Marine Sergeant Thomas Joseph Sullivan left for Iraq in 2004 in perfect health. After several months of serving in Anbar Province during a period of heavy conflict, he returned sick. He had been exposed to dust, burn pits and chemical plant fumes.
For the next four years, Tom’s health deteriorated steadily. He suffered from asthma, sleep apnea, severe intestinal inflammation, high blood pressure, insomnia and heart disease, as well as intense joint pain. His symptoms puzzled health care providers, who ultimately treated him with pain medications and immunosuppressant’s and referred him to a clinic for people with psychosomatic illness at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Tom died February 16, 2009, leaving behind his wife and then 3-year-old daughter. Since then, his family has discovered that Tom was not alone in his suffering. Hundreds of thousands of veterans of recent wars are returning with complicated illnesses that are often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Many are referred for psychological therapies and are prescribed drugs with side effects, interactions and outcomes that are difficult to track.
Tom’s family founded the Sergeant Sullivan Center, an organization dedicated to diagnosis, treatment and prevention of complex post-deployment illness. The Sergeant Sullivan Center provided seed money to fund research into the possible causes of and treatment for undiagnosed deployment-related illnesses, and has been at the forefront of raising awareness for this issue.
The Sergeant Sullivan Center created a strong network of premier health institutions engaged in efforts to confront deployment-related disease through funding medical research, including a grant to the National Jewish Health Center for Excellence on Deployment-Related Lung Disease to help develop a non-surgical method for diagnosing small-airway lung disease. In 2013, the Center’s Director Cecile Rose, MD, MPH, and Co-Director Richard Meehan, MD, FACP, received the Sergeant Sullivan Award for Excellence in Deployment Health Science.
In 2015, the Sergeant Sullivan Center aligned with the National Jewish Health Center for Excellence on Deployment-Related Lung Disease to establish The Sergeant Sullivan Fund to streamline and more effectively fulfill the Sergeant Sullivan Center’s mission of funding medical research to prevent and treat deployment-related illnesses.
Today, the Sergeant Sullivan Fund is dedicated to supporting the Center of Excellence on Deployment-Related Lung Disease, which is leading life-saving research and providing care for men and women returning from military service overseas who are struggling to breathe.