Monday, April 18, 2011

Enhanced Warrior Physical Training changes minds, lives

Wounded soldiers discover abilities through alternative fitness program
A Fort Campbell program designed to help soldiers recovering from combat-related injuries is changing warriors' perspective on physical training and a number of other things in the process.

The Enhanced Warrior Physical Training program at Fort Campbell is part of a directive from Washington, D.C., requiring all wounded warrior units in the Army to have some form of adaptive sports or fitness program. Many of these wounded warriors can no longer perform the Army's typical physical training, but they still must log one hour of physical exercise, a physical therapy or a recreational activity five days a week.

The EWPT program allows recovering soldiers to exercise regularly in a manner that best suits their needs. For warriors who are getting out of the Army with a medical discharge, the program aims to get them involved in suitable activities as they make the transition out of the Army and encourages them to continue their participation in those activities once they've left.

At the Fort Campbell Warrior Transition Battalion, soldiers are prescribed an individual physical fitness and adaptive therapy plan based on their medical situation. They work with occupational therapists, clinicians and doctors on setting goals, what they want to do and how they can get there.
Impact of injury

Sgt. 1st Class Landon Ranker, who oversees the coordination and resourcing of the EWPT program, knows first-hand what many of the wounded warriors are going through. He suffered a traumatic brain injury that made it impossible for him to perform his usual job. At the time, there were no well-established fitness programs for wounded warriors. Realizing this, Ranker and occupational therapist Lauren Geddis agreed to bring their individual ideas together and create a comprehensive adaptive plan to help these soldiers.

"As a warrior, I wanted to start doing something to help with my rehab and therapy and stuff," Ranker said.
Ranker said his injuries took much of his confidence and happiness away — for a while at least.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Terry Fox's legacy: ‘Gracious and able to endure’

TwitterLinkedInEmail.Ben Kaplan, National Post · Apr. 12, 2011 | Last Updated: Apr. 12, 2011 7:41 PM ET

Runners of every stripe need to overcome obstacles and fight their way through a certain amount of pain. That’s notable if you’re a first-time runner, commendable if you’re training for your first marathon, impressive if you’re an Olympic athlete. But if you’re Terry Fox, well, there just isn’t an adjective in the Canadian vocabulary to describe it.

“You can be an Olympic athlete and be a horrible person — I’ve met plenty of Olympians who’ve won medals and are awful,” silver medallist Adam Kreek says from St. John’s, where he recently joined eight other Olympic and Paralympic athletes to commemorate the 31st anniversary of Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope. “Terry was not only a hero because he ran across the country, but he’s the consummate Canadian — humble, gracious and able to endure.”

Fox, who dipped his artificial leg into the Atlantic Ocean back on April 6, 1980, ran 5,373 kilometres, or a marathon a day for 143 often rainy days. It was the furthest, by far, that he had ever run. Before losing the leg to cancer, Fox only ran to keep fit for rugby, soccer and basketball. But when a malignant tumour left him an amputee, he ran his first long-distance race in Prince George, B.C. It was 1979, and he finished dead last in the 17-mile race. And then he had an idea.

“He came home that day and told the family that he wouldn’t be running the Vancouver Marathon. He was going to run across Canada instead,” says Fred Fox, Terry’s older brother, who oversees The Terry Fox Foundation, a cancer research charity that has raised more than $500-million. “He was just an average kid, no different from anyone else, and he had to work his damnedest to get every inch of mileage he achieved.”

In today’s running world — where one in every 33 Canadians owns running shoes — there are clinics to help get you started and specialized chips to place in the soles of your sneakers to keep track of your distance, calories burned and your times. But as we move toward race season, kicking off this Sunday in Montreal, we should remember that running also requires hard work, spirit and dedication. And that’s why even the most casual weekend warriors still find inspiration in Terry Fox and his incredible run.

“You have to use your willpower to complete all your runs,” says Sidney Moss, 79, a five-day-a-week runner in Montreal, still running after triple bypass surgery and an aneurysm of the aorta. “Running is never easy, but when you need inspiration, look at Terry’s feat.”

The event yesterday in St. John’s brought out droves of people in the cold and rain. Those who were there say the conversations weren’t about split times or sneakers and that nobody was complaining about how much they train.

