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Face of Defense: Doctor Serves to Repay America

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 23, 2009 – In June 1989, Jason Huang – now an Army Reserve major – was among the 5,000 protestors who crammed into China’s Tiananmen Square, pressing the government for democracy and freedom of speech.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Maj. (Dr.) Jason Huang, right, an Army Reserve neurosurgeon who’s become a national leader in traumatic brain injury research, discusses his work with Army Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz, chief of the Army Reserve, center, and Dr. Webster Pilcher, a fellow neurosurgeon at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, N.Y. U.S. Army photo
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Instead, the Chinese government blacklisted him and threw him out of China’s prestigious University of Science and Technology, where he was a freshman studying mechanical engineering.

Flash forward 20 years, and Huang is a highly respected U.S. neurosurgeon who’s never lost sight of the opportunities his adopted country gave him, and is intent on repaying the favor.

He joined the Army Reserve after the 9/11 attacks, applied his medical expertise during a 2008 deployment, and is committed to helping his comrades in arms suffering from traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress and other battle-related disorders. His goal is to develop diagnostic tools so easy to use that commanders in the field can quickly identify brain injuries among their troops and get them the treatment they need.

Looking back at the Tiananmen Square crackdown, Huang recognizes he was “lucky to get out alive.”

Banned from China’s universities and most employment opportunities, he went to a library to explore other options, with the United States topping his list. As he looked at an alphabetical list of U.S. universities and colleges, Huang discovered the key to his future before he’d even left the “A’s”.

Amherst University offered him a full scholarship and a chance at a new life. Huang became a U.S. resident. From there, he continued to build his academic resume, with a year of research at Harvard University, then medical school at Johns Hopkins University and neurosurgery training at the University of Pennsylvania.

Huang said he’s never lost sight of the generosity he’s received through scholarships, student loans and other support that enabled him to become a neurosurgeon. So when terrorists attacked the United States in 2001, he joined the Army Reserve.

“I came here from China with nothing, and had so many opportunities offered to me,” he said. “And I always believed that if there was some way I could pay back to this country all that it’s given me, I would do it.”

During his deployment to Iraq, Huang got to explore an area he’s deeply interested in: neurotrauma. He and Dr. Jeffrey Bazarian, a colleague at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, N.Y., had been researching traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress and related disorders that affect combat troops. Huang said his on-the-ground exposure gave him a better understanding of the blast injuries many combat troops were receiving – more devastating than brain injuries from car crashes and other accidents he was accustomed to treating in Rochester.

Huang and Bazarian are trying to identify for “markers” – specific proteins in the blood – that signal these brain injuries. Once they identify these markers, he explained, doctors at combat support hospitals will be able to give a simple blood test to determine if a servicemember suffering from headaches or other symptoms has a traumatic brain injury. That, in turn, will lead to faster treatment and, when necessary, medical evacuation from the battlefield.

Experience on the ground gave Huang insight into why many troops downplay their injuries. “Some soldiers just want to tough it out and continue to fight,” he said, not realizing the consequences of not getting, or delaying, care for blast injuries.

As they work toward identifying a marker, Huang and Bazarian have volunteered their time to provide free care for combat veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress and related afflictions. They’re forming a volunteer network at Strong Memorial Hospital, an affiliate of the University of Rochester Medical Center, to screen and treat more troops, and hope ultimately to open a blast injury center serving the region.

“We have a very good support system here that, when we put it together, will be able to provide some very important care,” Huang said. “We are on our way to doing something very, very positive.”

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