A PTSD Success Story: War Hero Dakota Meyer Says a Stellate Ganglion Block Saved His Life

You may have heard of Sgt. Dakota Meyer after his heroic rescue of 36 wounded and trapped Marines and soldiers from the village of Ganjgal in Afghanistan, for which he earned the Medal of Honor. You may also recognize him as the husband of Bristol Palin, the daughter of Alaska governor Sarah Palin.

What you may not know, however, is that Dakota Meyer suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and that he even attempted to take his own life. After initially taking medications for his condition, Meyer learned about a new treatment called stellate ganglion blocks. Currently, Meyer has a SGB performed on him once or twice a year and says the treatment has dramatically changed his life.

A True American Hero

Dakota Meyer joined the United States Marine Corps in 2006, shortly after graduating from high school in his hometown of Columbia, Kentucky. After completing basic training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, Meyer was deployed as a scout sniper to Fallujah, Iraq in 2007.

On September 8, 2009, Sgt. Meyer learned that three Marines and a Navy Corpsman were missing after an insurgent ambush. While searching for his squad mates, he helped rescue 12 wounded soldiers as well as 24 others from likely death at the hands of a numerically superior enemy force. He also killed a Taliban fighter who was attempting to remove the bodies of his four squad members.

On September 15, 2011, President Barack Obama awarded Sgt. Dakota Meyer the Medal of Honor. Meyer was the first living serviceman to receive the military’s highest honor since the Vietnam War.

A Difficult Return to Civilian Life

Although Meyer had an illustrious military career, he had a tough time adjusting to civilian life. For years, he had nightmares and anxiety attacks which he recognized were symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. However, he did not actively seek treatment for his PTSD until 2016, many years after his return to civilian life.

After talking to another soldier about one of his anxiety attacks, Meyer learned about an emerging therapy called stellate ganglion blocks. Almost instantly following the procedure, Meyer noticed an improvement in his anxiety levels. He said that the next morning he found his mood so improved that he was singing in the shower.

SGB isn’t the only therapy that Meyer uses to treat his PTSD.  He participates in psychotherapy, and he also uses Alpha-Stim, a device that reduces anxiety by electrically stimulating his ear. At night, he also uses a CBD pen to curb his desire for alcohol.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Of the more than three million U.S. service members that have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, it is estimated that 14 to 20 percent suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.  Most military PTSD sufferers develop the condition in response to combat experiences, but it is also not uncommon to develop PTSD following a sexual assault during military service.

Among the public, PTSD may be a response to a serious accident, violent act, natural disaster or serious injury. Almost one in 11 people will experience PTSD at some point in their lives.

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder may include:

  • Distressing flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Severe emotional reactions
  • Avoidance of people, places or activities that trigger traumatic memories
  • Loss of relationships
  • Hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • Easily startled
  • Constant state of vigilance
  • Substance abuse
  • Sleeping problems
  • Difficulty concentrating

Not everyone develops PTSD following a traumatic event. People with the following risk factors are more likely to develop it:

  • You are female
  • You experienced trauma as a child
  • The trauma was of a long duration
  • Lack of social support
  • You have other stress factors
  • You have a history of mental illness or substance abuse

Stellate Ganglion Blocks

A stellate ganglion block consists of an injection of anesthetic into a bundle of nerves in your neck known as the stellate ganglion. The stellate ganglion has a variety of functions including regulating heart rate, sweat secretion and blood flow, but most importantly, it helps govern the “fight or flight” response to stress.

In many PTSD sufferers, the sympathetic nervous system which includes the stellate ganglion is overactive. It has been theorized that a stellate ganglion block soothes this key set of nerves, allowing the sympathetic nervous system to reset to a normal resting state.

Typically, a stellate ganglion block may be performed on an outpatient basis. The physician will use an x-ray or ultrasound system to guide the needle to the targeted nerves. The actual procedure takes less than 10 minutes to complete, but there is usually a short recovery period where you will be monitored for any complications.

In most cases, a stellate ganglion block is performed in a set of two or three injections. There is usually a two or three week waiting period between injections. Some patients improve so significantly after the first or second injection that more are unnecessary.

If you respond positively to the initial set of stellate ganglion blocks, then your physician may recommend that you repeat the procedure at an appropriate time. Even if you do not immediately respond to a stellate ganglion block, there may still be some hope; some patients may not improve until the 10th injection.

You should not have a stellate ganglion block if you have the following:

  • You are allergic to the anesthetic or steroid
  • You are currently on a blood thinning medication
  • You have an active infection near the injection site
  • You have poorly controlled diabetes or heart disease

Although the risk of serious complications is very low, there are still some risks including

  • Temporary pain at the injection site
  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Spinal block
  • Injection into surrounding blood vessels or organs

Although stellate ganglion blocks are not officially approved for treatment of PTSD, many health care professionals fully endorse this therapy. One survey of clinicians found that 95 percent recommend this therapy and 100 percent rate stellate ganglion block as “Very” or “Somewhat Beneficial.”

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care

M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.  The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship.  Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA, and you should not post any of your private health information.