CHAPTER 8: Veterans Treated and Healed by HBOT – In Their Own Words
Four combat veterans of the more than 250 veterans treated at the Rocky Mountain Hyperbaric Institute have been selected for their courageous accounts as well as for their personal devotion to all veterans who suffer the signature wounds of war. All four of them suffered serious brain trauma in the Iraq-Afghan wars, at a time when the benefits of HBOT were virtually unknown. These veterans remained untreated, but over-medicated, until they were rescued by HBOT therapy. We would like to tell every veteran’s story but have settled on these four combat veterans who credit their own amazing recoveries to this therapy. We can assure you that each healed veteran would tell you a similar story. They all have undergone HBOT treatment and some form of professional PTSD counseling.
Sergeant Margaux Mange, U. S. Army (Retired) Military Police – Iraq
In 2012, Charles “Pat” Smith, Department Adjutant of the American Legion of the State of Colorado, invited Colonel R. L. Fischer to meet a young woman who had recently been medically separated from the Army and who had just begun successful hyperbaric oxygen treatments with Dr. Paul Harch at his clinic in New Orleans.
At this meeting was the editor of the Legion’s Observer Magazine, Darrel Myers, and former American Legion National Commander in 2005, Thomas Bock. The reason for the meeting was to gain a deeper understanding of this new treatment that was proving to be effective in healing concussive blast injuries suffered by our combat veterans.
Past Legion Commander Bock prefaced the reason for the meeting by telling Colonel Fischer, “Wait until you meet this young lady. She has quite a story to tell us.” Shortly thereafter, the very attractive young woman arrived with her friend in tow, a shy lanky young man, obviously a veteran recently out of the military. She greeted everyone there by introducing herself and then turned to her companion to introduce him, “You all will have to speak slowly. My friend is a United States Marine.” That comment broke the ice and the group truly enjoyed meeting with and listening to Margaux Mange tell her story from playing high school soccer to becoming a United States Army Military Policeman. Here is Margaux’s story.
Sergeant Margaux Mange was one of the South Boulder Road clinic’s first patients. Margaux grew up in Lakewood, Colorado, playing soccer throughout her childhood and teenage years. She enjoyed the sport and became a star soccer athlete at Alameda High School. Margaux admitted that the major reason she joined the Army was the promise of playing soccer for them. As she vividly described her reason for entering the military, “The recruiter assured me that I could play on the All-Army Soccer Team, and since my father was in the Army it made sense for me to join, even though I had been seriously courted by the United States Air Force to play for them instead.”
Joining the Army
Margaux began her basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, in 2003 and was assigned the military occupational specialty (MOS) of Military Policeman. After completing basic and military police schooling, she was ordered to Kitzingen, Germany, her first duty station. Upon arriving in Germany, her soon-to-be Platoon Sergeant picked her up at the train station. He immediately leveled with her in no uncertain terms and, in effect, told her, “I know you joined the Army to play soccer, but that is not going to happen. The Army has other plans for you and you will soon be going to Baghdad.”
She did get to play a few months of soccer while going through her military training at Hohensfels, Germany, in Bavaria for FTX and picked up the honors of most valuable player on the base team. “By the following April 2004, I was in Iraq with the 630th Military Police Company and we started going on patrols immediately. At first we patrolled all over Iraq and trained a lot of Iraqi police. There were many missions in and out of Sadr City, Iraq, and it was an incredibly dangerous area with so many ambushes and so many improvised explosive devices.”
Her MP Company was also engaged in setting up protective concrete barriers around the Iraqi police stations so that insurgents could not shoot into or run speeding cars with car bombs into those facilities. They also were assigned the responsibility of escorting senior commanders in and out of the Green Zone, the Army’s Supreme Command Headquarters in Baghdad. “I remember some of the firefights, the mortar attacks, and some of the deadly IED concussions we experienced. I survived that first year of my deployment because the explosive devices were poorly made and we could recognize a wire or dead dog [wired with explosives], tipping us off that there was an explosive device nearby.”
