Veterans Voices: Procedure helps local veteran take his life back from rare disease

Veterans Voices

After 17 years in the Army, Brett Clingan had to be medically discharged because of leukodystrophy

(WYTV) – After their service, a lot of veterans have to deal with disabilities from their time in the military. However, some veterans need help with disabilities that are not completely service related.

Brett Clingan is a U.S. Army veteran. He has served in 25 states and 15 countries including Iraq.

After 17 years in the Army, Clingan had to be medically discharged because of a rare disease called leukodystrophy that affects the brain and central nervous system. Less than 200 people in the U.S. have it, but it runs in Clingan’s family.

“I have it, my twin brother has it, both my sisters have it. My brother passed away with it, my mother passed away with it, my aunt passed away with it. It goes back as far as my great-grandfather,” he said.

Leukodystrophy affects the nerves, weakens the core and limits muscle movement, essentially paralyzing Clingan from the chest down.

Recently, Dr. Ron Triolo of the VA Medical Center in Cleveland performed a six hour operation to implant an electrical stimulator into Clingan’s abdomen with 16 wires that run to his limbs.

“What this procedure does is it allows us to excite those nerves with small amounts of electricity that causes them to contract with a number of muscles in a coordinated way. We can get a useful movement out of the entire limb,” Dr. Triolo said.

After a six week recovery, the stimulator was activated and can be turned on and off by Clingan by using a remote control.

“There it goes. It straightens me right up and I can move my arms around and stuff, however, I’m not so immobile,” Clingan said. “Now I can drive, I can wash my hands, I can brush my teeth, I can comb my hair.”

Clingan can also do a lot more everyday activities like mow his lawn, ride his tractor and maintain his garden.

He knows this procedure won’t cure leukodystrophy, but it has certainly improved his quality of life.

“By all means, this is awesome. The VA does great stuff with this procedure but it’s not a cure. I’ll never be cured of leukodystrophy or ALS or MS, but it will, if you’re willing to give the time and do the exercises back and forth, it helps out,” Clingan said.

“It’s our belief that it could slow down the progression of the disease by making what’s there healthier, including his heart and his lungs as well as his muscles,” Dr. Triolo said.

Clingan still has a long way to go but believes this technology can really benefit him going forward.

“Hopeful. Very hopeful,” Clingan said.

To read more stories about local and national veterans, visit our Veterans Voices section on Also, be sure to tune in for a special Veterans Voices segment this Veterans Day, Nov. 11 at 5:30 p.m. on 33 WYTV.

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Mel Robbins Main Area Middle

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