(152) Untangle: Donate your Brain

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Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)

Molly tangled herself around three trees and two bushes. The ten-foot lead I tethered her to disappeared beneath eight inches of snow. Still new to the command tangle, which in dog-speak means to untangle, Molly rolled her eyes at me and tugged against the tree. Standing on the porch in my slippers, I noticed she had at least five wraps in different directions. I ran inside for my snow boots, knowing I would have to lead her back around each obstacle.

By the time I got to Molly, she sat on the front porch free of the entanglement. Her tail wagged, as she looked up at me with a sparkling gaze. She freed herself without my intervention (that’s a good thing because there are a few piles of poop frozen beneath the snow that I would not be able to avoid if I had to lead her back around each obstacle.)

Dogs must be smart to be trained as a service animal. I know Molly is smart but until she mastered the tangle command, I did not realize just how smart. That got me wondering if someone somewhere ever designed an intelligence (IQ) test for canines. Sure enough. wikiHow offers free access to a dog intelligence test. I thought the test might be fun. Unfortunately, the test requires lots of human intelligence and patience—neither of which I possess. Sadly, I will never know just how smart she is. It is best that way, as I already live in a household with one genius IQ. Clearly, I would be out-numbered if I found Molly possessed one, too.

VA PTSD Brain Bank

Did you know that the VA Office of Research & Development operates a Brain Bank to study PTSD? The brain bank is referred to as the VA Biorepository Brain Bank (VABBB) National Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Bank. The bank stores human tissue, processes it, and, gives out specimens for scientific research on PTSD.

The VA made a significant investment in helping Veterans with PTSD by creating the brain bank and undertaking scientific investigations to understand the biologic changes that occur in the brain after exposure to a traumatic event(s). This is a long-term commitment for the VA, seeking to help Veterans in hope of finding more effective treatments and to prevent it from happening.

Give a Brain, Save a Life

The VA seeks donors to sign up for the brain bank. Of course, no brain or spinal tissue is collected while one is alive. The process starts with a commitment by a Veteran to participate in the data collection phase now by enrolling in the bank. Upon death, the Veteran’s brain and spinal tissue is collected and deposited in the bank for study. Any Veteran with PTSD living in the US can enroll in the bank. The VA also seeks Veterans without PTSD to enroll, as their brain tissue represents a control group for comparison data.

The donor process sounds simple with the VA making all arrangements to collect the tissue after death. Extraordinary efforts protect the donor from identification outside of the study. The spouse or closest family member is also involved in the enrollment process since that individual contacts the VA research office when the time is right.

“Your donation may help future efforts in PTSD research and treatment. However, your taking part in this study will not benefit you directly.” VABBB

I broached the subject with my Veteran spouse. Having been one of the first Guinea pigs in developing a case for PTSD, I thought his reaction might be instant rejection. He surprised me with a resounding, “Of course. After all, I won’t be needing my brain after I die. If it can help others after I’m gone, I’m all in.”

Enrollment Information

If you are interested in being a participant in the VA Biorepository Brain Bank or have questions, you can call the VA at (800)762-6609. The program brochure offers information on the program.

Dog Brain Bank

I never found information on a canine brain bank but I did learn that the dog’s brain is even smaller than that of the dolphin, pig, goat, cow, and horse. It is comparable in size to the alpaca brain and definitely bigger than the cat’s.

While the dog’s brain is much smaller than the human brain, canines offer unconditional love and a healthy skill set to support the Veteran when trained as a service animal. Intelligent or not, the dog still is and always will be man’s best friend.

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About the blogger

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her granddaughter.

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