Advancing National Service

Meet the Marine-Turned-Doctor Helping Veterans Overcome PTSD

May 9, 2014
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Meet the Marine-Turned-Doctor Helping Veterans Overcome PTSD
Veteran Dr. Carmen Russoniello is helping others with post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries by leading a biofeedback program at East Carolina University. Screengrab via YouTube
Dr. Carmen Russoniello turned his own trauma into a passion for guiding soldiers to regain their lives.

Posttraumatic stress disorder can be tough to treat, for both patient and doctor. How do you retrain a traumatized brain? How do you fix someone’s emotions?

But one medical expert offers a unique perspective that could change medical treatment for servicemembers. Dr. Carmen Russoniello isn’t just a doctor — he’s been a PTSD patient, too. And his pioneering work could help soldiers recover from the mental trauma they suffered while serving their country.

As a teen Marine serving in the jungles of Vietnam, the young man who would later become a doctor left the field in a medevac flight after his troubled screams in the night — “a bone-chilling sound” – haunted those he served with, Russoniello told Brendan King of WITN.

“When I came back, I was very disillusioned, disorganized, etc., and I spent about seven years just traveling around the country doing odd jobs, aimless,” he says.

But he found his purpose in medicine — and now, serving veterans like himself.

Today Russoniello leads a team of Ph.D. students using biofeedback to help veterans suffering from PTSD, from his post as director of the Center for Applied Psycho-Physiology at East Carolina University.

His work pushes veterans to control their emotions through cutting-edge technology. In one project, patients play video games like Pac-Man through sensors affixed to a cap that track emotional responses from their brains.

A patient “can actually, literally see his response to that, and now he knows that he has some control over that, and he can start to take control,” Russoniello says.

They also use simulators to recreate the scenarios that triggered patients’ distress, including sounds, sights and smells. By facing the things that caused them so much stress, veterans learn to control their reactions.

As Russoniello says, “We’re trying to help these guys… so that they can actually enjoy and benefit from what they went and sacrificed their lives for.”

MORE: Can Being Naked Help Treat PTSD?

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