Transcripts

Soldiers Begin Anew After Devastating Injuries

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:08
I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection," where this week we are on the move. So let's see, we've already done some late presidential road-tripping, some scientific strolling and in just a few minutes we're gonna do some skateboarding. First though, we're gonna meet some people who are working hard to regain their stride. They're injured soldiers who lost limbs in Iraq or Afghanistan. Emily Kopp stopped by the Amputee Center at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda to see what it's like to learn how to walk, and even run, after a devastating injury on the battlefield.

MS. EMILY KOPP

00:00:44
It's like your local health club, deep in the bowels of Walter Reed. There are treadmills, a climbing wall, reclining bikes and an indoor track that Staff Sgt. Christopher Ryan Walker says is just a bit different.

STAFF SGT. CHRISTOPHER RYAN WALKER

00:00:57
When you see the hangers hanging over there, where people put on the harness and you can actually walk without the fear of falling and stuff when you first start out, which is a big deal, especially when you don't have hands to catch yourself.

KOPP

00:01:07
Amputees come here to meet their therapists and work up a sweat. They've got goals big and small.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN

00:01:13
I really want to get back to X-Box. I love sports, college football, of course, Florida Gators, that's my team.

KOPP

00:01:20
Out of privacy concerns Walter Reed asked that we not reveal this soldier's name.

CAPT. ERIK JOHNSON

00:01:25
Pull, pull, pull, pull, pull. All right. We're gonna push a little bit more.

KOPP

00:01:29
As he arm wrestles his therapist and his fiance listens in, he says there's another reason why the swelling in his reconstructed left hand has to subside.

MAN

00:01:40
I want to be able to wear my wedding ring. So I gotta get that thing down.

KOPP

00:01:47
So he submits to something his therapist, Erik Johnson, calls torture tape. That means taping down every knuckle into a tight fist.

JOHNSON

00:01:55
You're doing good. I know. That's the last one, that's the last one. Just hold what you got, hold what you got. Zero out of ten, what would you say?

MAN

00:02:06
Ten.

JOHNSON

00:02:06
Just remember 10 probably was when you got your legs blown off. So …

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN

00:02:10
That's what I tell him.

MAN

00:02:12
9.5.

KOPP

00:02:12
At any given time, about 150 soldiers get this type of tough love at Walter Reed. Before the center opened, military hospitals usually performed the necessary surgeries, then sent the patients home. Major David Rozelle says that didn't work so well.

MAJ. DAVID ROSELLE

00:02:27
And then we're supposed to be taken care of, I guess, by our mothers in this 1950's system that was set up by the Veteran's Administration. I didn't want any part of that. So I went back to my unit, recovered at my unit, and then went back to war. While I was at war things were developing in D.C., the perfect storm with BRAC and everything else, to build this Amputee Center.

KOPP

00:02:46
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill saw injured soldiers weren't dying of these wounds. Researchers create a prosthetic that let amputees do things that had been impossible, like walking backwards. And a soft-spoken sports therapist, who saw amputees as no different than athletes, became the center's director, Chuck Scoville.

DR. CHARLES SCOVILLE

00:03:05
When I first come in we do a lot of the core strengthening, the balance-type drills. We get them into their prosthetic devices, starting them with walking. We do throwing a football around, throwing a Frisbee around, doing kind of rope pulls, things you'd see other professional athletes do in a sports facility.

KOPP

00:03:29
Lose your leg below the knee? Scoville says treat it like an ankle sprain. Above the knee? It's just like an ACL injury, tough, but Scoville says it's all to get the patients where they want to be.

SCOVILLE

00:03:41
Our goal is when they leave they can do everything they want to do. For some of them that's summiting Mt. McKinley or summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro. For over 300 it's been returning to active duty, doing what they did before they got injured there. Some of them, it's going out, starting their own businesses. Some have recently competed in the Paralympics.

KOPP

00:04:03
Many amputees, though, want nothing more than their independence. Christopher Ryan Walker lost both arms and a leg in Afghanistan. He considers getting dressed by himself one of his first big achievements.

WALKER

00:04:16
Shirts weren't too kind at first 'cause you kinda get lost in the shirt, but I've gotten it down now like just as if I had hands. I just put my arms through it and throw it over now. It's a little different taking it off. I've got to like bit it and pull it up and flip it over, but it's pretty easy. Like, pants, it's like a big routine. You gotta sit up, sit down, like lean against the wall to do this. And it's just work-arounds for everything.

KOPP

00:04:40
He's not complaining. He says that's hard to do here.

WALKER

00:04:43
Oh, yeah, because then you can see other people doing stuff. Instead of being like, well, I can't do that because I don't have arms. It's like, oh, that guy's doing it. I can do it.

KOPP

00:04:49
That is something David Rozelle says amputees can't find elsewhere.

ROSELLE

00:04:54
I guess it was two years ago now, I remember walking outside and listening to one Marine in a wheelchair with missing both legs above the knee, talking to another Marine in a wheelchair missing both legs above the knee, telling him to quit complaining and to get serious about his rehab. If he wanted to go back and fight with other Marines, he needed to get his head in the game and get ready for that.

KOPP

00:05:13
About a quarter of the patients here eventually return to active duty. The rest move on. To prepare them for a life in a world of narrow grocery aisles, stairs and public restrooms, therapists lead tours of Trader Joes and other places in Bethesda. You may see them around town. I'm Emily Kopp.
Transcripts of WAMU programs are available for personal use. Transcripts are provided "As Is" without warranties of any kind, either express or implied. WAMU does not warrant that the transcript is error-free. For all WAMU programs, the broadcast audio should be considered the authoritative version. Transcripts are owned by WAMU 88.5 American University Radio and are protected by laws in both the United States and International law. You may not sell or modify transcripts or reproduce, display, distribute, or otherwise use the transcript, in whole or in part, in any way for any public or commercial purpose without the express written permission of WAMU. All requests for uses beyond personal and noncommercial use should be referred to (202) 885-1200.