Wednesday, February 02, 2005

A Soldier with Sleep Apnea

An interesting case of obstructive sleep apnea was reported in yesterday's newspapers. Unless this soldier's sleep disorder suddenly worsened for some reason (e.g., weight gain), it's hard to imagine how he functioned in the military:
Sleepy soldier may be problem at trial
By ESTES THOMPSON, Associated PressFebruary 1, 2005
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - If a soldier accused of killing two officers in a grenade attack in Kuwait doesn't get help for his sleep apnea, he may not be able to stay awake enough to participate in the defense at his trial, his attorney said Monday.
Sgt. Hasan Akbar of the 101st Airborne Division stayed awake during a 45-minute hearing Monday, responding to several questions with, "Yes, your honor." But his drowsiness at previous proceedings prompted the judge to order treatment for a breathing condition that impedes sleep.
Defense lawyer Maj. David Coombs said Akbar continues to be plagued by problems and if a visit to his original doctor doesn't help, more extensive studies will be requested to determine "why he may have sleep apnea. ... It has been a consistent problem."
With Akbar's court-martial set for April, Coombs also asked military judge Col. Stephen Henley to make coffee available at the defense table and to order a break after every witness.
Henley said he was willing to consider special measures to keep Akbar awake but denied the request for a break after each witness. He said he also would consider allowing someone to sit next to Akbar during the trial to try to keep him awake, if the defense makes such a request.
Henley also ordered that Akbar be given an additional medical evaluation at Fort Knox, Ky., where he is being held while awaiting trial.
The 101st is based at Fort Campbell, Ky., but Akbar's trial is being held at Fort Bragg, where the 101st's higher command, the 18th Airborne Corps, has its headquarters.
If the medical evaluation does not resolve Akbar's problems, extensive neurological studies may be needed, the defense said.
Defense lawyers have said they intend to present an insanity defense, and the April trial date was a delay, intended to give them time to gather evidence.
Henley already has ruled that Akbar's statement acknowledging that he rolled grenades into tents at Camp Pennsylvania, Kuwait, will be admissible at his court-martial. The judge excluded statements Akbar made to two sergeants who guarded him after the attack, saying Akbar had not yet been informed of his legal rights.
Akbar, 33, is accused of stealing the grenades from a Humvee and initiating the attack on fellow members of the 101st just days into the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. Killed were Army Capt. Christopher Seifert, 27, and Air Force Maj. Gregory Stone, 40. Another 14 soldiers were injured.
If convicted of two counts of premeditated murder and three counts of attempted premeditated murder, the 33-year-old Akbar could get the death penalty.
The case marks the first time since the Vietnam War that an Army soldier has been prosecuted for the murder or attempted murder of another soldier during wartime.


senior editor said...

Given the level of physical fitness soldiers are required I wouldn’t expect such a debilitating case of sleep apnea. You mentioned weight gain as a potential cause.

This case makes me think. As more information becomes common knowledge will we see people claiming disability benefits from sleep apnea related work loss?

Internal Medicine Doctor said...

How about loud music to keep him awake during the trila. Maybe, cold air. How about we throw cold water in his face every time he dozes off.
I don't know, why should his sleep apnea hold up such an important hearing. We'll treat him in jail.
What do you think Dr. Rack?

Michael Rack, MD said...

Some people are already trying to claim disability from OSA. In most cases I discourage this; with proper treatment, OSA is nearly 100% treatable. Cold water in the soldier's face, CPAP, caffeine, provigil would probably all be helpful.

Anonymous said...

i'll definitely link up to you in march, give me a reminder when you are up and running... might I ask why the change (not that change is a bad thing)?

ps- i couldn't comment on your announcement post - not sure why.
i'll look forward to 3/05!