Health Check Special Report: Traumatic brain injury treatment
When Tracy Yatsko walked in to Dr. Victor Pedro's Cranston office just a few months ago she was in pretty bad shape.
"There was a point when I would just wake up with pain and all I did was lay on the couch," Tracy said.
Eight years earlier, when Tracy was 17 and a stand-out track and basketball star in Tamaqua, Pa., she suffered a concussion.
"I was going up for a rebound and as I was coming down, the back of my head collided with another girl's head," Tracy said.
Tracy said she momentarily blacked out but got back in the game.
"I played two days later. I knew I had a concussion, but it's one of those things athletes do," Tracy said.
It cost her.
"The first symptoms were, of course, dizziness, and constant nausea. But my migraines left me basically paralyzed in bed," Tracy said.
A few years ago, she did a public service announcement addressing the seriousness of concussions for the Centers for Disease Control.
Her crippling migraines continued.
Then she heard about Pedro. He was about a five-hour drive from her home in Pennsylvania. Her initial evaluation was on Dec. 19.
"I remember the first day I was here, I went home and I just cried because it was the first time in eight years that a doctor told me this is what's wrong with you and this is how we can fix it," Tracy said.
Pedro, a chiropractic neurologist, had come up with a way to treat traumatic brain injury, including concussion and migraine.
"What we're doing is we're using the eyes as a window to brain function. We know what normal should look like," Pedro said.
Pedro said the initial evaluation showed a disparity in the size of Tracy's pupils. His job was to help rewire or retrain her brain.
"It gave me hope and it was the first time in eight years that I had hope," Tracy said.
Beginning in early January, Tracy temporarily moved to Rhode Island to begin her intensive treatment -- one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon.
Pedro used visual and auditory stimulation to work to get her brain function back to normal.
"We're monitoring heart rate. We're looking at the pupillary responses and seeing how the patient's responding to treatment," Pedro said.
During each brain exercise, Tracy is hooked up to an EKG; her heart rate is closely monitored.
The treatments are labor intensive. But they all, including a metronome clapping exercise, are working on her sequencing and timing.
Two weeks into intensive treatment, some improvement was noticeable. Tracy's pupils were closer in size and so is her response time.
Fast forward to Feb. 7. Tracy is done with her in office treatments and is in for her final evaluation.
"Eight years and one month, and my brain is fixed. That's really hard to believe," Tracy said.
Tracy said she rarely has headaches now.
"It's not even that I'm not having headaches. I feel almost normal," Tracy said.
Her pupils are now relatively the same size.
"Other metrics that we use in terms of eye movement and pupillary responses, those are returned to what we consider to be normal," Pedro said.
Pedro has done his job, now Tracy has to translate those successes into real life.
Pedro said over the past three years, he's successfully treated 150 patients with concussions, some of them pretty severe. His innovative treatment is gaining interest worldwide.