Capt. Trevor Greene wanted to serve. In 2006, he went to Afghanistan as a peace officer.
During a meeting where he tried to build trust with village elders, he took off his helmet as a sign of respect. Moments later, he was attacked.
“A young man came up behind me, pulled an axe out from under his robe and swung it into my head,” Greene said.
He was rushed to a hospital in Germany, but no one thought he would survive. He defied the odds.
When he came home to B.C. he spent more than a year at Vancouver General Hospital.
The more time passed, the more the odds were stacked against him.
“Conventional medical wisdom has it that brain injury survivors have six months to make gains, and that’s it,” he said. “So they give up.”
Instead, Greene went to work: two-hour training sessions in the morning, physiotherapy in the afternoon.
Researchers soon took interest in his progress and an initiative dubbed Project Iron Soldier was born.
Using advanced brain-scanning technology known as Neurocatch, Greene’s team of doctors could show his brain rewiring through neuroplasticity.
It was so successful they decided to to thing to the next level, introducing a robotic exoskeleton to help train his muscles how to walk again.
Now they’re upping the ante again, using a portable neurostimulator device known as PoNS.
“It actually stimulates your tongue,” Ryan D’Arcy of Project Iron Soldier said.
“Not only can we see these incredible improvements in his physical ability, his thinking and his PTSD, but we could measure it with his brainwaves and changes with Neurocatch.”
Not only has the device helped Greene push through any plateau, but it’s breaking boundaries and redefining what’s possible.
“He keeps going and I think that gives other soldiers hope for themselves as well,” wife Debbie said.
Greene’s story is the inspiration behind the Legion Veterans Village, Canada’s first centre of excellence for veterans and first responders.
The centre, currently under construction in the Surrey neighbourhood of Whalley, will focus on post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health research.
Ninety-one affordable rental housing units will also be available for veterans, first responders, and legion members.
The $312-million project, which aims to change the current standards of care and services for veterans and their families, is expected to be completed in 2022.
As for Greene, he knows he has more work to do.
“It’s going on 15 years for me, and I’m not done,” he said.
— With files from Robin Gill