sunday… “Race Day!”

As we arrived at the track, my family and I were greeted by Kurt Busch himself. He sat and spoke to us, wanting to make sure we were enjoying ourselves and to express how honored he was to be riding “with” Joe. As the excitement grew and we heard the engines start on pit row, the love of this sport and the honor and pride for this special race was felt from every member of the Phoenix Racing team. Mind you, in a stadium that is filled with 25,000 people and with hundreds more on pit row for each team and driver, I could honestly say that No. 51 stood out above the rest.

The experience of being on pit row and truly being up close and personal with NASCAR is something words cannot describe. It is an amazing thing, something I will never forget.

As the National Anthem was about to begin I was invited to stand with Kurt, the Phoenix Racing team and Patricia by the No. 51. All I could do as I heard our National Anthem play was place one hand over my heart… that now beats for two. The other hand I placed on the decal for Joe; and stood strong and proud.

I was so moved tears just flowed from my eyes. Soon I could feel Patricia come join me and she too had tears in her eyes. Together we stood, for me it was saying I am not alone, this new family I have joined thru NASCAR is standing with me. I was filled with pride and gratitude for the sacrifice my husband made.

This weekend was something I will carry forever and continue to talk about.

For me, this was a fun-filled weekend that I hope will inspire others to go out and enjoy life and live it. If not for yourself then for the memory of the loved one you may have lost. I know for me, Joe would not want to see me sad, as he watches over me from above. He would want me to live. “He died for me. I live for him. “

With a grateful heart.

Sincerely,

Nikki Altmann

Proud widow of SSG Joseph Altmann

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First I must say thank you Jesus for the blesssings we have received.  Now I must thank you all and the Armed Forces Foundation.

Thank you for taking the time out to help our family. We are very appreciative and will pay this blessing forward. I always say money is not everything and does not make a person, but it is needed to survive. We are slowly making it through our little sun shower and know that it is almost over and that we will make it better than before. We thank you all again.

Have a blessed day.

-Military Family from San Antonio, TX

 

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A Note from Dr. Albert E. Zant, MD

OPEN LETTER TO TBI/PTSD INJURED MILITARY PERSONNEL

As a Physician I would like to share my experience in evaluating and treating concussions (mild Traumatic Brain Injury- mTBI) in military and civilian patients over the last 3 years. This letter was first published in SurvivalBlog.com. In this article concussion and mTBI refer to identical injuries. This is a very pertinent discussion at this time due to the recent unfortunate shooting incident in Afghanistan by a US Military soldier diagnosed with TBI (traumatic brain injury). The Rand Corporation estimates there are over 350,000 US military men and women suffering from concussion symptoms (mTBI) and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) from blast incidents in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of these wounded warriors are still trying to cope with their injured brain disabilities. Many are being redeployed after the diagnosis of TBI is made. They have not been able to return to a normal and productive lifestyle. In the civilian population concussions occur in more than 6 per 1,000 people each year. Common causes of civilian concussion are falls or blows to the head, motor vehicular accidents, bike accidents, sport injuries, or exposure to loud noises (explosion, etc). Most concussions (80-90%) resolve in a short period (7-10 days).

I was an active duty US Army physician from 1969 to 1971 and very familiar with military medicine. All of our recently treated concussed patients were months, some years, post concussion and still experiencing severe post concussion symptoms. One of my patients was a US Army Brig General concussed in Afghanistan by an IED explosion. His resulting concussion symptoms and cognitive impairment issues lasted for months before successful treatment with hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

In the past 3 years I have treated over 25 concussed (TBI) military patients for lingering concussion symptoms. I have been using hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) to treat these patients. None of these patients had life threatening head injuries. All had normal CT Scans/MRI’s. Symptoms in these patients included cognitive impairment, loss of memory, headaches, depression, fatigue, anger and irritability, sleep disturbances, loss of multitasking and executive functions, and hypervigilance. All patients had successful results from HBOT therapy and either returned to full military duty, continued in school, or returned to full civilian employment.

