When it comes to learning a profession, it’s said that hands-on experience is a must. Two interns from Shenandoah University in Virginia studying to be physical therapists received that opportunity earlier this summer through the Travis Mills Foundation.
“I had always wanted to hold an intern program because the Retreat is a great learning environment for the students and it’s also an incredible opportunity for participants,” said Foundation COO Kelly Roseberry, who has her doctorate in physical therapy.
Kelly not only graduated from Shenandoah, but she’s an adjunct faculty member there for 10 years.
“I was in the first class that participated in an adaptive sports internship and I loved it,” Kelly said, adding that she was an adaptive ski instructor.
Ashley Manning will begin her third year at Shenandoah this fall, pursuing her doctorate in physical therapy. She will take Kelly’s course during the 2022-2023 school year and feels more than prepared after spending two weeks at the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat working with recalibrated veterans.
The Foundation serves our nation’s veterans who experienced life changing injuries while in service to our country – amputations, traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, orthopedic injuries and more. It also serves their families through various programs that help them overcome physical and emotional obstacles, strengthen their families and enjoy much needed rest and relaxation. As part of programming, they participate in adaptive activities from kayaking and tubing to a ropes course and more.
Kelly said most students don’t get to work with patients with amputations during their internships, so the Retreat provides a unique perspective on different adaptations and potential of patients in different sports.
“It’s like a one stop shop to see multiple activities – wheelchair basketball, kayaking, tubing,” Kelly said.
“Especially in a family environment,” she added.
Ashley realizes that her future role as a physical therapist will include working with her patient’s family and caregivers.
“A lot of what we need to think about is what kind of support system (the patient) has at home, how they support them and how the injury has affected them,” Ashley said.
“Whether it’s a good day or a bad day, those are the people who are going to be there for it,” Kelly said.
Wheelchair basketball, for example, is a great way to switch up the dynamics of a physical activity among the recalibrated and their able-bodied family members.
“People who use wheelchairs as their primary mode of mobility are much better conditioned for the sport, putting them at an advantage for a change. Their families are the ones who are trying to adapt, learn and keep up.”
Before enrolling at Shenandoah University, Ashely completed her undergraduate degree in psychology and did an internship at the VA in Tampa, Florida, on the traumatic brain injury unit.
“I fell in love with the work and developed a desire to work with the veteran population,” she said.
Ashley is the only student in her current class who has a psychology degree.
“It has helped me work with people directly,” she said.
Ashley enjoyed “quality time” with recalibrated veterans at the Retreat.
“I got an inside peek of what the life of a veteran was like that I wouldn’t get in a typical clinical setting,” she said. “We even shared meals together.”
During the two weeks Ashley lived and worked at the Retreat, she connected with Ray, a Marine Corps veteran who lost both legs to a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.
“He’s interesting because he chooses not to use prosthetics,” Ashley said. “He has what he calls ‘leg days,’ one or two days a week when he uses his legs for an hour or two.”
Ashley said working with Ray was a good reminder that a patient may not always want to be in their prosthetics.
“That may not be the goal,” she said. “Then it becomes thinking of different ways to improve his quality of life and keeping him functional.”
Kelly said this is a good reminder to clinicians that walking might always be the goal of their patients.
“We need to keep in mind what their specific goals are based on their lifestyle,” she said. “For someone like Ray, being a functional wheelchair user is much more valuable and efficient to him.”
Ashley was grateful that Ray was so receptive to working with her; he even agreed to be the subject of a project she’ll need to complete this year in school.
Ashley met another recalibrated veteran named Jason who is 33 years old and is what she describes as “super functional.” He hiked Mt. Kilimanjaro after losing both legs and lives an extremely active lifestyle.
“His goal is to maintain his physicality and prevent injuries,” Ashley said. “It wasn’t your typical evaluation in that I wasn’t trying to fix a problem. Instead, I was helping to prevent problems from arising.”
“He’s a great guy,” she added. “He wants to be able to have kids in a couple of years and be able to play and keep up with them.”
Kelly said the recalibrated veterans at the Travis Mills Foundation got just as much out of working with the interns as the students did.
“Many of them haven’t been to formal physical therapy in years,” she said. “Life brings up different complications and because of this program, we’re able to send them home with some solutions.”
Another intern, Adam Soelberg, also of Shenandoah University and entering his third year in the doctorate of physical therapy program, said he had never worked with amputees before the program at the Travis Mills Foundation, but that it has given him a great head start on the prosthetics class that Kelly teaches.
As for the ability of the recalibrated veterans served at the Retreat, Adam said his expectations were blown out of the water.
His favorite experience during the two weeks he spent at the Retreat was with Ray, the Marine Corps veteran.
Participants, staff and volunteers were at Ballard Farms, which is located near the Retreat, for an afternoon of riding and interacting with the stable’s horses. A mule named Miguel caught Ray’s eye and that was it – Ray was going to ride the part horse, part donkey. The issue, however, was that Miguel was fearful of the ramp where the recalibrated veterans usually mount the horses.
While Miguel was at first intimidated by Ray’s wheelchair, Ray comforted and connected with Miguel and spent about 30 minutes getting to know him; Ray used to tame horses before he joined the military. Meanwhile, staff and volunteers wondered if they’d be able to help Ray hoist himself onto his new friend, Miguel.
However, where there’s a will there’s a way.
Adam was part of the team that got Ray on the mule and they had a wonderful ride around the barn.
“It was by far my favorite moment.”
The Big Picture
Kelly said even trained physical therapists don’t always know how to treat an amputee.
“They think an amputee is fragile, but if you push them, they can do so many things,” she said.
Kelly thinks there’s so much value in all physical therapists having a basic understanding of treating amputees.
“In reality, some go their entire careers and barely see a handful of amputees,” she said. “When you see them, however, it’s usually for something else, such as a surgery or an injury unrelated to the amputation. Amputee care needs to be at an expert level while recognizing higher expectations for them and their quality of life.”
Kelly once treated a patient who was fearful of new activities, but no one had ever asked him why.
“It turns out that he was afraid to fall,” she said. “Well, no wonder he didn’t want to try anything new. So we taught him how to fall properly.”
“A little bit of knowledge goes a long way,” Kelly added.
About the Travis Mills Foundation
The Travis Mills Foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports post-911 veterans who experienced life changing injuries while in service to our country. The Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat offers our nation’s recalibrated veterans and their families a week-long, barrier free, all-expenses-paid experience at its world-class retreat in the Belgrade Lakes Region of Maine. It offers various programs that help these brave men and women overcome physical and emotional obstacles, strengthen their families, and provide well-deserved rest and relaxation. The Foundation also offers the Warrior PATHH Program (Progressive & Alternative Training for Helping Heroes) for combat veterans and first responders, the nation’s first of its kind program designed to cultivate and facilitate post-traumatic growth.