By Amy Zellmer, Editor-in-chief
Andrew Marr was an athlete his entire life. Having played all-conference football in college, he was used to performing at a high level. “I was never classified as having a concussion, but I probably had hundreds of them, but with no known issues. This was before we understood the consequences of banging your head over and over,” Andrew said.
We now understand that both physical and non-physical trauma can lead to inflammation and disrupt the chemistry of the brain, which can manifest as neurodegenerative and cognitive disorders. Andrew was repeatedly exposed to environments that are conducive to an inflammatory state.
As a high-performing athlete in great physical and mental health, it was only natural that Andrew would go on to be a member of Military Special forces — individuals who are specifically selected based on physical performance, mental intelligence, and resilience in extremely stressful and difficult situations.
During his military career, he served in combat in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2013. He was in constant situations involving gunfire, air blasts, and high-impact activities such as jumping out of airplanes. Add in being sleep deprived and not getting proper nutrition… it was, in his words, ” a breeding ground for disaster.”
In his entire life he had only been knocked unconscious once, from an explosion during combat. One minute it was daylight, and the next everything was dark and he couldn’t understand what had happened. He thought maybe there had been an earthquake; however, the sound of bullets and rocket grenades quickly brought him back to reality.
He didn’t think much about it afterwards. He was alive — he hadn’t been shot and wasn’t bleeding. He was assessed for a traumatic brain injury and laid low for a few days, and then was back in operation for the remainder of that deployment, about three months, constantly firing weapons and in close proximity to explosions.
Six months after returning from that deployment, his entire world started to deteriorate. The first thing he noticed was that he had lost his libido. At first he brushed it off, thinking that it was just his body’s way of acclimating to being home after being in combat. But then he started experiencing a complete zapping of his energy and life force. Where before he had abundant amounts of energy and was used to performing at a high level on numerous tests everyday things became exhausting and he had difficulty making it through the day.
Then Andrew began to have panic attacks. “I had always thought only psychologically weak people had those. It didn’t matter where I was — safe at home, a doctor’s waiting room, in public at a store — it didn’t matter. It would just come on out of nowhere and trigger something in me that caused me to cry uncontrollably and I couldn’t stop.”
Next came extreme headaches that would come on suddenly and lead to blurry and double vision and throw off his balance. And then depression started to settle in. “That was when I began to think I was going insane. I didn’t have a scratch on me and I was physically fit, but I felt heaviness, like my entire family had been murdered. But I had no reason to be depressed.”
His anxiety became so intolerable that he didn’t know how to cope, so he turned to alcohol. Drinking became a daily routine, and eventually he was drinking from the moment he woke up until he went to bed.
He found himself drinking and driving, understanding how completely out of character it was for him, and that it was a poor decision that put other people at risk.
At that point he went to Command and told them what was going on… begging for help. He wanted to get better. This led him through the gate into the military medical system.
He was put on 13 psychiatric drugs for anxiety, depression, migraine, pills to help him sleep, and Adderall to help him stay awake. He slowly became a zombie. The pills were masking his symptoms, but weren’t identifying or healing the actual problem.
He struggled with decision-making, correctly interpreting information, his short-term memory, and learning new things. “I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t read a book or a web page. I couldn’t follow a conversation or concentrate. I was only 32 years old.”
He was deemed 100% disabled by the V.A. and was forced to medically retire. He was labeled with over 30 disabilities, and he feared not knowing what the future entailed, or how he would provide for his family. The V.A. acknowledged that he had had a TBI, but stated that he was now suffering from “psychological distress”.
“I knew in my mind there were solutions for this. I vowed I would spend the rest of my life helping others in the exact same situation as me.”
Finding the Right Doctors
In November of 2014 Andrew found his way to a functional neurology clinic in Texas. At the end of his second day in a two-week intensive treatment program, he was finally able to sleep through the night, which was a huge win for him. Treatment helped resolve his migraines and vision issues, as well as his balance. He was grateful for those advancements, but wondered if he was as good as he was going to get.
During his two weeks at the clinic, Forbes Magazine was doing a feature story on the clinic, and documented Andrew’s intensive treatment. When the issue came out, another doctor in California read the article and knew he could help Andrew take his recovery further.
“Dr. Mark Gordon reached out to me. I was skeptical at first, but it ended up being the hope I was looking for,” Andrew said.
“Andrew came to me in 2015. He was depressed, on medications, and suicidal. He had previously been a high-performing special-ops Green Beret. The real issue here was that he was inflamed. If we get rid of inflammation, we see improvement. Using my nutraceutical protocol, we typically see great improvement. The bottom line is that we treat the cause — inflammation,” Dr. Gordon explained.
After working with Dr. Gordon, Andrew was able to get off all of his medications, and has been symptom-free since.
Hope for Others
In early 2016 Andrew’s younger brother, Adam, suggested that they document his story. He felt it could help other individuals going through the same things Andrew had. He described it as a potential roadmap to navigate your own circumstance. “It was all Adam’s idea,” Andrew said, “If it had been left up to me, I probably wouldn’t have done it. But I knew we had a responsibility to help others.”
