Shenandoah University Doctor of Physical Therapy students Lauren Schrank and Lexi Evelyn spent two weeks with post-911 recalibrated veterans at the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat. While at the Retreat, Lauren and Lexi had the opportunity to work with different injuries and backgrounds of individuals aiding in hands on learning.
“This was a good intro into what we will be learning about with amputee and prosthetics,” Lauren said. “This past semester in PT school, we learned about patients and their psychosocial impact in their journey of healing.”
Lauren said in her career field, it’s more about learning and treating the person as a whole – including their physical and mental wellbeing.
“When you know the whole aspects about a person, their therapy and their rehab can be more effective,” Lexi said. “I think TMF was the perfect way to incorporate all of that. We got to see and interact with these people on a daily basis and see their personalities, their families, their abilities – it was a really cool experience as a whole.”
When Vice President of Programming, Kelly Roseberry is not working with veterans and their families at the Retreat, she is a professor at Shenandoah University, teaching the next generation of PT students, like Lauren and Lexi. In the fall, they will both take a class taught by Kelly specifically on amputee rehab and prosthetics.
“I think teaching is so incredibly important,” Kelly said. “It makes me a better clinician and passes on lessons that we’ve already learned to the next generation to help more patients.”
Lauren enjoys working with military personnel and veterans – she is a military BRAT and military spouse. She understands how isolating the lifestyle can be.
“I think a big chunk of it is feeling like you belong,” she said. “Being part of a military family, you move around a lot. It can be hard to find close friends or a sense of community because after a year or two, it’s on to the next location. It’s hard to move and get new friends again.”
Lexi was not raised in a military family, but has extended family who have served.
“I was raised to respect the brave men and women who have sacrificed their time, effort, career, their families and their lives for our freedom and safety. I’ve just admired and respected them,” Lexi said.
In 2015, when Lexi was a teenager, her dad became an amputee.
“During that time, I got to watch his whole recovery. I was just so amazed by him, his recovery and how much he was able to do even after his amputation and surgery.
Both Lauren and Lexi echoed the idea of striving to help military service members and veterans get back to full recovery post injury.
“There is so much these people can do and I just want to help them do it,” Lexi said. “Military veterans, active duty, amputees – whatever it is – that’s just the goal and I want to serve a population that I admire and respect. I want to serve them.”
Kelly hopes that by taking part in the program at TMF, students who come through like Lauren ad Lexi are able to realize the importance a physical therapist can provide in a patient’s care.
“I hope they recognize the critical role they play in someone’s recovery, and how the biggest impact they have is outside of a traditional clinic – teaching someone what they’re capable of is such a gift,” Kelly said.
For the veteran, after graduation from physical therapy, it can be easy for recalibrated veterans to slip back into old ways or begin to develop bad habits that do not enhance a full recovery. By bringing in DPT students and allowing recalibrated veterans the opportunity to work one-on-one with them, they are working to progress an integral part of their recovery.
“Our recalibrated veterans have given us great feedback on this program,” Kelly said. “They’re excited to learn new ways of doing things, improve their safety and quality of life, engage in local adaptive activities at home, fix all the bad habits they’ve developed, or have a new issue that has crept up looked at in an effective manner.”
ADAPTING AND OVERCOMING
Even with the disabilities that post-911 recalibrated veterans are facing, activities can be adapted to fit their needs. For example, at the Retreat, there is a kayak slip that encourages safety and ease for recalibrated veterans to transition in and out of the kayak.
“You have to put on your creative thinking cap,” Lauren said. “It is easy for us to take things for granted but what we’ve learned with Kelly is that there are hundreds of different options to adapt all kinds of activities and sports. It is all about finding the best fit for the patient and it’s a lot of trial and error.”
Lauren said there are three main points to consider when treating a patient: Ensuring that the patients are safe, comfortable, and having fun. If the trifecta is achieved, the physical therapist has done their job.
Kelly also believes that it’s all about instilling confidence in recalibrated veterans to help show them that they are able to participate in any activity they want to – it just has to be adapted a bit.
“We include a lot of adapted sports and activities in this program as well, which will allow our participants to keep doing these activities once they go home. The benefits the students get from learning about opportunities, various equipment, and ways of adapting sports also extends beyond working with veterans and will help them to treat the whole person in front of them in the clinic.”
“In two short years, we’ve seen this program drastically impact the lives of our participants,” Kelly said. “We’ve educated four students in a way they couldn’t ever imagine. While it isn’t a traditional clinical setting, they’ll be better clinicians for having spent time with us.”
Both Lauren and Lexi are grateful to have taken part in this experience and are excited to take the knowledge that they gained into their future studies and the workforce.
“Thank you to all of the participants that either let us work with you, join you in the weeks, or let us hear your stories, because that was one of the coolest parts,” Lexi said. “I want to thank TMF, Kelly and all the veterans who let me experience and have the opportunity.”
“Thank you to the veterans for opening up your hearts to us and letting us be in on the conversations,” Lauren said. “I don’t think I will ever have an experience quite like this and I’m excited to share this experience with other students and friends.”