The Department of Defense has developed criteria for the diagnosis of mTBI (Concussions) which must include one of the following:

  1. Any period of loss of or decreased level of consciousness lasting less then 30 minutes
  2. Any loss of memory for events immediately before or after the injury lasting less than 24 hours after the event
  3. any alteration in mental state at the time of the injury such as confusion, disorientation, or slowed thinking lasting less than 24 hours
  4. transient neurological deficits (e.g. Weakness, loss of balance, change in vision, praxis, paresis or plegia, sensory loss, aphasia and
  5. Normal intracranial imaging.

All of our patients were previously treated by different agencies with medication only which gave them little or no relief in their disabling concussion symptoms. Our patients received a total of over 1400 HBOT treatments without any complications or adverse reactions.  Patients were all treated in a rigid hyperbaric oxygen chamber at 1.5 ATA (17ft) on 100% oxygen for 60 minutes. The hyperbaric mTBI protocol calls for a minimum of 40 treatments with up to 80 treatments if necessary. Treatment plans and the need for additional HBOT treatments are based upon the clearing of concussion symptoms and improvement in Neuropsychological (neurocognitive) (NP) testing.

Neurocognitive testing is used to evaluate the concussed patient’s post injury neurocognitive condition and track improvements made with HBOT therapy. Neurocognitive testing is an assessment tool that can be used to identify changes in a patient’s cognitive function and mood state as a result of some debilitating event. Neurocognitive testing has become the most important modality in management and determination of a full recovery in concussed patients. The military NP test used was the ANAM (Automated Neuropsychological Assessment Metrics) test.

The ANAM was developed by the military to evaluate and follow the progress of TBI patients. A baseline NP test is performed before deployment with repeat testing following concussion injuries. During HBOT therapy the ANAM test is administered after each 20 HBOT treatments to document the progress and improvement in the injured brain. A different NP test is given to our civilian patients. All NP testing in done on an office computer and takes about 25 minutes. Report printouts are available immediately. These reports along with examination and discussions with the patient and family are used to determine if HBOT is indicated or needs to be continued.

There is controversy concerning the use of HBOT in the treatment of concussed patients. The majority of military mTBI patients are currently being treated primarily with prescription medications for their symptoms. Many of our military patients commented they were in a constant “brain fog” as a result of all the meds they were prescribed. They received sleeping pills if sleep was an issue, pain medication for headaches, antidepressants for depression, tranquilizers for anxiety and so forth. None of these medications treat the cause of TBI/PTSD which is the injured brain. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy through research and clinical use has demonstrated to be effective in repairing the injured brain. The current research is based upon both animal and human studies. There is a multitude of currently published medical literature demonstrating the benefit of HBOT in the treatment and repairing of injured brains.

Some of the criticisms in the use of HBOT treating concussions from different agencies are based upon the fact HBOT is not currently approved by the FDA in the specific treatment of mTBI. Many clinical studies are underway at this time studying the effectiveness of HBOT in the treatment of TBI/PTSD. The FDA will not approve procedures that are still in the clinical study mode. We as hyperbaric physicians have treated successfully hundreds of TBI/PTSD military personnel all with no adverse effects. HBOT is approved by the FDA to treat four types of brain injuries. These brain injuries include carbon monoxide poisoning, decompression sickness (Bends), arterial gas embolism to the brain, and acute blindness from central retinal artery occlusion. We as physicians are allowed to use treatment modalities not FDA approved as long as, first, we do no harm to the patient and there is benefit in the treatment. We as a group of Physicians believe it is a mistake to currently deny these thousands of brain injured military personnel treatments which have shown to be completely effective in treating successfully and permanently mTBI and PTSD. Most of us treating hyperbaric physicians have not been paid at all by the military or the VA for our services to these injured men and women. I believe I speak for the group that we perform this service because we know it works, we respect the military and what it stands for, and that our injured men and women deserve the most effective currently available treatment for their injuries after putting their life on the line for our country.

Dr. Paul Harch MD gave testimony to the US House of Representatives last year  pointing out that nearly all the medication being prescribed by Military Medicine and the Veterans Administration is being used “OFF-LABEL” as the standard of care for blast induced TBI and PTSD despite little or no research to support this prescribing. An estimated 120 combat Veterans per week or more than 10,000 overall have committed suicide according to the CDC numbers investigated by CBS News. The House Veteran Affairs Committee was told earlier that many of the suicides were related to the use of the FDA Black-Box drugs being used off-label  These drugs carry specific warnings about increased suicide rate.