When her tour of duty came to an end in April 2005, she returned to Germany and resumed her normal MP duties. Margaux reveals that she “hated my job since it involved writing and issuing tickets. I confess; I only gave out a couple of them in my entire military police career.”
After being in Germany for a while, Margaux hoped that she could again try out for the soccer team. She was disappointed when she was sent to a school to train for her next OIF tour as a gunner instead of a driver.
Second Time Around
Margaux had been a driver on her first tour, but this time she was assigned as a turret gunner and would man a machine gun and also a grenade launcher. Like her first tour, she was sent back to Baghdad. “There I manned a M240B machine gun fired from a vehicular mount in the Humvee turret. Also mounted in the turret was an Mk 19 grenade launcher, which was useless in the city due to close quarters. We conducted the same missions as on my first tour, focusing on police training at and around their stations for long hours of the day. We were charged with accounting for all captured weapons and watching for typical corruption when they sold their arms or were paid off to not get engaged. On this tour, the IEDs became more sophisticated and some of them had chemicals in them that would burn through a body part, like white phosphorous. The insurgents also had acquired rocket-propelled grenade launchers [RPGs] that were quite deadly.”
Margaux received a massive concussion while on patrol in her Humvee on December 4, 2006. The explosive device was detonated approximately ten meters away from her Humvee. As she recalls, “My head was thrust backward and hit the turret in the area of the soft spot on my head. I was unconscious for about thirty to sixty seconds. I really didn’t think anything of it. When I came to, I continued to stay in the kill zone for an hour, waiting for the recovery vehicle. When I first climbed out of the turret, I was seeing stars and then I was down for three days. I still didn’t think about it and went back to my regular job. At this time I was only concerned about my other teammates.”
After this incident, Margaux continued going out on patrols, doing her regular job as a gunner and not thinking that anything had happened to her. She was more concerned about the others on the team than herself. Their combat patrols became much more dangerous. As she describes, “It didn’t affect me badly until March 2007, when my best friend, Ashley, and two others were hit with a fifty-pound explosive device. I was riding on truck #5 and they were in the truck right behind me, in Truck #6. When the IED detonated, it flipped their truck completely upside down and killed all of them instantly. Their bodies burned as I watched. The fire must have burned for more than an hour. I still cannot forget that sight!”
The Long Battle Begins
This was the beginning of Margaux’s long battle with both TBI and PTSD. Her face developed Bell’s palsy, a paralysis or weakness of the muscles on one side of the face, which she now thinks came from the mental stress she had suffered. As she recalls, “The doctors thought maybe this was happening because I was in the third trimester of a pregnancy or because I had slept on my face wrong … or due to some other cause. They were idiots and just wouldn’t accept that it was due to stress.”
Eventually she was sent back to Landstuhl. In April 2007, she began receiving further medical attention and the doctors finally realized that her initial concussion and mental state were more severe than originally diagnosed. Recalling those dreary days, Margaux describes her feelings, “I had atypical nerve pain and trigeminal neuralgia. At that time my post-traumatic stress was off the charts. I realized I would not be returning to Iraq and was feeling like I had abandoned my team. I felt like I was a traitor. When I left them, I told them I would be back in a couple of weeks.” Her unit was deployed for a full thirteen months and she would not see them until they returned to Germany. She vowed to them through email that she would not drink or celebrate anything without them. “I did not touch alcohol until they returned. I was in so much pain anyway that I couldn’t drink if I wanted to, so I slept fourteen hours a day every day in Bamberg.”
Margaux spent her days visiting the hospital three hours away from Bamberg and there she received a multitude of pills—morphine, Percocet, and more medications. Then the doctors decided her PTSD was so bad that they sent her home to Colorado because that was where her family lived.
Remembering that journey home to Colorado and checking in, Margaux says the Army doctors gave her a choice, “Stay on pills for the rest of my life or try brain surgery.” She finally had brain surgery in March 2008. That was the beginning of the end of her active Army duty.
