British Columbia

From near death to inspirational speaker, soldier's recovery from axe attack continues to impress

As he demonstrates through his daily brain training routine from his home in Nanaimo, B.C., former Canadian soldier, Capt. Trevor Greene says his focus can now switch to helping other veterans strive for more than survival.

Trevor Greene trains his brain each day, 14 years after ambush in Afghanistan

Canadian veteran Trevor Greene using the PoNS neuro-stimulation device on his tongue during physiotherapy at his home in Nanaimo, B.C. (HealthTech Connex Inc.)

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.

Capt. Trevor Greene in Afghanistan in 2006 when he was serving in a peacekeeping mission. (Trevor Greene )

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. 

Newspaper story about 2006 attack on Canadian soldier Capt. Trevor Greene. (CBC files)

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.

Greene is part of Project Iron Soldier, a neuro-research and physiotherapy team that helps him in his ongoing recovery from traumatic brain injury (HealthTech Connex Inc.)

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.

An artist's renderings of the planned Legion Veterans Village, a $312-million residential tower and treatment facility for veterans and first responders. It's currently under construction in Surrey and slated for completion in 2022. (Legion Veterans Village)

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.

About the Author

Zahra Premji

Host/Reporter

Zahra Premji is a host/reporter for CBC News Vancouver. She has worked as a host for CBC Alberta News in Edmonton, and a reporter in B.C. and Manitoba on various stories from racism to health and crime to asylum seekers and immigration. You can reach her at zahra.premji@cbc.ca

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