Instead, it was a celebration of character, one that has as much to do with life as it does with running.

“I’m a pretty loud guy, pretty outgoing, but this morning I wanted to take everything in,” says Greg Westlake, a Paralympic athlete who had both of his feet amputated at 10 months old. “There’s a million athletes and a million celebrities, but no other Terry. He taught everyone not to quit.”

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Defining an Olympian: How a leg amputee is testing the rules of sport

Is it fair that Richard Whitehead cannot compete in the Paralympic marathon, despite being one of the world's best paralympic runners?
Imagine Usain Bolt going for gold in the marathon at the Olympic Games 2012. It would never happen, of course, as the Jamaican sprint world record holder has repeatedly said even 400m is too far to run for his liking. But what if there was a world-class athlete who loved competing in the sprints as much as the marathon?

There is. On Sunday the extraordinary Richard Whitehead, a double leg amputee and already a 200m world champion in the T42 category, will run the London Marathon.

With a personal best of 2hr 42min 52sec, the 34-year-old has convinced most that he is a world-class paralympic athlete at both distances despite having only begun running marathons in 2004. Now coached by the British Olympian Liz Yelling, who is also competing in the marathon this weekend, Whitehead has serious designs on double success at London 2012. But the authorities have other ideas.

There is only one marathon event in the Paralympics and it is for T46 – arm amputees – only. Despite there being a clear disadvantage in competing against athletes who have both lower limbs, Whitehead – whose 2:42:52 time is inside the top 10 world rankings for T46 athletes – is desperate to have his chance against them.

The Nottingham-born athlete mounted a legal challenge against the International Paralympic Committee's (IPC) world championships ruling at the court of arbitration for sport – and lost – but he is determined to run in 2012.

Despite being sympathetic to Whitehead's plea, the IPC has bigger concerns to address. The pressure is on to make the 2012 Paralympics as attractive to the public and sponsors as possible. One huge element in that task is making paralympic sport – riddled with complicated sounding disability classifications – easier to understand. There are a whopping 200 different medal events in the track and field paralympic world championships – a figure that the governing body wants to reduce for 2012, and the IPC argues that combining classifications would further complicate things for the public.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Blue Star brightens the way

By Reid Armstrong
Grand County, CO Colorado

When she was 11 years old, Emily Garcia discovered she had a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Today, at 19, she is the face of the Blue Star Foundation.

Started by the Grand County Blues Society, Blue Star, based in Winter Park, has grown into a nationwide program dedicated to connecting young cancer patients to the guitars of their dreams.

Garcia, who lives in south of Houston, Texas, received her Blue Star guitar after one of many surgeries.

"I wasn't able to go to cheerleading as much ... The guitar really helped me cope, kept me distracted."

Her first sheets of music were Taylor Swift songs.

"It really does give you a creative outlet stress reliever. You can take it out on the guitar. It's really special whenever you are giving it to somebody who really needs it at the time they are going through," she said.

An unexplained limp
In 2002, doctors discovered a tumor in Garcia's right leg when she started limping for no apparent reason. She was diagnosed with osteosarcoma (bone cancer). She underwent intensive high dosage chemotherapy for seven months and then had surgery to amputate her right leg just above the knee, followed by another six months of chemo. She finished treatment in November 2003.

Two months later, she went on a ski trip for amputees and fell, fracturing her femur. She skied around for the rest of the weekend in a sit ski before realizing that her leg was broken.

She spent the next three months in a body cast and then began rehab, learning to walk on her prothesis that spring. She fell again in September, fracturing her leg again. Doctors started her on weekly IV treatments to strengthen her bones after the cancer treatment had further weakened her bones.

In February 2004, Garcia relapsed. Doctors found a tumor in her left lung. She underwent surgery in May and began chemotherapy again. This time her kidneys shut down and she spent several weeks in the hospital undergoing painful treatments to restart her kidneys.

In September 2004, she returned to school for the first time since her diagnoses and became a cheerleader for her school. Things were great, for a while. But, in January 2005, the tumor reappeared in her lung, taking over almost the entire organ. Garcia started treatment again. That summer, she was on radiation treatment for seven weeks.

