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Drew Landry… Making Music, Documentaries and Medical Research History

When Lafayette, Louisiana-born musician and activist Drew Landry found himself trapped in his vehicle after a head-on collision with an 18-wheeler, he wasn’t sure he’d get out of there alive. Later, he would learn his hip was fractured in three places, he had a broken arm, his leg was broken and in traction, his ankles were “messed up,” and he had broken ribs – not to mention a surgery or two in his future. To make matters worse, Drew had no health insurance. He did, however, have one thing on his side – the orthopedic team at LSU Health New Orleans.

“I wouldn’t be walking if it wasn’t for them,” he said. “I served as a medic in the National Guard, so when they asked me if I wanted to participate in a research program that would help wounded warriors, I knew it was a chance to give something back, both to the soldiers and to the doctors who saved my life.” Drew decided to make something positive out of the circumstances he was presented by volunteering to help the research team at LSU Health New Orleans study a medical condition that has frustrated and bewildered many doctors.

The research Drew agreed to participate in will help trauma patients like himself as well as soldiers who have lost limbs, mostly as a result of IEDS (Improvised Explosive Devices). Military doctors are finding injured soldiers who are experiencing the formation of extra bone material at the site of their amputations. This condition, known as trauma-induced heterotopic ossification, gets in the way of rehabilitation because it makes it difficult for prosthetic devices to fit properly. This bone growth after amputation is seen in the civilian population as well, but not as often. Those who lost limbs during the Boston Marathon attack also experienced trauma-induced heterotopic ossification.

The research at LSU Health New Orleans is being conducted in partnership with the Department of Defense and in collaboration with the U.S. Navy, Ohio State, and Tulane University. Here at LSU Health New Orleans, Vinod Dasa, M.D., and a team of approximately 20 medical students, residents and faculty members are comparing blood samples from orthopedic trauma patients like Drew with blood samples from wounded soldiers. The scientists are looking to see if there is anything in the blood – a marker, for instance – that will make it possible for doctors to predict who might experience this excess bone growth. They hope the research will lead to strategies to prevent excess bone formation from happening, provide a greater understanding of how bone forms and the circumstances under which bone doesn’t form properly. It will even help doctors in the military get our nation’s heroes back to a functional state as soon as possible.

“We are actively pursuing solutions to problems that no one else in the world is solving,” Dr. Dasa said. “This three-year grant is helping us expose our students to research at the national level.” Matt Fury, a fourth-year medical student, is excited to participate in a project of this magnitude. “It’s a wonderful way to impact our field while representing our great institution,” Matt said.

When we spoke to Drew, who is well known for his activism following the BP oil spill, he was in Alaska working on his latest documentary project. He also has a new album due out later this year.  “The wreck made me do the things I always wanted to do,” Drew said. “After something like this happens to you, you’re not the same person you were before. It’s not just about healing the body; it’s about healing the mind.”

…And for Drew, it’s about helping others heal as well.