Share this on:
 E-mail
231
VIEWS
0
COMMENTS
 
SHARES
About this iReport
  • Not vetted for CNN

  • Click to view HQIMCOMPA's profile
    Posted May 9, 2013 by
    HQIMCOMPA
    Location
    San Antonio, Texas
    Assignment
    Assignment
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Salute to troops

    More from HQIMCOMPA

    Army program transforms wounded Soldiers into elite athletes

     

    By Elaine Sanchez

    JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- Staff Sgt. Michael Lage may be loyal to his Army green, but he's hoping to add some gold to his uniform next week when he vies for medals in cycling and shooting at the 2013 Warrior Games.

    It's a quest he never imagined taking on six years ago when he first arrived at Brooke Army Medical Center -- the sole survivor of a blast in Baghdad that killed four others. The explosion took Lage's left hand, part of his nose and ears, and caused third-degree burns to nearly half his body.

    Still, the avid athlete never lost his competitive edge or determination to excel. Last month, Lage not only breezed through a 300-mile ride with the Ride2Recovery cycling tour, he also qualified to compete in the elite Warrior Games for the first time.

    This weekend, the Soldier will join more than 200 other wounded service members in Colorado Springs, Colo., where they'll prove their prowess in sports such as archery, cycling, shooting, wheelchair basketball, swimming, track and field and sitting volleyball.

    "I'm ready for the competition and looking forward to winning two gold medals." he said.

    Lage is one of the many service members who has transformed from wounded warrior into elite athlete -- a journey that, for many, begins here at BAMC. From the moment they arrive until the day they depart, the focus is on fostering abilities and discovering new potential, said Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Donald Gajewski, an orthopedic surgeon and director of the Center for the Intrepid, BAMC's state-of-the-art rehabilitation center.

    The Army takes a four-phase approach to physical rehabilitation, Gajewski explained. Early on, providers focus on "protective healing," which involves caring for wounds as they build mobility and strength.

    Patients then move on to pre-prosthetic training at the Center for the Intrepid, where they concentrate on strengthening, balance and cardiovascular training. They also begin community reintegration together, which may involve a dinner or attending a sporting event downtown, he added.

    Soldiers greatly benefit from working together as a group, Gajewski noted. "The ability to rehabilitate all of these heroes in one place is invaluable, not only from a motivational standpoint, but also from a sharing of best practices standpoint," he said.

    Soldiers then receive and adjust to their new prostheses, while learning how to take on everyday tasks. They practice picking up objects from the floor, and stepping off and on stairs, curbs, ramps and uneven terrain. They also work on mastering a new gait.

    The final phase involves the "fun stuff," Gajewski said, such as recreational sports and activities, drivers training, vocational evaluation and training, and if needed, military specific drills.

    "There has been much research that shows adaptive sports play a huge role in the recovery of our patients," he said. Patients who participate in sports, he added, have been shown to have less narcotic medication dependence, less depression, higher quality of life scores, smoother community reintegration, and improved cardiovascular fitness and psychological well-being.

    For the CFI staff, the sky is the limit in this phase. They tailor their programs to Soldiers' goals, which may include everything from skydiving and Scuba diving to sled hockey and cycling.

    For some Soldiers, the goal is to simply regain the ability to first walk, then run. CFI prosthetists go to every length to make this happen, Gajewski said, citing the Intrepid Dynamic Exoskeletal Orthosis, or IDEO, as just one example.

    CFI prosthetist Ryan Blanck designed this device for Soldiers who had suffered lower leg injuries and were unable to comfortably walk, let alone run. The carbon-fiber device -- which comprises a cuff, carbon-fiber rod and footplate -- delivered nearly instantaneous results. Now, most Soldiers who wheel or limp into his office, walk out a short time later, with a normal gait and pain-free.

    Another prosthetist, Bob Kuenzi, created a one-of-a-kind prosthesis for a patient who, despite a devastating injury, was desperate to run again.

    Army Spc. Eduard Lychik was clearing bombs in Afghanistan when the vehicle he riding in was hit with a recoilless rifle, taking out his entire left leg. While many above-the-knee amputees are able to return to sports and activities, Lychik's challenges were compounded by a hip disarticulation, which involves an amputation at the hip joint.

    Unwilling to give up, Kuenzi created a new prosthesis -- basically just a hip fitting, pylon and running blade -- that was an immediate success. Within days, Lychik was moving around a track, and soon was running an 8-minute mile. He recently took on, and succeeded at, a seemingly impossible goal: the 12-mile, 28-obstacle Austin Mudder. Since then, he's run two half marathons and the Austin marathon, which he finished in 4:28.

    "Having a patient with a hip disarticulation like Ed, doing the things that he's doing, is so rare," Gajewski said.

    BAMC has a comprehensive physical therapy program and the most cutting-edge equipment on hand, but Gajewski attributes success stories like Lychik's to one key factor: people. "Most important are a motivated staff, peer support from fellow service members and a motivated patient," he said. "The last is of the ultimate importance because without a motivated patient, none of the other things matter.

    "And we are blessed to have a highly motivated patient population," he added.

    Gajewski will follow the Warrior Games next week and root for the six BAMC warriors participating, including Lage, as they vie for gold.

    But no matter the outcome, in his mind, he said, they've already won.

    What do you think of this story?

    Select one of the options below. Your feedback will help tell CNN producers what to do with this iReport. If you'd like, you can explain your choice in the comments below.
    Be and editor! Choose an option below:
      Awesome! Put this on TV! Almost! Needs work. This submission violates iReport's community guidelines.

    Comments

    Log in to comment

    iReport welcomes a lively discussion, so comments on iReports are not pre-screened before they post. See the iReport community guidelines for details about content that is not welcome on iReport.

    Add your Story Add your Story