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ECU recreation and leisure studies student, Matt Fish, left, assists Cpl. Brian Sloan with a device that monitors his blood pressure, heart beat and other factors. Until recently, Sloan was participating in a program designed to assist injured soldiers. (Photo by Erica Plouffe Lazure)

ECU Helps Rehabilitate Wounded Marine Warriors

By Erica Plouffe Lazure

With hundreds of U.S. soldiers returning home injured from combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, one recreational therapy professor at ECU is using biofeedback and other therapies to work with Marines from Camp Lejeune’s “Wounded Warrior” battalion.

Carmen Russoniello, professor of recreational therapy and director of the Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic, is helping injured Marines overcome both mental and physical injuries – from balance and other physical issues to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The program, launched this spring, brings a half-dozen soldiers to Russoniello’s lab at ECU, and enables a therapist to visit the 120 wounded soldiers at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville twice a week.

The alternative therapy strategy developed at ECU by Russoniello – which combines counseling with recreational therapy and biofeedback – is among the first of its kind.

“We’re taking an overall approach to reduce the hyper-vigilance that has been created among the soldiers as a result of being in a war situation,” Russoniello said. “The behavioral program is designed to help them control their emotions and autonomic nervous system reactions.”

At first glance, a young man playing Tiger Woods’ golf tournament on the Wii Nintendo in Russoniello’s lab would appear to have very little to do with the rehabilitation of an injured soldier.

But the telltale wires between the soldier’s body and the computer that monitors his heart rate, stress levels and other data show that more is afoot than a few young men enjoying themselves. The soldier tracks the monitor to see if his anxiety is rising, and he remembers to breathe deeply, and focus on the game.

Dealing with anxiety and stress through relaxation and recreation, Russoniello said, could be a critical part of a soldier’s rehabilitation.

Russoniello, a Marine who served in the Vietnam War, hopes the information he collects will someday provide others with a prescription for combating stress and the psychic residue of combat.

“Talking with them, what I see is me. The experiences and things they talk about are what I struggled with when I was their age,” he said. “Marines fight a certain way. The whole ethos of the Marine Corps is still there. So I know what they’re talking about.”

One major change Russoniello noticed from when he returned home from Vietnam, as compared to today’s returning soldiers, is that there is a greater openness to let civilians on the Marine base. The public, he said, is embracing these returning soldiers, and understands the need to help them rehabilitate.

“The potential is huge,” he said. “I’m hopeful there will be more opportunities like these, both for the Marines and for ECU.”

This page originally appeared in the Aug. 1, 2008 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at