Photo Information

Sgt. Josh Cooley takes a break from his work on top of an M1 A1 Abrams tank in Iraq July 1, 2005, just days before his convoy was blown up by an improvised explosive device. Cooley, a crew chief for amphibious assault vehicles, lost a third of his brain in the blast and sustained significant burns over much of his body. Over the next six years, Cooley defied all odds by steadily improving until he was able to walk, stand, talk and perform daily tasks.

Photo by Photo courtesy of Christine Cool

Renewed hope through healing

29 Dec 2011 | Lance Cpl. Chelsea Flowers

‘Don’t expect any miracles’ – that’s what doctors told Christine Cooley when she received news that her son, Sgt. Joshua Cooley had been severely injured by an improvised explosive device in Iraq in 2005.

“I got the phone call on July 6,” Christine said. “They told me that I was going to be escorting his body home.”

The injuries Cooley sustained were catastrophic. He lost the front third of his brain, the majority of his body was covered in burns and he had countless pieces of shrapnel in his body. The prognosis wasn’t good.

What the doctors didn’t consider, however, was the undying spirit of a Marine and the helping hands of the Healing Heroes Network.
Cooley, against all odds, washolding on, said Christine.

“The doctors couldn’t explain how he was still alive because the whole side of his brain was gone,” Christine said. “They couldn’t give me his prognosis because no one had ever survived injuries like that.”

Neither Christine nor his doctors would give up on Cooley. Through aggressive rehabilitation programs, Cooley’s condition slowly improved.

When Marines from Cooley’s squadron came to visit him following their return from deployment, he surprised everyone by laughing and remembering the stories they told.
Doctors were baffled by his immense progress, Christine said. The nurses started calling him ‘Mr. Personality.’

“Every time they would give us the worst case scenario, he would come out of it,” Christine said.

After years of treatment, Cooley began feeding himself, moving his legs, washing his face and whispering responses to Christine. However, Cooley was still wheelchair-bound with minimal strength in his left arm and leg.  His thoughts were fuzzy and he had difficulty formulating sentences. Christine said she knew he could do better and that time was wasting away.

“There’s a small window for a brain injury to heal,” Christine said. “You can’t wait.”

Christine began researching an alternative treatment called Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy. HBOT is the medical use of 100% oxygen to drastically increase levels of oxygen to damaged tissues in the body.

The information about HBOT looked promising. Unfortunately, the therapy wasn’t offered under Veterans Assistance. That’s when Cooley was referred to a neurologist named Dr. Allan Spiegel in Tampa Bay, Fla., who had a specialty in Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy.

Spiegel was the founder of a nonprofit organization called Healing Heroes Network that bridged the gap in medical services offered to wounded warriors returning home with brain injuries.

In 2010, funds from HHN allowed Cooley to get the oxygen therapy he needed.

The results of the treatment were shocking, Christine said.

“Improvement was happening before, but at a slower pace,” Christine said. “When we went to oxygen therapy, it was like a light went on and everything started happening rapidly.”

Within a few weeks, Cooley experienced increased clarity of thought and speech. His strength in his left arm and leg improved. Before long, Cooley was walking with a walker, then acane and finally walking unassisted. Cooley had improved more in a few weeks than he had in the previous five years.

“Every therapy promotes him even further yet,” Spiegel said. “He is doing outstanding. He’s a walking miracle.”

Now Cooley is able to partake in the things that he loves, like riding his horse and mucking the stalls, Christine said.

HHN has allowed numerous service members like Cooley with mild traumatic brain injuries to return to the quality of life that they deserve, Spiegel said.

 “When you have people who put their life on the line to give security to the United States, I feel they need to get whatever care can be given in a timely fashion,” Spiegel said.

Cooley continues to receive yearly treatments of HBOT and Christine never stops dreaming of what he will do next.
“Every time I think he won’t do something, he does it,” Christine said. “Josh has reinvented recovery.”

To learn more about Healing Heroes Network or to donate log onto:

Headquarters Marine Corps