Marine veteran turns brain injury into a positive

Marine veteran turns brain injury into a positive
Veteran Marine Sgt. Chris Lawrence now works for the Chula Vista Police Department after suffering a traumatic brain injury in an IED attack and losing part of his leg to medical complications. Courtesy photo

OCEANSIDE — Some might say Oceanside Marine veteran Chris Lawrence is one tough dude.

After the 31-year-old sustained a traumatic brain injury from an improvised explosive device detonation while on tour in Iraq in 2007, he was told he probably wouldn’t walk again. Now he’s running and boxing and has graduated from the police academy. In fact, Lawrence relies on being active to cope with his TBI symptoms.

To show others how he has come along in his fight to regain his life, during Military Appreciation Month in May, Lawrence’s story was featured in a video for A Head for the Future, a TBI awareness initiative by the Department of Defense.

The video is available at dvbic.dcoe.mil/aheadforthefuture and on the program’s YouTube channel.

“We are highlighting this veteran’s compelling story to show others that treatment is available and recovery from TBI is possible,” said Scott Livingston, director of education at the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. “Our hope is that our nation’s heroes can connect with Lawrence — or others who have shared stories with A Head for the Future — and begin their own path to recovery.”

MRI images depicting various brain injuries and diseases. Courtesy photo

Major hurdles

Following the incident in 2007, Lawrence lost part of his leg due to medical complications. He also found himself struggling with memory, sleep and irritability issues — common symptoms of TBI. Since his diagnosis, he has been boxing as an adaptive sports therapy. He says it’s helped improve his balance, concentration and memory — all of which are essential to his recovery.

“Boxing has been the best thing for me, because it didn’t allow me to use my disabilities as a reason to hold back,” said Lawrence, who is a policeman for the city of Chula Vista. “I could say that I’m better now than I was 10 years ago. I’ve been humbled, and I’ve been strengthened at the same time.”

As a police officer, Lawrence said, “I figured I can’t go back to the Marine Corps. I am missing pieces now, but I can still serve the community just the same.”

Happy to serve

And serve he is happy to do, day in and day out. However, before he was able to patrol the streets, he had to take many courses at the police academy, but even his TBI couldn’t deter him from reaching his goal of becoming a full-fledged cop.

“I had to retain a lot of info when I was in the police academy and I had to read training manuals more than once,” he said. “In fact, I had to read them three to four times before class and before tests. I’d go early and re-read things, so I would have it fresh in my mind when it was time to take the tests. When I read things for the first time, it’s like I’m just looking at it for the first time on paper. I need to read repeatedly so I can familiarize myself to retain and learn it.”

It looks like the extra effort paid off as Lawrence graduated with honors from the police academy and has been on the force for a year.

“When I got hit in Iraq, I may not have been at my full capacity, but I am functioning now and functioning well enough to be a decent citizen,” he said.

Lawrence added that he believes his TBI has almost given him more patience as it forces him to be more thorough in everything he does.

Chula Vista police officer Chris Lawrence. Courtesy photo

Power of family

He also attributes the power of his family to helping him continue to recover and cope with his TBI.

“My daughter, Dahlia, when I’m having a bad day, she makes it better, no matter what,” Lawrence said. “My girlfriend, Michelle, she helps me identify a lot of issues that I still have … She’s helped me do things that I don’t want to do that have made me better.”

He said his girlfriend will also be attending the police academy in June and he is extremely proud of her and supports her decision fully.

As for the boxing, Lawrence said he tries to box as much as possible but sometimes it’s difficult because he’s so busy serving as a cop.

“I love being a cop and getting out and being able to make a change in other peoples lives,” he said. “Boxing really helped me use my memory and coordination, and after the TBI my equilibrium was off, but the boxing restored it.

“It has helped me also be a good cop on the streets,” he continued. “I have to be able to sustain myself, so I can help other people and it (the boxing) has really helped.”

Lawrence said his future looks bright and one day he would like to make police sergeant and he won’t let anything hold him back, not even his TBI.

As for living with a TBI, his recommendation to others who may endure a similar medical issue: “Whatever injury you might have, it shouldn’t be an obstacle to what you want to do with your life.”

Stats on TBI

Defense Department data shows that since 2000, more than 375,000 service members have been diagnosed with a TBI — most sustained in noncombat settings. Falls, motor vehicle collisions, sports-related incidents and training accidents are the most common causes of noncombat-related brain injury among service members.

To learn more about TBI and the A Head for the Future initiative, and to find additional videos and educational resources on preventing brain injury, visit dvbic.dcoe.mil/aheadforthefuture and follow A Head for the Future on Twitter and Facebook.

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