She returned to school in the fall, cheerleading between treatments. It wasn't until the fall of 2007 that the tumors had shrunk enough to do surgery. The surgery involved removing five ribs and a large portion of her lung.

Afterwards, she continued treatments and rehab so that she could cheer again.

She finished treatment in May 2008. Pain returned, but this time it wasn't clear why. Doctors looked for months before discovering a tumor in her intestines in September. She had the tumor and a portion of her intestines removed in December, and began yet another round of chemo in January 2009.

She got through those tough times by playing her guitar, drawing and writing in her journal.

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Pair primed for action

IAN BUTTERWORTH | April 13th, 2011

TWO disabled Territory athletes will make history when they compete in a range of field events at the Arafura Games in Darwin next month.

Katherine resident Curtis Devereux, 16, and Liam Hunter, 23, from Darwin are both leg amputees and are set to become the first Territory athletes with disabilities to compete in field events at the Arafura Games.

Devereux will compete in javelin and shot-put while Hunter will go one better, and has settled on javelin, shot-put and discus.

Both are eager to indulge in their new activity and are working hard to gain throwing skills necessary to participate at the Games.

Hunter, who lost his left leg above the knee in a motorcycle accident four years ago, likes to spend his spare time fishing and hunting and keeps active playing wheelchair basketball, but is enthusiastic about the change of sporting direction.

"I've been playing wheelchair basketball for about four years and have been to the Sports Institute in Canberra a few times. I still love the game, but an opportunity arose to do something different and I jumped at it.

"I had a new prosthetic fitted last week and hopefully the mechanics will make movement smoother and allow for more flexibility.

"I'm going into athletics with an open mind and if I make finals, or win a medal, so much the better. As a disabled person I reckon you should try as many different activities as possible.

Friday, April 8, 2011

U.S. troops in Afghanistan suffer more catastrophic injuries

Study shows 2010 saw at least 171 troops suffer battlefield injuries resulting in amputations; 65 of them lost two limbs or more.
Marine 1st Lt. James Byler, 25, of Long Island, New York, was leading a patrol in Afghanistan late last year when an explosion severed his legs and snapped off the ends of several fingers. He is undergoing physical therapy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times / December 22, 2010)

By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times

6:11 p.m. CDT, April 6, 2011
Reporting from Landstuhl, Germany, and Helmand— Grim combat statistics that one military doctor called "unbelievable" show U.S. troops in Afghanistan suffered an unprecedented number of catastrophic injuries last year, including a tripling of amputations of more than one limb.

A study by doctors at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where most wounded troops are sent before returning to the U.S., confirmed their fears: The battlefield has become increasingly brutal.

In 2009, 75 service members brought to Landstuhl had limbs amputated. Of those, 21 had lost more than one limb.

But in 2010, 171, 11% of all the casualties brought to Landstuhl, had undergone amputations, a much higher proportion than in past wars. Of the 171, 65 had lost more than one limb.

Injuries to the genital area were also on the increase. In 2009, 52 casualties were brought to Landstuhl with battlefield injuries to their genitals or urinary tract. In 2010, that number was 142.

Dr. John Holcomb, a retired Army colonel with extensive combat-medicine experience, said he and other doctors involved in the study were shocked by the findings, which he labeled as "unbelievable."

"Everybody was taken aback by the frequency of these injuries: the double amputations, the injuries to the penis and testicles," said Holcomb, now a medical professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. "Nothing like this has been seen before."

Military brass say the increase in catastrophic injuries can be attributed to the Taliban's use of improvised explosive devices, the roadside bombs that account for the majority of U.S. and NATO deaths and injuries. Last year was also the deadliest year for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, with 499 killed, according to the Defense Department.

Troops are increasingly vulnerable to injuries from such makeshift bombs as they mount foot patrols in an effort to win support from Afghan villagers, a key strategy in the counterinsurgency campaign.

An armored Humvee provides a measure of protection from a blast. A so-called mine-resistant vehicle provides more. But when a soldier or Marine steps on a roadside bomb, there is considerably less protection from flying shrapnel or super-heated air. Also, rocks, dirt and other debris embedded in a blast wound can cause immediate and devastating infections.

