New film tells story of former Navy SEAL's struggles after experimental brain treatment
Speaker 1: (00:00)
A new documentary film tells the story of a former Navy seal. John Surmont who turns to an experimental brain treatment after suffering a traumatic brain injury only to face devastating consequences. The film rewired is based on original investigative reporting by new source who produced the film. Here's a clip from the film's trailer.
Speaker 2: (00:22)
When my ex-wife would interact. She did say there's a noticeable difference between the John that left, went to Afghanistan and the John that's back. I think I was really just irritable. I didn't sleep well. That's kind of how it began. We've been thinking about you thinking about how to help you, and we've come to find out about this experimental brain treatment. That's where it all started to unravel
Speaker 1: (00:54)
Rewired is premiering this Sunday at the USS midway museum at six 30 here to tell us more about the film and the extraordinary story it tells is investigative data reporter for I new source, Jill Castellano Joe. Welcome. Thanks
Speaker 3: (01:08)
For having me.
Speaker 1: (01:09)
The film rewired is based on a wide ranging investigation. I knew source did last year. What made you decide to turn this into a film? Yeah,
Speaker 3: (01:18)
I was just reflecting on this with my colleague, Zoe Myers, who was our newsroom, photographer and videographer. She remembers sitting in on a meeting hearing about this Navy seal, John Surmont when my other colleague, Brad and I were working on this investigation and thinking, wow, that's a compelling story. I really want to photograph or feel him. And over time, as we all got to know, John Surmont, it became clear that he was open and he wanted to share intimate details and he was very vulnerable. And the ways that we put it to me is whenever someone is willing to go there with you, you should seize it. So she wanted to tell his story through a film and make it available for people in that way.
Speaker 1: (02:01)
So how did you first come across John Surmont and learn about his story?
Speaker 3: (02:06)
It's so long ago now? Uh, I remember we were looking into Dr. Kevin Murphy, who had a important position at UC San Diego at the time. And someone said, you should look into his research and what he's doing with brain stimulation treatments. So we were asking around and somebody said, you should talk to John Surmont. He got treated by Dr. Murphy and something went horribly wrong. And at the time John was already recording a podcast about what had happened to him. He was pretty open. So he was willing to put himself out there,
Speaker 1: (02:39)
The film Chronicles John's story, after being treated for his traumatic brain injury, with a new type of treatment called TMS or transcranial magnetic stimulation. What is TMS and how did John come to be treated with it?
Speaker 3: (02:55)
Yeah, it's such a mouthful. Um, so it, it basically uses to change the brain's neural networks. Um, it's a little bit hard to explain and people don't even fully understand how it works, but it works very well and is really well tolerated. Um, the FDA has actually approved TMS machines to treat depression and migraines and OCD. As for John, um, he had post-traumatic stress symptoms when he came back from the military and then he had this terrible collision. He was hit by a truck. He suffered this traumatic brain injury that was exacerbating his symptoms and he became depressed. So finally, someone he knew at the Navy seal foundation said, you should check out this treatment. I think it could really help you.
Speaker 1: (03:41)
The doctor who treated John, Dr. Kevin Murphy uses what you refer to as a unique type of TMS treatment with his patients. Uh, how does his version of TMS treatment differ from more traditional TMS treatment
Speaker 3: (03:53)
With Dr. Kevin Murphy is doing, is he's looking at the person measuring the patient's heart rate and brainwaves, and then he's employing what he calls this proprietary software to analyze that data and develop a treatment plan. So he's essentially changing all the knobs and settings on the machine based on what he's seeing in your brain and in your heart. That's not how standard TMS works. It doesn't measure your brainwaves or anything like that. Uh, just depending on the condition being treated, it's going to be applied to the same location of your brain. It's going to be pretty limited in what it's doing now, the standard TMS we know it's really well tolerated and works really well. We don't really have the research on the kind of thing that Dr. Murphy is doing. We don't really know how well it works
Speaker 1: (04:40)
Is the treatment John received being used widely today.
Speaker 3: (04:44)
Well, standard TMS is certainly used widely around the country. I was actually in a doctor's office recently and saw a sign saying, ask your doctor about TMS, but these personalized treatments, they're not as common. Um, they're still out there though. So if you Google around you, you may come across one of them. And as for Dr. Murphy, he's, he's still practicing in San Diego and in other states. So you can access those treatments
Speaker 1: (05:10)
Once Dr. Kevin Murphy investigated for his treatment of John. And is he still treating others with this unique TMS treatment?
Speaker 3: (05:17)
Yes, he is still treating other people in his private practice, but he's no longer employed by UC San Diego. In fact, late last year, uh, UC San Diego finished and its own internal investigation into Dr. Murphy and uncovered that he had been misspending a $10 million research fund. So they, uh, they are no longer working with him and they actually decided to Sue him for fraud. Now, Dr. Murphy is also counter suing the university for wrongful termination and that's all playing out in court.
Speaker 1: (05:50)
Oh, what was the experience like translating your in-depth reporting into a documentary film? Yeah, I
Speaker 3: (05:57)
Was discussing this with my colleague, Zoe, who made the film and she said the important thing is not to get hung up on capturing every single detail of the investigation. You know, there's so much of that in the written project that we produced, but in a video that's a different medium where you can really connect to somebody on a personal level and see them and hear them and feel what they're feeling. And that's what this is really about.
Speaker 1: (06:22)
And what are you most hoping viewers of the film take away after seeing it?
Speaker 3: (06:26)
Well, one thing is we hope that it sheds light on the wrongdoing by the stocked, or, but beyond that, this is an opportunity to understand someone beyond the cliches and the stereotypes. You know, John is a former Navy seal, and I think we've got all of these expectations about what it means to be a Navy seal, someone who's heroic or romantic or whatever. Um, but this shows a different side of what it means to be a Navy seal. It may contradict what you think a Navy seal is. Um, and him sharing his experiences being so open, talking about stigmatized topics like his own mental health issues. We hope that can help others.
Speaker 1: (07:07)
I've been speaking with investigative data reporter for, I knew source Jill Castillano about I new sources, new documentary film rewired. The film will have its premiere this Sunday, November 21st at 6:00 PM at the USS midway museum. And it's free of charge. It will also be live streamed on I new source.org. Jill, thank you so much for joining us. Of
Speaker 3: (07:29)
A new documentary film, based on an inewsource investigation from 2020, premieres this weekend in San Diego. "REWIRED" tells the story of former Navy Seal John Surmont, who turns to an experimental brain treatment after suffering a traumatic brain injury, only to face devastating consequences.
Jill Castellano, investigative data reporter for inewsource, joined Midday Edition on Wednesday to talk about the process of making the film, and the reporting behind it.