Routine study visit catches potentially life-threatening health risk

Clinical research is done with the goal of improving the quality of life for a specific population. Often, the long-term benefits are not seen in a study’s current participants, and instead the findings from these studies improve quality of life for patients in the future. For one Chronic Effects of Neurotrauma Consortium (CENC) participant however, participation in the study caught a potentially serious health issue early on that otherwise may not have been found until much later.

SFC (Retired) and current CENC participant Kevin Hopper served in the United States Army for over 20 years on Active Duty and completed two tours in Iraq. During his time in the military, he sustained a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), as is very common amongst Service Members. Their exposure to blasts during both combat and training exercises make it likely that they may even sustain multiple mTBIs. Hopper’s combat experience and time in the Army made him a perfect candidate for CENC’s Observational Study on Late Neurologic Effects of OEF/OIF/OND Combat.

Hopper first learned about CENC as a psychology student at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, Va.

“I heard about CENC through Military Student Services at VCU where I had a work study position. Stephen Ross [director of Military Student Services] thought I would be a good candidate as an older soldier. I got in touch with [CENC Military Coordinator and Program Specialist], LTC (Retired) Kevin Sickinger, and we went from there,” Hopper said.

Part of Hopper’s involvement in the study involved undergoing an MRI, which allowed CENC researchers and medical experts to have a look at his brain. That was when the potentially serious health matter came to light.

“They found a mass in my brain, but they weren’t sure what it was. I had another MRI and a cat scan, which allowed them to see it was a tumor…I recently had an appointment with my neurologist, and it turns out from what they say, it looks like it’s a fatty [benign] tumor,” Hopper said.

Hopper explained that the tumor will continue to be monitored, but due to a move, his treatment and participation will transfer to Syracuse, N.Y. Even with the move, Hopper is grateful to the Richmond VA CENC team.

“I really appreciate all of the support the CENC team gave me. They are a great team, and they care for our military. I can’t thank them enough,” he said.

Sickinger echoed Hopper’s thoughts.

“As a veteran myself, it is clear to see that this team is so dedicated to advancing treatment for other Veterans and Service Members,” he said. “CENC plays a valuable role in ensuring that mTBI research is always continuing forward and constantly improving.”

From his experiences with CENC, Hopper also encouraged other Service Members and Veterans to sign up for the study.

“Soldiers of today are our future. Maybe they could find something on me that they could fix for the next guy coming up…Join the CENC, and become one of the research subjects to help your fellow soldier,” he said.