From near death to inspirational speaker, soldier's recovery from axe attack continues to impress
Trevor Greene trains his brain each day, 14 years after ambush in Afghanistan
While a sudden attack 14 years ago in Afghanistan took away former Canadian soldier Capt. Trevor Greene's ability to walk and talk in an instant, his journey back has been marked by slow, continued change.
In 2006, while meeting with elders in an Afghan village on a peacekeeping mission, an axe-wielding teenager split Greene's skull open and left the six-foot-four soldier, husband and father in a wheelchair back in Canada.
Now an inspirational TED talk speaker, he recently demonstrated his daily routine to keep retraining his brain during a video call from his home in Nanaimo, B.C., on Vancouver Island.
"Rolling over and just dying has never occurred to me. I want to be walking again and maybe surfing, and skydiving again," Greene said.
Greene's progress is not only being observed by fellow veterans and the scientific community, but he's also being credited as the inspiration behind Legion Veterans Village being built in Surrey, a first-of-its-kind in Canada.
Two big changes inspired by one man
Neuroscientist Ryan D'Arcy, from the Centre for Neurology Studies at HealthTech Connex in Surrey, said the centre's Project Iron Soldier focused on remapping Greene's brain wants to support Greene's goal of one day walking.
"What Trevor has been able to do is push the limits of rewiring to regain abilities that he'd lost when he was attacked ... just like an elite athlete trains, he trains his brain daily very hard," D'Arcy said.
He said Greene standing unassisted and bench-pressing are just two examples of his brain being rewired.
He's been working with Greene for more than ten years and now uses a small tool, called PoNS (portable neuromodulation stimulator) that connects with nerves in Greene's tongue which in turn stimulate his brain.
"There are nerves to your tongue that are like a backdoor to your brain. So while we were doing training, we could stimulate his brain and push into new realms of physical, cognitive and PTSD improvements," D'Arcy said.
Regarding his PTSD — or post-traumatic stress disorder — Greene said he was "constantly on edge and it was exhausting. Before I got the PoNS I couldn't have my back to a door for an instant ... now I'm not freaked out."
D'Arcy says the work he's done with Greene has given hope to countless other veterans.
Rowena Rizzotti, project lead of the Legion Veterans Village, says Greene inspired the $312-million complex because he needed so many different services for help, backers decided it was time to put all of them in one spot.
"We want this centre to continue to inspire in his name and countless veterans who continue to suffer greatly from their PTSD and mental health. They've given so much of themselves to protect us," Rizzotti said.
Rizzotti says the new legion and attached tower are set for completion in 2022, replacing the old legion in Whalley. It will also create a Centre of Excellence for PTSD, a mental health rehabilitation facility and have condo towers available for both veterans and first responders.
Now, while Greene continues his rehab with his family by his side, his next goal is to get to the base camp of Mount Everest.
"The base camp trek will be my walking debut on the international stage. There's always a way, I always say to my kids, there's always a way."
For D'Arcy, watching Greene's return from near death in Afghanistan is a strong motivating force.
"There is no end to this story. We're going to keep pushing recovery ... to inspiring countless others now," D'Arcy said.