“The surgery was performed to try and alleviate the pain. I was in so much pain I couldn’t even walk up a flight of stairs. It felt like a softball had been inserted inside of my skull. And so I was willing to try anything … that is when I underwent laser surgery at Fort Carson, Colorado, where I would remain for eight months. But it was unsuccessful. The severe headaches continued, and I was medically discharged. Then in 2009, I planned to move to Ohio with my fiancé, but before doing that I had the great fortune to meet a Fort Carson Army representative who assisted wounded warriors like me through the Warriors Transition Unit. Robert B. Alvarez, a Marine Corps veteran himself, interviewed and processed many wounded warriors like me. He told me he would help me get my life back. I had suffered hard from both the brain injury and the post-traumatic stress, and it was just fate that I ended up in his office. If I had never met him I would never have gone through hyperbaric oxygen therapy. It was then that Bob Alvarez introduced me to Dr. Paul Harch, the pioneer of HBOT therapy who had his clinic at Southern Louisiana University.”
A Lucky Break
In 2009, Margaux became one of Dr. Harch’s first patients and traveled there to receive HBOT treatment. Margaux tells of the experience, “There I took forty dives, and I have to say it was successful. I started feeling better after about twenty of the sessions. However, I was angry. At the same time I was getting treatment, my Ohio psychiatrist had also sent me there with homework. I have always been a faithful-like patient and listened to what a doctor would tell me. I have always tried to do the right thing and didn’t like people being mad at me. Then, during the first part of the treatments my anger surfaced. I looked at the homework and it made me so angry. I was so ticked off at her that I ripped up everything I’d brought. All of those emotions started coming out that I had been hiding. My memories were now resurfacing, and I was crying and laughing a lot more.”
Dr. Harch had warned Margaux that after a few sessions of hyperbaric chamber dives, while her brain was healing physically, her mind would also experience a rollercoaster of emotions during the final recovery process. Remembering that, she recalls, “When I came back and talked with my psychiatrist I handed her my torn pages of homework. She looked at me and said, ‘This isn’t you.’ With all those terrible emotions coming to the surface we were actually able to figure out together what was going on with my post-traumatic stress situation.” When Margaux returned after that session with her psychiatrist, she describes how they began “digging into new stuff and it was really helping me a lot. Before then, I hated all of my emotions. I was a robot and numb before the HBOT treatment with Dr. Harch. I didn’t like that I had to go through the treatments all by myself. But after my first forty treatments, I was able to deal with the terrible memories of what had happened to my best friend, Ashley, when she died on March 3, 2007.”
In February 2010, after Margaux completed her forty dives with Dr. Harch, they determined that her TBI and PTSD were more serious than the mild TBI first diagnosed. This would require many more chamber hours, which she found in Colorado after she returned to live near her father. In August 2010, Ryan and Eddie learned of her amazing story and offered to treat her at the Rocky Mountain Hyperbaric Institute “for as long as it takes to heal you.” So, another forty chamber hours were scheduled over the next few months. Margaux continued to return for additional “maintenance” treatments for several years after that (achieving a total of 140 HBOT chamber hours between both facilities). Today Margaux knows she can finally cope with her TBI and its related PTSD. She still volunteers to raise funds for the Rocky Mountain clinic.
Margaux tells others that the only negative aspect to this treatment is that a person must lie in a tube for an hour every day and that she thinks that people are just impatient with the need to do that. She also thinks many people still don’t know about this form of treatment and its benefits. When people are new to the treatment, there are still those who find it hard to believe in its benefits. Taking a pill provides quick relief, but the effects are temporary. Sometimes it is difficult to get people to understand that pills won’t work in the long run, but the long-term effects of hyperbaric oxygen treatment will be well worth the time it takes.
