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Brain injuries need better diagnosis, treatment, experts say

Those who suffer traumatic brain injuries need better diagnosis and treatment, according to experts who spoke at a virtual town hall meeting Wednesday morning.

The office of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords staged the meeting, which focused on traumatic brain injuries and their impact on civilians and military personnel — especially those who served in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The event featured a cadre of experts in TBIs, including Dr. Christine Kwasnica of the Barrow Neurological Institute and Dr. Jayendra Shah of the Southern Arizona VA Healthcare System.

Erik Castillo, an Iraq veteran who sustained a massive TBI but recovered to the point of enrolling for classes at the University of Arizona, also spoke.

Tthe panel noted that TBIs range from minor to severe, that they far too often go undetected or untreated and that present clinical and administrative standards for diagnosis, treatment and aftercare need further review.

The town hall marks the second this week hosted by Giffords' district office, and one of several since Giffords' incapacitation after a gunman opened fire at a "Congress on Your Corner" constituent event last Jan. 8, killing six and wounding 13 others, including the congresswoman.

Giffords has long been interested in advocacy for constituents, especially veterans, who have suffered TBIs and may need help in receiving appropriate care, Giffords' spokesman Mark Kimble said Wednesday.

The town hall was designed to "facilitate communication about traumatic brain injuries," Kimble said.

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While the meeting was closed to the general public, and only a handful of media and invited guests were present, the public was invited to participate by watching a live stream of the meeting online, and to ask questions of the panel via Twitter and Facebook.

Kimble said it was unlikely that Giffords would watch the Internet live stream of the meeting, indicating that her mornings are quite full with rehabilitation. Kimble said he was confident she would watch the meeting at some point.

Even as the district office carries out constituent services and organizes events and town halls, Giffords remains in Houston working to recover from her own TBI.

Last month, in an interview with Diane Sawyer, Giffords hinged her plans for a return to the Hill on the behalf of her CD8 constituents on "No...better," which was interpreted by her husband Mark Kelly to mean that she would return to the office when she's recovered.

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Will Seberger/TucsonSentinel.com

Iraq veteran Erik Castillo (left) suffered a major traumatic brain injury during his service in Iraq. After years of surgeries and therapy for an injury that would have likely proved fatal a generation ago, Castillo has enrolled at the University of Arizona. Dr. Susan Lucht of the VA Medical Center speaks at right.