Andrea Vellinga was an unlikely survivor of a horrific event last Aug. 13, when a stage rig was swept down by the wind onto the audience of a Sugarland concert in Indiana.
Seven people were killed at the State Fair’s Hoosier Lottery Grandstand that night. Dozens of others, including Vellinga, were hurt. She was hit in the head and suffered severe brain injury. She can’t remember what happened that night or the three months after.
But the night 30-year-old Vellinga was injured, and undergoing surgery, doctors asked her husband and mother if they wanted to have her participate in a test of an experimental drug being used for traumatic brain injury (TBI). They agreed, and Vellinga’s recovery has been remarkable, as chronicled by a recent story by the Associated Press.
Vellinga and her family actually don’t know if she is getting the experimental drug, the sex hormone progesterone, or a placebo. She remains in an intensive rehab facility in Michigan. But she is now walking and talking, making strides in her recovery from an injury that doctors thought she might not even survive, according to AP.
Researchers began looking at progesterone after noticing that young women often recover from TBI better than young men, AP reported.
Then research involving pregnant rats indicated that they recovered quicker than non-pregnant rats, leading doctors to believe that progesterone, a hormone produced in abundance during pregnancy, was a factor, according to AP. Studies also found that male rats who were given progesterone did better.
All this lead to an international study of more than 1,000 patients, to test whether giving a TBI victim progesterone right after his or her injury will help their recovery, AP reported.
To take part in the study, a person has to have been injured within eight hours and be in a coma, according to AP. Such patients are then given progesterone for the five days after their TBI. Then researchers monitor the progress of these patients. A preliminary trial found that the hormone lowered the mortality rate for patients and hastened their recovery.
The fact that Vellinga and her doctors don’t know if she had progesterone or a placebo is standard in such trials, and is called double-blinded testing.
BHR Pharma LLC of Herndon, Va., is sponsoring the research on progesterone, AP reported. The company told the wire service that it will perform an interim analysis of the study’s results the end of the year. If the results are very promising, BHR Pharma will make them public. If they aren’t, the company will wait and not release results until next year.