Our first mTBI military patients were treated with HBOT in 2009. The two Airmen were in an armored semi-truck when they were involved in an IED explosion in Iraq. Neither man lost consciousness but they were dazed and somewhat confused initially.  They both experienced the immediate onset of headaches. They were seen at an aid station later in the day, given acetaminophen, and returned to duty. Over a period of weeks these men began to experience debilitating concussive symptoms of severe headaches, memory loss, cognitive issues, anger/irritability issues and severe sleep disturbances. Upon returning to the US they were referred to our facility for HBOT by Col.(Dr) James Wright USAF Special Operations Command Surgeon and Board Certified Hyperbaric Physician.

Fortunately both men were given screening  neuropsychological tests (ANAM) before they deployed to Iraq. We were able to compare their post injury tests with the baseline NP tests. Post injury testing  revealed both men to be severely cognitively impaired from their concussions. Both men received a series of HBOT treatments with NP testing after each 20 treatments. At the end of their hbot treatments both men were completely free of all previous mTBI symptoms. Both airmen returned to their pre injury NP baseline scores after HBOT treatments. One man required 40 treatments and the other 80 HBOT treatments to return to their baseline NP scores. The Airmen are still on active duty. I recently spoke with both men and they are doing well without any concussion signs or symptoms. Col. Wright and I published a case report of these men in a major peer reviewed medical journal.

There is a lot of attention currently in the press and on the Internet regarding our TBI wounded men and women. There is an ongoing study NBIRR (national brain injury rescue rehabilitation) sanctioned by the Western Institutional Review Board (WIRB) using HBOT in concussed patients. There are 12 hyperbaric centers in the USA involved with this study. This study is an unfunded study and all treating facilities are providing the HBOT treatments to our injury veterans on their “nickel”. This study can be accessed by searching www.nbirr.org on the Internet and clicking on the “clinicaltrials.gov” box.

Dr. Paul Harch, Dr. James Wright, Dr. Bill Duncan, Dr. Rob Beckman and former Secretary of the Army Martin Hoffmann are currently playing  key roles  pro bono in an attempt to obtain funding for HBOT treatments for our wounded warriors.  These men are meeting regularly with top Military officials and members of Congress in this attempt.  The Navy League (www.navyleague.org) recently released a video on the use of HBOT treating TBI in military men and women.   At the end of the video both the  Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant  of the Marine Corps acknowledge at a congressional hearing their support for the use of HBOT in treating their TBI injured personnel.

Links to all publications, videos, references and military patient’s HBOT testimonials referred to in this article can be viewed at our website, www.flhbot.com.  I believe there may be a lot of response to this article. Some will be good, some may be critical.  The VA and military do offer a variety of other treatment modalities to our wounded TBI troops.  We believe the data and experience generated by the thousands of HBOT treatments used to successfully treat mTBI/PTSD warrants the acceptance by governmental agencies this method of treatment in our TBI/PTSD wounded men and women.

Respectfully,

Dr. Albert E. Zant MD (Eddie Zant MD)

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Note from the AFF

In my time at the Armed Forces Foundation, I have been able to experience the overwhelming support for service members and their families by their surrounding communities and the country as a whole.  One specific moment that stands out to me is when the AFF co-sponsored an event called the Comfort & Joy Event, which recognizes those who have been wounded in battle.  There was an open as well as silent auction where things were auctioned off, including various firearms, NASCAR memorabilia, and a limited-edition guitar.  To see all of the items that were donated to auction off, and then the amount that was raised altogether, was astounding and very touching.

To be able to work for an organization that does so much for those who put their lives on the line to protect our country is very fulfilling.  With my father being  in the military, as well as both of my grandfathers having fought in wars,  I know that the services provided by the Armed Forces Foundation are greatly appreciated, and I hope to be able to continue to serve such a deserving group of people.

