It can happen in an instant and change lives forever. Close to two million people are affected by traumatic brain injury every year.
Worldwide, it's a major cause of death and disability. Now, researchers hope something that our body produces naturally can help bring the first-ever TBI treatment to those who need it.
"The car went into the back of a parked 18 wheeler," said Lester Talley, who had a traumatic brain injury.
Health issues lead to Talley's near-fatal accident. The husband and father of two suffered a serious traumatic brain injury.
"There really is no definitive therapy for the treatment of acute brain injury," said Dr. Daniel Laskowitz, Professor Medicine (Neurology), Neurobiology & Anesthesiology Director, Neurovascular Laboratories at Duke University Medical Center.
Lester's wife feared the worst.
"It seemed like my world was coming to an end," says Lester wife, Ashley Talley.
While in a coma, Lester was enrolled in a phase three trial called Synapse to test progesterone as a treatment. It's a natural hormone produced in men and women that's most often associated with pregnancy.
"There is good evidence that it reduces inflammation," says Dr. Laskowitz.
The hormone has to be given within eight hours of an injury. It's infused into the brain for five days straight.
"Their ultimate endpoint is how they are doing at six months," says Dr. Laskowitz.
Research shows the drug can rebuild the blood-brain barrier, decrease brain swelling and cell death. The trial is blinded so Lester doesn't know if he got the real drug, but in six months he's come a long way. He still has trouble with the left side of body and a few memory issues.
"He remembered the most important thing, that I'm his wife,” says Ashley. “That's what I wanted you to remember."
More than 180 sites in the country are taking part in the Synapse trial. The closest one is in Portland.
A 2012 review of the first 200 study participants found there were no safety concerns associated with the treatment.