Margaux discovered that the healing began to happen after about fifteen to twenty sessions. At that point, her ability to sleep improved, her migraines lessened, her memory began to return, and her depression and need to isolate and withdraw from others eased up. Her physical wounds improved with HBOT, and the TBI started to heal. The post-traumatic stress, however, was an awful situation for her, and as her memory and brain functions began to improve, she had a bad PTSD slip, a brutal one, as Margaux describes it. “You go into a deep dark depression where all of your emotions go down. If you are an avoider, you avoid everything, but you can’t avoid the PTSD forever. All of my emotions, every single one of them came to a boiling point. I don’t know how to describe it, but your mind is not strong enough to shut down all the negative emotions you experienced.”
Even though she was physically healing her brain from the concussion, she needed professional help with the mental and psychological wounds she had also suffered. “When I was first told by the doctor in Germany that I had post-traumatic stress disorder and I would not be going back to Iraq or any combat duty, it was the lowest point in my life. You know, I did not know what it was, this PTSD they were talking about. It was devastating for me … I had been planning on a career with the Army.”
Now that Margaux has gone through over 140 hours of dives, she is not the robot that she thought she might become. In fact, her own inner strength and competitive nature have brought her back to the Margaux she always was. Despite dealing with the signature wounds she suffered, she now excels in mountain climbing. She has scaled 19,000-foot Cototaxi in Equador and a more recent ascent of Mount Denali in Alaska that was thwarted by weather at 9,000 feet. She participated in the cyclists’ Ride to Recovery that toured Washington State and the coast of California as well as rode bike tours through Italy and France.
Since 2011, Margaux has competed three times in the Wounded Warrior games held at Colorado Springs. She won five gold medals and three silver medals, just one more proof that our former athlete still has it.
To top it off, Margaux was chosen to represent America’s Walking with the Wounded team that competed with a European team headed by Prince Harry of Great Britain and an Aussie-New Zealand team in the South Pole Allied Challenge that began November 14, 2013. Not only did Margaux and another American female warrior race against the men of the other teams, but one of Margaux’s team was a blind warrior who needed assistance every step of that long and difficult Antarctic trek.
Once again, the true Margaux was revealed when an opportunity arose and she was able to guide the blind warrior during several parts of the trek. She had asked to do it because she knew she just had to. It was her own small contribution to give back what she had been given. She so vividly relives those minutes and hours. “I asked if I could guide Ivan, a blinded warrior. I got the privilege of guiding him and I didn’t want any cameras or anyone around … no pictures. I did not want anything to be about me. I wanted to understand how he had been suffering and I wanted to be able to help. And I enjoyed every minute of helping him! I was working up a sweat, because it was very hot, but it felt so good to work and struggle and do this for Ivan.”
Margaux met the prince and all the international participants in England, where they were wined and dined before flying out to New Zealand. They then sailed off to the race site in Antarctica. Their arctic trek was filmed from the beginning, and it was obvious that Prince Harry was out to win it all for his team. Cameramen accompanying the racers had as much difficulty with the rugged, inhospitable terrain as the racers obviously did. Within the first few days, Harry had managed a considerable lead over the other two teams. It became apparent, however, that something was very wrong. Filming revealed that the American team was falling behind by quite a distance. When Prince Harry realized it was due to the team’s challenges to assist their blind team member, he decided that all three teams would race together and Margaux and her friends would get help with their handicapped racer.
Everyone at the Rocky Mountain clinic admires Margaux for her exceptional humility and spirit. Eddie and Ryan were extremely proud when she displayed the Rocky Mountain Hyperbaric Institute and Rocky Mountain Hyperbaric Association for Brain Injuries banners at the pole. Margaux’s performance and gutty grit in that grueling race set a new level of fortitude and courage that this lovely, young combat veteran consistently demonstrates in her life.
The Rocky Mountain Hyperbaric Institute also owes a major debt of gratitude to Margaux for being the first to step up and share her personal experience with other veterans who seek treatment. Very large donor groups have heard her compelling story, and today it is their generosity that provides the funds to treat hundreds of combat veterans free of charge. She knows they too can be healed in the same way she was. Margaux is quick to credit Robert Alvarez, counselor/therapist, for coming into her life and helping her with her new life. Today Margaux attends the School of Mountaineering in Leadville, Colorado, ready to climb even higher.