Arizona doctors present new 'weapon' in fight against brain injuries

Posted: Updated:

Doctors in Arizona say there is a new weapon in the fight against traumatic brain injuries.

“It was one of those surreal unbelievable moments,” Ronda Alcorn said. “His car had flipped seven times and so his whole head was damaged.”

She got the call no parent ever wants. Her then 18-year-old son Austin was fighting to survive after suffering a traumatic brain injury. It happened on February 4, 2006.

“I fell asleep at the wheel,” Austin Alcorn said. “It was in Williams and I was transported to Flagstaff hospital.”

Alcorn survived but he's had years of rehab to learn how to do basic things like walk and talk.   

“At first he didn't have any long term or short team memory,” Austin’s mom said. “He had to learn his ABC’s again. He didn't know our names.”

“I had lots of speech therapy and physical therapy and occupational,” Alcorn said.

The 23-year-old is one of 2 million people in the United States that suffer from traumatic brain injuries each year.

But a new clinical trial at several medical centers across the country, including right here in Arizona, is hoping to give survivors a better quality of life.
 
“In the last three decades there have been 50 drugs that have been tested with some hope in brain injury and all of them have ended up doing nothing,” Dr. Daniel Spaite said.
 
Spaite is with the University of Arizona college of Medicine. He said the clinical trial called ProTECT III is giving patients with a traumatic brain injury within four hours of getting hurt, progesterone.
 
“Progesterone is thought of as a female hormone, but it's very important for everyone to know, every single one of us male or female have progesterone in our brain,” Spaite said.

He said that previous studies using the hormone in animals and with a small number of patients had many benefits from a high survival rate,

“But really importantly is the number of patients who got improvement in their neurological outcome,” he continued. “They’re ability to think. They’re ability to potentially go back to work. Those types of things have also been quite significant.”

Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center is one of those hospitals participating in the clinical trial.

“Certainly it will have a profound impact if there is significant improvement in patient outcome,” Banner Good Samaritan Dr. Byron Willis said. “It will reduce disability and potentially reduce overall cost of healthcare.”

But for Alcorn and his mom, the more help the better.

“I think it's worth it,” Alcorn said.

“I think everything they learned about brain injury had to start somewhere,” Austin’s mom said. “So I'm all for it.”

So far the hospitals participating in the study include Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center, University Medical Center, Maricopa Medical Center and Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn.

For more information on ProTECT III contact the Emergency Medicine Research Center at 602-827-2140 or go to www.protect.aemrc.arizona.edu.