The hospital at Landstuhl is the busiest it has been since the battle in the Iraqi city of Fallouja in late 2004, officials said. Both the number and severity of wounds have increased, said Air Force Lt. Col. Raymond Fang, a surgeon and trauma medical director at Landstuhl.

The average patient stays about three days at Landstuhl before being airlifted to the U.S. for further care. "All we're doing is clearing up the destruction done by the injury," Fang said.

In Afghanistan, some officers believe the insurgents have increased both the explosive power of their improvised bombs and their ability to place them for maximum carnage.

Some of the explosives are placed on fences and other aboveground locations so that the blast strikes directly at the legs of passing Marines, soldiers or medical corpsmen who accompany combat troops.

"It's a weapon of terror designed to inflict the most grievous wounds," said Marine Maj. Gen. Richard Mills, formerly the top Marine in Afghanistan.

The increase in catastrophic wounds has taken an emotional toll on the medical personnel at Landstuhl, said Navy Cmdr. Joseph Sheldon, one of nine chaplains at the U.S. military hospital.

Sheldon and the other chaplains are also present when patients awake to learn of the extent of their battlefield injuries. He remembers sitting with a wounded Marine on Christmas Eve.

"There was a lot of silence and a lot of tears, for both of us," Sheldon said. "Everybody wants their life to be the way it was, but it's not. Coming to grips with that is hard."

After the Landstuhl study was first reported in the Washington Post, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) asked Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, for an explanation of the increase in amputations and what the military was doing to protect front-line personnel.

The Camp Pendleton-based 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment, has been particularly hard hit, with 24 Marines killed and more than 175 wounded while deployed in the Sangin district of Helmand province.

More than a dozen Marines from the battalion have lost two or more limbs. One of them is 1st Lt. James Byler, 25, of Long Island, New York, who was leading a patrol in early October when an explosion severed his legs and snapped off the ends of several fingers.

Byler's patrol was walking slowly, carefully, in what is called "ranger style," with each man following in the footsteps of the man in front of him.

"Everyone had gone over that spot," said Byler, now recuperating in the U.S. "I was just the one who stepped on it when it exploded.

"It wasn't a big one, but it was enough to blow my legs off."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Volunteers help make life easier for 19-year-old Texas amputee

by Steve Stoler / WFAA WFAA Posted on April 2, 2011 at 7:53 AM

GARLAND — Whitney Mitchell, a 19-year-old Berkner High School graduate whose arms and legs were amputated, will have a much easier time getting around her new home thanks to some of her kind and caring neighbors. Mitchell finally came home last week after spending months in the hospital and rehab. The amputations became necessary when Whitney suffered septic shock from an infection, stopping the flow of blood into her arms and legs. A viewer of KENS 5's sister station, WFAA News 8, was so touched by her plight and positive attitude, he rallied his troops to help. Mitchell's long-awaited return home suddenly turned into horror last Friday. A portable ramp suddenly tilted downward, spilling her out of the wheelchair and onto the ground. “My heart went up in my throat. It was just scary," said Patricia Kirven, Mitchell's mother. When Ed Seghers saw our story, he was moved by Mitchell's spirit. But one thing he heard made him feel he could help. Whitney’s mother explained that without wheelchair ramps, Whitney cannot go into her backyard. Seghers is a member of a volunteer group at the First United Methodist Church in Garland. They call themselves “God's Old Geezers.” The Geezers build wheelchair ramps. When they heard about Mitchell's struggles, they couldn't wait to help. “There’s not a much better feeling internally than to help people in need. And when you do that, you get a warm feeling inside," Seghers said. So on Friday, they sawed, leveled and sanded, building two ramps. Mitchell tried out her new ramp ever so carefully. She was very nervous after last week's fall. The Geezers call Mitchell an example of courage, faith and persistence; someone who serves as an inspiration to everyone. “It’s a good reminder that when we really get down in the dumps with our own troubles, we need to look around," said Clay Womack, the church pastor. Seghers said Mitchell's difficult challenges puts life in perspective for others. “When you have a little pain or ache and you see someone like Whitney, that pain or ache goes away immediately," he said.