Overcoming trauma: Valdosta native honored for aiding service members with brain injuries

North Florida Daily News photographDr. Eddie Zant talks about the benefits of hyperbaric oxygen treatments for victims of traumatic brain injuries in this 2010 photo. Zant, a Valdosta native, has been inducted into the Florida Veterans' Hall of Fame for his work with military personnel suffering brain injuries.

FT. WALTON BEACH, Fla. — Dr. Eddie Zant has never seen combat, yet he has been honored as a veteran worthy of Hall of Fame status.

Zant, a Valdosta native, has been inducted into the Florida Veterans' Hall of Fame for his work helping military personnel with traumatic brain injuries. His nomination was confirmed by Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis and his cabinet in September. He was among 16 veterans honored for contributions to their communities after their military service had ended.

Zant, 77, who practices medicine in Ft. Walton Beach, has provided care to veterans suffering from traumatic brain injuries in the form of hyperbaric oxygen treatments. He's paid for the treatments himself since insurance will not cover them.

Born in 1942 in Valdosta's old Little-Griffin Hospital, he grew up in Lowndes County, attending Valdosta High School where he played on the football team, as his father had. He graduated in 1960.

He didn't leave Valdosta until he headed to Emory University, followed by the Medical College of Georgia. After a year's internship in Miami, he joined the Army, serving as a general medical officer from 1969-72.

"I was posted to spots in California," he said. "I got orders to go to Vietnam, but two weeks before I was supposed ship out, they were cancelled."

After his time in the Army, he headed to Pelham, where he was in general practice for a year. Then he decided to specialize and went to the University of Miami to study anesthesiology.

Afterward, he took up practice in Ft. Walton Beach and has been there ever since.

"There was talk early on about using hyperbaric treatments to help head injuries, but there wasn't a lot of hard data," he said.

Hyperbaric oxygren treatments involve breathing pure oxygen either from a pressurized tube or in a pressurized room, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Around 2009, Zant read in a newspaper about two soldiers who had won the Purple Heart after being injured by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.

"They had mild traumatic brain injuries," which meant there had been no penetration, he said.

Zant thought hyperbaric treatments might help, so he called the doctors attending the soldiers, asked for permission to try the therapy on them and was approved.

It worked. Both men were eventually cleared to resume their Army duties, he said.

Since then, he has treated "30-40" people — some from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, some local personnel who suffered in accidents, including a general. Zant's done it all on his own dime, to the tune of more than $100,000, because insurance won't pay for it, he said.

"I thought, 'What the hell?'" he said of paying for the treatments himself. "The military was good to me."

The state of Florida last year passed a law to pay for hyperbaric treatments for military trauma victims, but it wasn't funded.

"The money for it was diverted to cleanup after Hurricane Michael," he said.

Zant added he hopes funding can be found next year.

Terry Richards is senior reporter at The Valdosta Daily Times.

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