Andrew sent the manuscript to his editor, Beth, who sent it to Emmy-award-winning director/producer, Jerri Sher. Jerri receives books all the time from people who think their story is worthy of a documentary. But once she read Andrew’s book, she knew she had to tell the story. Andrew said, “We were moving ahead with the movie before the book was even published. It’s funny how life ends up. If it was up to me, I wouldn’t want to be in the middle of any of this, but my wife and I understand that this is our new purpose in life. Adam and I were adamant that the movie needed to be educational, and that’s exactly where Jerri was coming from. It seemed like these things were meant to happen.”
“The stories I am supposed to tell find me. I knew I was supposed to tell this story and bring it to the world,” Jerri said. Because TBI affects millions of Americans, she knew she wanted the documentary to represent more than just military members, that it also had to include athletes and civilians. Her biggest hope was to create awareness about TBI and PTS (post-traumatic stress) and let people know that there is a way to heal, even if traditional doctors aren’t helping them.
The first thing she did before meeting with Andrew and Dr. Gordon was an internet search — she wanted to read everything they’d ever done or been featured in. She found out that Andrew and Dr. Gordon had been on the Joe Rogan podcast back in 2015. She immediately knew that was going to be a key part of the documentary, and was able to get the rights to use the podcast footage.
She then proceeded to find the rest of the remarkable cast:
- Joe Rogan, an American comedian and podcast host, is a huge supporter of veterans and wounded warriors.
- Dr. Daniel G. Amen, founder of Amen Clinics. Double board-certified psychiatrist, neuroscientist, and ten-time New York Times best-selling author.
- Kristen Willeumier, PhD, neuroscientist.
- Scott Sherr, M.D., director of integrative hyperbaric medicine and health optimization at Hyperbaric Medical Solutions in California.
- Robert Sammons, M.D., chief medical director for TMS Solutions, trained in TMS at the Harvard School of Medicine.
- Alan P. Sherr, D.C., founder and director of the Northport Wellness Center.
- Andrew Marr, Sergeant First Class and Special Forces Green Beret, retired. Co-author of Tales from the Blast Factory.
- Adam Marr, Aviation Commander, flying apache helicopters, retired. Co-author of Tales from the Blast Factory.
- Anthony Davis, former USC running back and NFL player.
- Mark Rypien, former quarterback of the Washington Redskins and winner of Super Bowl XXVI MVP.
- Ben Driebergen, American Marine Corps veteran and reality television personality best known for winning season 35 of CBS’s reality show, “Survivor”.
- Shawn Dollar, champion surfer and two-time Guinness World Records winner for highest wave ever surfed, 61 feet.
- Annie Nicholson, Naval Academy cadet who was sexually assaulted twice while attending the Academy and suffered severe PTSD. She was told she was mentally ill and was thrown out of the Navy.
- Sebastian “Sebby” Rapanti, a 9/11 first responder firefighter in NYC.
- Kevin Flike, a special forces engineer assigned to the 1st special forces group.
- Julianna Harpine, competitive gymnast and student at Belmont University studying to be a doctor of physical therapy.
- Alan Sher, suffered brain impairment from being in an 8-hour surgery for quadruple bypass after a severe heart attack.
The film, “Quiet Explosions: Healing the Brain” was released in November 2020 and is available for rental on Amazon and VIMEO. It won the Lilac award at the Spokane International Film Festival (SpiFF) in Spokane, Washington, as well as best documentary feature at the NoHo North Hollywood CineFest film festival. Additionally, it is entered in the Director’s Guild of America (DGA) for best documentary.
Andrew and Adam began Warrior Angels Foundation in 2015 and are currently putting 100 military members through Dr. Gordon’s protocols to observe what happens over the next year when the return back to their communities, with the hopes of reducing the rate of suicide amongst returning military members.
Special Operations issued a new study last year that shows special ops have a 30% higher suicide rate than even the army. They found this surprising because of the extensive selection process. But it’s not surprising to Andrew, who knows that these individuals are chronically exposed to blast waves and no one is looking at their inflammatory or neurologic functions. He wants to see that change and hopes their study will be an integral part of that change.
Additionally, they hope to expand beyond the military population and include the homeless and incarcerated populations, which are known to have high rates of TBIs. “It’s a societal issue. We want to make sure people know there is a choice and give them the information so they can have control over their lives,” Andrew said.
Meet the Cast.
Save the Date: March 16th 10am-4pm CST
Virtual brain injury awareness day event, including a Q&A with the cast of “Quiet Explosions” at 1pm CST.
Be sure to rent the movie on Amazon prior to the live event so that you can ask the cast your questions
To register: www.facesoftbi.com/event
Additionally, subscribe to Faces of TBI on iTunes or your favorite streaming platform so you don’t miss any of the upcoming interviews with the cast.