Waco-area Doctor Studies PTSD From the Inside Out to Help Others


A Waco-area Air Force Reserve doctor and his wife, also an Air Force Reserve doctor, have teamed up with others to study PTSD from the inside out and hope their experiences can help veterans.

Lt. Col. David F. Tharp, PsyD, and his wife Katherine A. Tharp, MD, have dedicated their professional lives to helping veterans who have been affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and, most importantly, their families.

June is designated PTSD Awareness Month.


Tharp, who works in the mental health field in Waco, sees lines of patients who are affected by PTSD every week but he has special insight because he's been diagnosed with PTSD himself. His diagnosis came after he served a voluntary deployment to Afghanistan

"I wasn't prepared for the impact of war when I stood next to the remains of a 19-year-old soldier covered in a blood-soaked American flag," Tharp wrote in his book What Happens in War Doesn't Stay in War.

"I have these memories permanently embedded in my head," Tharp wrote, and those who live similar experiences "are forever changed."

Tharp chose to deploy to Afghanistan in spite of the fact his wife was still in medical school and the couple had two young boys that Katherine would be caring for alone while also holding down a part time job. But Tharp said he wanted to deploy because he wanted to experience combat first hand.

"You can't understand combat unless you've been there," Tharp said. "I know that's trite, but it's true. Someone who's never been in combat will not understand what a soldier goes through."

Being a field grade Air Force officer, Tharp said he thought he knew all about combat, but "I couldn't have been more wrong," he said. Tharp said when he got to Afghanistan he had a choice, Kandahar or Kabul.

"I chose Kandahar," he said, and within a short time he learned the doctors he would have been assigned to in Kabul all were killed execution-style by an Afghani pilot.

Tharp's assignment in Kandahar pretty much set him up for being a victim of PTSD because it was his job to identify those Americans killed in Afghanistan before their bodies were sent home for burial.

It was then that "War became real to me," he said, “I never imagined it would affect me the way it has."

But since Tharp has the direct experience and suffers from PTSD himself, he and his wife have written two books, and have a third underway, each one aimed at communicating with veterans who have similar stories.

"I've decided to do something about it," Tharp said, "I've had enough."

Sometimes referred to as "signature wounds" experts say today as many as 1-in-3 service members suffer from PTSD or traumatic brain injury, a report issued by the Lone Survivor Foundation says.

During the Civil War it was called "soldier's heart", in World War I doctors called it "shell shock," in World War II it was known as "combat fatigue," but not until the aftermath of Viet Nam did the condition become known as PTSD. But PTSD doesn't have to be related to war.

A national clearing house on the issue says today in the United States, including all cases whether related to military service or not, more than 5 million Americans suffer from PTSD. PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can occur after a person has been through a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, a vehicle crash, sexual or physical assault, a terrorist attack or, very commonly, experiencing combat during wartime.

"During a traumatic event, people think that their life or the lives of others are in danger," a report published by Brainline.com says.

"They may feel afraid or feel that they have no control over what is happening, and if the person has a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), too, these feelings of lack of control and fear can balloon into confusion, challenges with memory, or intense emotion."

People usually don't hear about those cases of PTSD because the victims aren't soldiers or former soldiers and because civilian agencies don't talk about it very much, but it is likely that those triggers for PTSD are much more common than combat.

Generally, symptoms of PTSD can occur when a person re-experiences the traumatic event, tries to avoid thinking about the event, or is experiencing high levels of anxiety related to the event, a report issued by the National Centers for Mental Health said.

"Some of the most common symptoms include: having recurrent nightmares, acting or feeling as though the traumatic event were happening again, sometimes called a 'flashback', being physically responsive, such as experiencing a surge in your heart rate or sweating, to reminders of the traumatic event, having a difficult time falling or staying asleep, feeling more irritable or having outbursts of anger, feeling constantly 'on guard' or like danger is lurking around every corner.

Other symptoms include: making an effort to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations about the traumatic event, a loss of interest in important, once positive, activities, and experiencing difficulties having positive feelings, such as happiness or love.

By Paul J. Gately | Published by KWTX News 10 | Read the article

Chea Davis