Skip navigation

Brandon Thibodeaux

warning: Creating default object from empty value in /var/www/vhosts/ on line 33.

In 2003, Ian Welch was on his first combat tour in Iraq. As his battalion waited to storm the Diyala Bridge and seize Baghdad, an artillery shell struck the vehicle behind him, killing two soldiers and knocking Mr. Welch unconscious. When he came to, he was disoriented. His vision was blurred. Blood dripped from his ears. He helped gather the remains of the dead before heading out to take the bridge. He returned to Iraq twice more on combat tours.

Mr. Welch was later diagnosed with chronic PTSD and traumatic brain injury. He now lives in Dallas, Texas, with his girlfriend and government-paid caregiver, Katie Brickman. Every day, he faces the long-term effects of PTSD: bouts of amnesia, insomnia, anxiety, dizziness and vomiting.

Photographer Brandon Thibodeaux spent two months chronicling Mr. Welch’s struggles and with Wall Street Journal photo editors Matthew Craig (Executive Producer) and Kate Lord (Associate Producer), created the video below. This is Mr. Thibodeaux’s account. To read the story and see the complete interactive, click here.

* * * * *

I’ve come to think of Ian’s way of dealing with PTSD as a protective moat–a barrier he crosses only for doctor’s appointments, haircuts and other necessary outings.

When I was first assigned the story, I was planning on still photographs. But in the end we decided that the complexity of the story required much more, and I needed a different approach. I quickly learned that I needed ample time, as well as video and audio equipment to best tell Ian’s story.

Ian is someone who rarely steps outside of his structured life, so it was essential to gain his trust. In the end, Katie, his girlfriend, was key. She acts as his protector, making sure to blunt potential triggers to his PTSD. Katie studied photography and knew of the work of Tim Hetherington and other war photographers. She convinced Ian The Wall Street Journal project could be therapeutic.

Before I was assigned the story, I knew of PTSD as a combat disorder. After spending days with Ian and Katie, I learned of its long and tenacious grip on everyday life.

I felt it only fair to reveal my own vulnerabilities since Ian exposed so many of his. As a teenager, I underwent chemotherapy for a rare case of lymphoma cancer. While I didn’t face enemy fire or lose friends in a battle, it gave us a patch of common ground. I faced attacks from my own body. And when he described his anxiety and mood swings, it stoked memories of friends I had met at the hospital. I often wondered why I was allowed to survive and they were not. Even Katie’s role with Ian was reminiscent of how my parents must have managed, juggling appointments and providing support.

Once he allowed me access to his home, Ian, Katie, and I spent a lot of time together. It was important to become a part of his routine. Many days were quiet with little to photograph. Since Ian and Katie stayed up late, it made sense for me to stay overnight sometimes.

To understand his deeper, more personal thoughts, I asked Ian to read his journals, and to describe what he recalled from the injury on April 7, 2003. I felt horrible asking to hear such difficult memories. One night, as we finally felt comfortable enough to go over his combat experience, I had to help him walk back into the house. Katie didn’t know how to react when she saw how weak he was. It was a powerful reminder of how difficult it was for him to revisit the most painful parts of his past.

When the project was over, Ian was inundated by phone calls from loved ones. Katie couldn’t thank us enough for spending so much time with Ian and for capturing such an honest portrayal. Ian also talked about the project a lot and was more open to discussing his PTSD. I hope his story and video helps him hear those inner thoughts with better perspective. And I hope his story reaches and comforts others like him.

Your rating: None

Scientists scoured the bed of the drying Brazos River in west Texas last week to rescue two species of rare minnows threatened by the summer’s scorching heat, drought and wild fires. Record-setting temperatures and lack of rain has eliminated the flow in this portion of the Brazos, endangering the sharpnose and smalleye shiner fish that make up an important part of the river’s ecosystem.

All photographs by Brandon Thibodeaux for The Wall Street Journal.

Kevin Mayes, Aquatic Biologist at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, reads the count of rescued sharpnose and smalleye shiner fish that he and his team have captured near the Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos River, near Rule, TX, on Thursday, September 15, 2011.

Mayes and Daniel Field check water temperature as they prepare the rescue. The two species had been trapped in the upper portion of the river because reservoirs had been constructed, blocking their path. Now this portion of the Brazos, the only habitat in the world where they exist in healthy numbers, is drying up.

Texas Tech University students Aaron Urbanczyk and Doug Knabe rest on their net during a break.

Urbanczyk rests on his net during a break. This team began the department’s first attempt to harvest threatened species and bring them to holding tanks near Possum Kingdom Lake.

Urbanczyk and Knabe bring up a net that they drug across a shallow as they assist in the rescue. Over the course of the day, the rescue yielded 1,150 of each species, both of which can only be found in the Brazos River.

Urbanczyk, Knabe, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist Clint Robertson and Texas Tech professor Gene Wilde pull sharpnose and smalleye shiner fish from their net to be transported to holding tanks.

The team sorts through one of their hauls, looking for fish among twigs and debris.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist Clint Robertson makes notes in a shallow pool of what used to be a flowing Brazos River.

Members of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department rescue sharpnose and smalleye shiners, a native fish species, near the Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos River.

Rescued sharpnose and smalleye shiner fish are carried to a fishery truck.

A member of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department holds rescued sharpnose shiner fish in his hand.

Rescued sharpnose and smalleye shiner fish swim in a live well in the back of a hatchery truck. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department brought them to a holding pond at Possum Kingdom fish hatchery.

Corrections & Amplifications
Daniel Field checked water temperatures with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in Rule, Texas, on Sept. 15. An earlier version of a photo caption incorrectly gave his first name as Doug. Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist Clint Robertson was rescuing sharpnose and smalleye shiner fish that day with the department; a photo caption incorrectly identified him as technician Kevin Kolodziejcyk. A third photo caption incorrectly identified Mr. Robertson as a technician; he is a biologist with the department. The rescued fish were taken via a fishery truck to holding tanks near Possum Kingdom fish hatchery; captions incorrectly indicated they were taken by hatchery truck to Possum Kingdom Lake. The captions have been corrected.

Your rating: None