Creating the Midwest’s First Brain Injury Program for Veterans and First Responders

Creating the Midwest’s first brain injury program for veterans and first responders
Milwaukee-area first responders and leaders from Avalon Action Alliance, MCW, Froedtert Hospital and the Wisconsin Institute of Neuroscience gather on April 27 to announce Avalon’s $12.5 million gift to create the BRAVE program to treat mild traumatic brain injury in military veterans and first responders.

Milwaukee will be home to the Midwest’s first program designed specifically to treat mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) in veterans and first responders.

The Wisconsin Institute of Neuroscience (WINS) is launching BRAVE (Building Resilience through Action in Veterans and First Responders), an intensive three-week outpatient program customized to treat the unique needs of participants with mTBI, thanks to a $12.5 million gift from Avalon Action Alliance, a national organization focused on the mental wellness of veterans and first responders.

Avalon made the donation at an announcement at MCW on April 27, 2023. WINS represents a partnership among Children’s Wisconsin, Froedtert Hospital, MCW and the Clement J. Zablocki Veterans’ Administration Medical Center. Its goal is to deliver a combined set of offerings that showcase the unmatched advancements of collaborative academic medicine, along with world-class clinical care, unique clinical trials, groundbreaking research and innovative education.

“When we looked for a partner to build our veteran alliance, WINS immediately stood out due to the global reputation of its leadership,” says Joe Brennan, CEO of Avalon Action Alliance. “The partners’ history of developing medical treatments and conducting research to increase our knowledge of brain injuries and trauma is remarkable. We’re pleased to support them in repaying these heroes for their service.”

Dr. James Kelly and Dr. Cecilia HillardPictured left: Dr. James Kelly, national director of Avalon Action Alliance, and Cecilia J. Hillard, PhD, MCW’s G. Frederick Kasten, Jr. Endowed Chair in Parkinson’s Disease Research, associate dean for research, professor of pharmacology and toxicology, and director of the Neuroscience Research Center, discuss the organization’s gift to launch the BRAVE program.

Participants in BRAVE will begin the program following discharge from a medical facility – such as the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee – for any brain injury treatment they may have received. After a referral by a medical professional, members of the BRAVE program will conduct detailed clinical evaluations and develop a customized treatment plan that targets each person’s needs and how to best support their recovery.

“We’re grateful and excited to be the first Avalon Action Alliance program in the Midwest, providing specialized diagnostic and rehabilitation services designed to help our military veterans and first responders overcome these injuries and regain their lives,” shares Michael McCrea, PhD, director of the BRAVE program. “Military veterans and first responders are tasked with going into situations that not only can be extremely dangerous, but also can commonly result in brain injury, trauma and great distress,” he adds. Dr. McCrea also serves as the Shekar N. Kurpad, MD, PhD, Chair in Neurosurgery, professor of neurosurgery, vice chair of research, director of the Neurotrauma Research Center and director of the Brain Injury Research Program.

Due to the size of the region and the number of veterans living there, Avalon had been looking to expand to the Midwest and was delighted to find such a strong foundation of TBI research and treatment at MCW. However, the program won’t just focus on people within the Midwest.

BRAVE is expected to attract participants from across the country – and possibly beyond – due to the word-of-mouth connections that often draw members of the veteran and first responder communities to treatment.

“WINS and our partners at Froedtert Hospital and MCW have an international reputation for research and specialized clinical care for neurotrauma,” says Shekar Kurpad, MD, PhD, director of WINS and the Sanford J. Larson Professor and chair of neurosurgery at MCW. “Our partnership with Avalon Action Alliance represents another focused step toward our goal of delivering the best care to people with traumatic brain injuries.”

The BRAVE program is expected to begin offering services to patients in the fall of 2023. Services will be delivered at the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Greenfield Highlands Health Center.

MCW Imagine More Dinner 2023Neuro Hero Award Winners

In recognition of its support in creating the region’s first mTBI program for veterans and first responders, Avalon Action Alliance received the Neuro Hero Award at MCW’s Imagine More Dinner on June 20, 2023. (pictured right)

An annual nationally recognized philanthropic event, Imagine More raises money for neuroscience research. Winners of the Neuro Hero Award are selected by MCW’s Neuroscience Research Center board for their outstanding commitment to the advancement of the neurosciences.

Mary Ellen Stanek, Dr. Cecilia Hillard and David Lubar
Dr. Cecilia Hillard (center) with event co-chairs and MCW trustees Mary Ellen Stanek and David Lubar.

Michael McCrea, PhD, presented the award to Joe Brennan, CEO of Avalon Action Alliance, and James Kelly, MD, Avalon Action Alliance’s national director, noting its transformative value to the Milwaukee community.

Dr. James Kelly at 2023 MCW Imagine More Dinner
Dr. James Kelly shakes hands with a well-wisher as Joe Brennan looks on.

Dr. McCrea also joined Brennan and Dr. Kelly as guests on the Clinical & Translational Science Institute of Southeast Wisconsin’s “Discovery Radio” on June 16. They discussed mTBI, the BRAVE program and the difference specialized treatment can make when helping veterans and first responders recover from an injury to the brain.

“The mission of the Alliance is to take care of our veterans and first responders who have invisible wounds [and] help those individuals who otherwise find it hard to seek help,” says Dr. Kelly. “This is about restoring military veterans and first responders to their best selves and returning them to gainful life,” adds Dr. McCrea.

– Chris Combs

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