Veteran Tim Hammer undergoes hyperbaric oxygen therapy as a part of The 22 Project, May 20 in Delray Beach. JIM RASSOL/THE LAKELAND LEDGER
Anthony Scaife can finally sleep at night.
A veteran who served in the United States Navy from 1986 to 1993, Scaife suffers from traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Due to these conditions , along with sleep apnea, Scaife dealt with short-term memory loss, hypervigilance and mood swings.
“If you take sleep apnea, PTSD, and TBI it’s like a bomb waiting to explode,” said Scaife, who lives just outside Jacksonville. “When you don’t get enough sleep, you act paranoid and … your brain’s not functioning.”
Scaife said it was so bad that he used to carry a notepad to write down where he was going so he wouldn’t forget.
“I just turned 55 and that was my life since 1993,” he said.
With the help of an organization called The 22 Project, Scaife was able to receive hyperbaric oxygen treatment – therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized environment – and it changed his life.
“It’s not a cure but this is getting more oxygen to my brain to make me better than I ever was before,” said Scaife.
What is The 22 Project?
According to its web site, The 22 Project is an organization that supports underserved war veterans who have traumatic brain injuries and are at risk for depression and/or suicide. In collaboration with physicians, therapists, and health care workers, The 22 Project provides advanced medical treatments to reduce a veteran’s risk of depression and/or suicide, including care and evaluation by highly trained board certified physicians and hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) at no cost to the veteran.
How The 22 Project began
In 2009 Alex and Erica Cruz were introduced to hyperbaric oxygen therapy through a retired army colonel who had a grant from the American Red Cross to treat 10 Gulf War Veterans
“We started because we do imaging and someone contacted us to do the imaging of the brains of the soldiers,” Erica said.
Alex is also the founder of Southeast Medical Imaging in Delray Beach where he conducts diagnostic imaging. He noticed a difference in the brain scans of the veterans.
“When I saw the images before and after it was so evident that I was being introduced to something that was so powerful that could change many lives,” Alex said.
Seeing the transformation motivated the couple to explore helping more than the 10 veterans in the pilot study.
“It was a passion that grew in our hearts because we were seeing lives being transformed right before our eyes,” said Alex.
In 2016 the couple started The 22 Project so more veterans could receive the hyperbaric oxygen treatment and within six years the organixation has helped more than 280 veterans including 85 in 2021.
Erica said watching the transformation of the veterans before and after treatment is an “amazing blessing.”
“It’s a rich, full thing to see each treatment. When you see them before they’re like a wounded person not making any eye contact or talking,” said Erica. “They’re terrified they don’t even want to be seen in public. Then you see them four weeks later and they’re laughing and having a great time with people.”
In addition to the treatment veterans can meet with a pastor weekly and board members meet with their family’s biweekly.
“It’s a big community of support,” said Alex. “Not just physically but also spiritually.”
The 22 Project has helped other veterans like Purple Heart recipient Brian Fleming and Medal of Honor recipient Sammy Davis.
Fleming of Celina, Texas was in the United States Army from 2003 to 2007. He survived a suicide bomber attack and suffered from sleep deprivation, massive headaches and paranoia. Fleming, 37, participated with The 22 Project in 2020.
“The third night I fell asleep around 8:30 or 9:00 pm in my hotel room, that hasn’t happened since I joined the military at 18. I was blown away by that,” he said. “I wasn’t as mad as much about things that would normally get to me that really didn’t cause for that level of frustration. The headaches within two weeks were almost completely gone.”
Davis, 75, served 18 years with the United States Army beginning in 1966. The Vietnam Veteran says the nonprofit has helped his life tremendously when it comes to his memory and the pain in his body. Davis is from Freedom, Indiana and received help from The 22 Project in 2020.
“I still hurt, but nothing like I did for years and HBOT has been the cause of that,” Davis said.
U.S. Rep. Scott Franklin, R-Lakeland serves on the armed services committee House of Representatives and was recently introduced to The 22 Project and hyperbaric oxygen treatment at a fundraiser in Winter Haven earlier this month. As a Navy veteran the topic of suicide is near to Franklin who said three of his friends have taken their own lives.
“Obviously suicide is a major issue for the military,” Franklin said. “It’s a big topic of conversation.”
Franklin believes The 22 Project has some “pretty compelling data that warrants further studies,” and said a pilot study is the usual route to be taken before anything regarding support can be passed through legislation.
Franklin explained one of the challenges is making sure everyone receives the right help from the correct resources.
“One of the big challenges we have is there’s a lot of great attention being focused now on mental health issues and awareness and suicide prevention,” he said. “We have an awareness of the problem now but it’s a matter of how to coordinate all the resources and get it done efficiently and take the investment the taxpayers are making and ensure it gets to the people who need the services the most.”
“There’s different groups attacking this problem from different angles,” he added. “The challenge is how to bring those to bare so that we’re not overlapping with one another and we ensure efficient use of the resources to help the most people as quickly as we can.”
In the meantime, The 22 Project receives its funding from donations.
The group raised $104,750 at the fundraiser in Winter Haven, which is enough to provide seven veterans with treatment at the Hyperbaric Services of the Palm Beaches in Delray Beach.
Robert Polumbo has been with the nonprofit for two years. Seeing the veterans transform in a positive way encouraged him to spearhead the Winter Haven a fundraiser.
Polumbo served 33 years in the United States Air Force and now resides in Boca Raton where he met the Cruz family. The two-star general has seen more than 100 veterans participate in hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
“I think it’s incredible I never seen anything like it,” said Polumbo. “I think it’s a great therapy for the people that have traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder and issues that are mostly invisible.”
Scaife who was in attendance at the event along with Davis and Fleming wants as many veterans as possible to receive help through The 22 Project.
“They’re a godsend,” Scaife said. “I’m going to help them get more veterans anyway I can.”
To learn more about The 22 Project visit www.support22project.org.
Breanna A. Rittman writes news features for The Ledger. Send your feature ideas to BRittman@gannett.com.
Cited from The Ledger