STILLWATER, Okla. - Lt. Matt Smothermon left law school when the National Guard deployed the Oklahoman to Afghanistan.
He didn’t give much thought to what could happen there; until it did. And when it happened, it changed his life.
"It's considered the most dangerous job in Afghanistan,” Smothermon said.
Smothermon was assigned to lead a platoon whose job was to clear IEDs from the roads.
"Some people describe the whole route clearance experience as continuous period of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer absolute terror."
Smothermon found dozens of IEDs. Three of them found him.
"Out of nowhere, your whole world just erupts. There's dust everywhere. It's extremely loud and things start to hurt," Smothermon says.
He suffered traumatic brain injuries. He received the Purple Heart, but lost much.
"About the fourth day after my blast, I woke up but my brain didn't," Lt. Smothermon explained.
Perhaps the worst news was yet to come. There is no cure for a TBI (traumatic brain injury) and few effective treatments.
When Smothermon and his men came home, his wife, Zoey, noticed the change in him. His personality was different.
Smothermon says, "I came back a shell of my former self."
The former law school student lost the ability to concentrate or comprehend the written word.
“I had a sheet of paper in front of me for a briefing and two weeks after the blast I just stared at it and pretended to read it and passed it on because I couldn't read a single word on that sheet of paper," Lt. Smothermon explains.
That’s why Smothermon became part of a national study to determine if hyperbaric oxygen therapy might help those with TBI. Dr. Paul Rock is the medical director of the study. The OSU hyperbaric chamber, the largest in the state, can seat twelve people.
Dr. Rock said those undergoing the trial treatment suffer classic symptoms of TBI.
"They don't get good sleep. They have frequent headaches. Lethargy. They don't have the energy to do anything. They can’t focus for very long,” Dr. Rock said.
For an hour a day, five days a week, the study participants breathe 100% oxygen inside the pressurized chamber. The treatment regime typically lasts for eighty, one-hour sessions.
Increased oxygen levels have been shown already to dramatically accelerate wound healing. This study, taking place at centers across the nation, is designed to determine if it can reverse the damage caused by traumatic brain injury.
"Clinically, I've seen these people change and I've seen some pretty impressive changes,” Dr. Rock said. “I’m optimistic. But we need to finish the research."
Matt Smotherman is already convinced. He’s believes the hyperbaric treatment is working. He's back in law school and back in command of his platoon.
"I can't remember the last time I had a bad brain day. I can't remember the last time I had any of these issues. I have no problems sleeping whatsoever," Lt. Smothermon says.
He credits the hyperbaric oxygen treatment. "It's given me my life back. It really has."
For direct information on this treatment contact:
Lisa Terry Sparks
Clinical Research Coordinator
918-828-4015 or email
For additional information about the OSU Center for Aerospace and Hyperbaric Medicine visit here.