Why I Do This

I know firsthand how traumatic brain injuries can tear families apart. In November 2015, after suffering for nearly a decade with a massive, traumatic brain injury sustained in Iraq, my brother Kiernan took his own life.

My family helplessly watched as his injury deteriorated his quality of life, causing him to become emotional, mercurial, and violent. No amount of intervening, pleading, or outward expressions of love seemed to help. He refused to admit he had a problem and instead covered up vulnerability with bravado, impulsivity, and alcohol.

To those outside the family, Kiernan appeared to be doing well. His social media pages were full of travel and adventure photos. He graduated with undergraduate and graduate degrees, and he always maintained his charm.

But to those closest to him, it was obvious he was slowly coming unglued.

Unfortunately, my brother’s traumatic brain injury and subsequent suicide is just one story in thousands of veteran suicide stories over the past 20 years. According to a 2012 Department of Veterans Affairs report, an estimated 22 veterans take their own lives each day. While we may never know the varied and complex reasons an individual veteran decides to take his or her own life, there is a large and ever-growing body of evidence supporting a link between traumatic brain injury and suicidality.

The knowledge of that link and the loss of my own brother have inspired a call to action within me. I endeavor to change the narrative of veteran suicides and fundraise for organizations, like Cohen Veteran Bioscience, doing the difficult work of figuring out the physiology of traumatic brain injuries and developing testing and therapeutics.

To this end, we do 22 BASE jumps in a day — the same number of veterans who take their own lives each day — to honor those veterans, as well as my brother. The elevation gained during a 22 BASE jump-day at Camelback Mountain is roughly equivalent to the elevation gained from summiting Mt Whitney from the Whitney portal or summiting Mt Rainier. Safely piloting a BASE canopy in the desert 22 times in a day is also no easy feat. The physical effort and skill needed to accomplish this fundraising event is why we feel it’s an appropriate way to honor those veterans who leave us early each day and bring attention to their struggles.

 

Next Steps

In order to change the narrative of traumatic brain injuries and veteran suicides, I have partnered with Cohen Veteran Bioscience (CVB). CVB is accelerating the development of next-generation diagnostics and treatments for brain disorders by harnessing the power of biotechnology, high-performance computing, and data analytics to find consistencies in patient experiences. These consistencies will help us better understand the underlying mechanisms that cause complications resulting from traumatic brain injuries and discover new ways to improve brain health