Tuesday February 26, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Chris Pratt thought he had a toothache.

He eventually lost three teeth and got a root canal before doctors realized there was no problem at all with his chompers. Something else was wrong.

Pratt had an arteriovenous malformation (or AVM), an abnormal connection between arteries and veins. Arteries normally carry blood away from the heart to the lungs or the rest of the body, where the blood passes through capillaries and returns to the heart via the veins. But AVM disrupts this process and forms a direct connection of the arteries and veins, causing pain and leading to more serious medical issues.

So Pratt's oral pain was coming from his brain, where a vein had ballooned over time and put pressure on a nerve, resulting in a moderate to severe brain injury.

Chris Pratt (Submitted photo)
Chris Pratt (Submitted photo)
He was soon confined to a wheelchair, could not swallow and required surgery. That was in 1997.

Now, after years of therapy and an unrelated battle with cancer, Pratt is a brain injury survivor and the founder of the Brain Injury Association of Vermont. He often gives presentations about his ordeal and the benefits of neuroplasticity, which he credits with improving his quality of life.

His next talk is slated for the Marlboro College Graduate School (at 28 Vernon St.) from 7 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb, 27. Presented by The Northeast Psychoneuroimmunology Institute, "From Surviving to Thriving: Making your Brain Work for You" will feature a detailed recap of how exercise and a healthy diet helped get Pratt back on his feet.

Psychoneuroimmunology is the study of the interaction between the human body's psychological processes and nervous and immune systems. Dr. Michael Gigante, a clinical psychologist and a co-founder of NEPNI, defined neuroplasticity as the brain's ability to rejuvenate itself after injury.

Pratt, the author of the Brain Sense program, told the Reformer he used mind/body strategies to maximize his own brain function recovery. He said Brain Sense emphasizes regular exercise, good nutrition, rest and relaxation and neurostimulation as beneficial ways to recover from a brain injury. Pratt said people would be amazed how much brain injury victims can benefit from watching what they eat, getting a good night's sleep and managing stress properly, and he cited all the data has been available for a while but nobody had ever compiled it into one program.

"I thought logically about all the things that were out there," said Pratt, now 62 years old. "I thought perhaps the gains would be even greater than they were individually."

He said after some neurostimulation he now has a higher IQ in the spots of his brain that were not affected by his AVM.

"Therapy is great, but therapy with passion is really great," he told the Reformer. "The gains are fairly fascinating."

Rupa Cousins, one of the co-founders of NEPNI, said she is looking forward to hearing Pratt discuss his personal journey of healing using mind/body strategies.

She met Pratt over lunch about six months ago said she is excited to hear what he has to say.

"I'm looking forward to audience's response. I'm so excited that this information is getting so popular out there. People no longer look at me cockeyed anymore when I say ‘psychoneuroimmunology' or ‘neuroplasticity,'" she said.

Gigante said he studied the brain while in graduate school in the early 1980s, and he was taught that brain cells cannot be repaired after an injury. The medical field learned in the 1990s, however, that this is untrue. He said he has used mind/body strategies similar to Pratt's to recover from a sports injury and gallbladder disease. He told the Reformer a medial meniscus tear sustained while playing football healed without surgery (which he was told was impossible), and his gallbladder never had to be removed.

Though he has heard Pratt's presentation once before, he is looking forward to seeing the information reach more ears.

The event will also serve to inform people about upcoming NEPNI classes and support groups. It is also a fundraiser and donations are appreciated, but not required. Money generated will go toward scholarships for those who want to take NEPNI's classes. Gigante said he is hoping at least 100 people show up.

This event is co-sponsored by the Brain Injury Association of Vermont, Green Mountain Crossroads, Sojourns Community Health Clinic and the Connection.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.