Allison Agazzi, AFF Intern

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Note from the AFF

When I first started at the Armed Forces Foundation, it didn’t take me long to realize the patriotism of our employees, and their pride for our country. With less than 10 people on staff some might describe us as “Tiny yet Mighty,” and I tend to agree. I think of this position as something I love to do, not just somewhere I go during the day. When it comes down to it, this job is all about recognizing those that have sworn to protect my Freedom and I am happy doing whatever I can to help them when they need it.

-Erica Anderson, Director of Development

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Post from a US Army Reservist

Dear Armed Forces Foundation,

I want to thank you for the financial assistance you have provided me and my
family. It comes in a time of great need. It really helps us get
back onto our feet. I hope to be able to find myself in the future able
to return the favor by supporting the great programs that help
soldiers in a time of need.

Once again on behalf of my family, your help is greatly appreciated.

-from a SPC in the United States Army Reserve

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Serving Those Who Serve: McClean Vineyards Gives Back!

A post from our friends at McClean Vineyards, they are truly remarkable!  Read this post, it is truly inspirational.

If you were to spot Michael McClean walking down the street, stopped him, and asked him what he does for a living, he would most likely respond with, “I make wine.” That, or some humbled variation of the phrase. Michael has been making wine in Templeton, California, ever since he and his wife Judy purchased land on an old almond orchard in the 1990’s.  Grape growing and wine making seems to be one of those professions that encompasses who you are.  I’ve met quite a few vintners who have told me that after a while, the process becomes a part of you.  With all of the care and dedication that is necessary to be a successful grape grower and wine producer, it never surprised me that the process would become partially or fully engrained in someone’s identity.  Seasoned and successful growers spend most of their days in the vineyard, monitoring its activities to sometimes alarming detail.  My interactions with Michael have led me to believe that the same, to some extent, is true for him.  As much as Michael has spent the last decade of his life making wine, he wasn’t always waking up to work the vines.

In 1968, Michael returned home from work at his father’s butcher shop.  Awaiting him was a rather large brown envelope.  The envelope contained details of his draft into the military.  After completing a term of service, he went on to study at Pasadena City College where he would begin work on his future.  At that point he was no longer an active serviceman, but he would always be a veteran.

For a long while, Michael has been donating ten percent of his earnings from his wine to the Armed Forces Foundation, a group whose slogan is “serving those who serve.”  In all its efforts, the foundation provides physical and emotional support for active service people, as well as retired personnel.  These services include “financial support, career counseling, housing assistance and recreational therapy programs.”  When I spoke with Michael about his decision to donate wine proceeds to the AFF, he spoke rather candidly to me about the obligation he felt to help those who are currently walking in the shoes he wore some time ago.

One of the prevailing public misconceptions in the professional world today seems to be the blanketing assumption that being a winemaker provides a cushion of comfort and wealth.  It seems so often that lay people assume that owning a vineyard and/or a winery means residing in a palatial estate, imbibing and living a life of utter luxury at all times.  Although there are most certainly some wine producers whose lifestyles fit this description, the truth is that a vast majority of active wine producers don’t come close to realizing extreme wealth or lavish lifestyles.  While Michael is able to make a living for himself and his family from his winemaking ventures, he is indeed part of the “working class of winemakers.”  I bring this up because I think it important to acknowledge that the proceeds Michael donates to the AFF don’t represent a careless or minuscule sum.  Still, Michael made it a point to emphasize the need to do whatever one can.  His precise phrasing was “now that I can, I want to help.”

A few days ago, Michael was received promotional materials for a special offer known as the “boot campaign.”  Essentially, the AFF partnered with The Boot Campaign to promote an item known as the “Give Back Boots.”  Essentially, all proceeds that stem from consumer purchases of the promotional pair of boots go right back to providing much needed support active duty service people, as well as veterans.  Of course, when Michael saw what the offer entailed, he jumped at the opportunity.

It should only be a matter of weeks before Michael receives his new pair of boots.  Knowing of his enthusiasm for reliable footwear, there is no doubt that they’ll be on his feet when he tends to this next vintage of Syrah fruit.  It’s comforting to know that these boots will be with Michael when he makes the wine that will go to help more service people in need.  After all, it’s important to do what you can… whatever that may be.

- Brent Bracamontes
Regional sales & communications – Orange County
McClean Vineyards & The Dennigmann Wine Group

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