At the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC), physical therapy is a familiar stop on a wounded warrior’s road to recovery. Qualified specialists at the physical therapy department help patients through the recovery process using a personalized treatment plan, and say they are inspired by their patients’ determination to improve.
“Physical therapy is a type of treatment you may need when health problems make it hard to move around and do everyday tasks,” said Army Col. Paul Stoneman, chief of physical therapy services department. “Our main role as a department is to improve and restore the function of the patient, while my job is to oversee the rehabilitation of all of our patients from day-to-day.”
A variety of factors can affect a patient’s recovery process, and physical therapy aims to address many aspects of a patient’s wellbeing, including physical, psychological, emotional and mental stability, explained Stoneman. The department offers patient evaluations to determine a personalized treatment plan.
“All physical therapy is not the same. We have a very experienced staff with several specialists that address specific problems such as neurologic rehab, orthopedic rehab and amputee rehab. It’s a very broad field. We’re treating anyone from an infant to the elderly, with a wide variety of problems. We see everything, from broken ankles to torn knee ligaments and severe neurological damage.”
Stoneman said keeping patients engaged and motivated throughout the process is key to successful recovery.
“We have to look at the patient as a whole,” said Stoneman. “It’s important for a patient to be emotionally invested in the process and believe we can get them back to their old selves.”
Most patients begin the physical therapy process after receiving a referral from their primary care physician, while a small percentage of the patients are self referrals. Stoneman said working with wounded warriors has been the most rewarding part of his job.
“These are our peers, co-workers, friends and family,” he said. “With the injuries our Sailors, Marines, Soldiers and Airmen sustain in war, we want to help them as much as we can because they have sacrificed their lives for our way of life. The feeling I get when we help them goes beyond words.”
Stoneman is not the only person who sees the importance and impact of physical therapy. For similar feelings, one doesn’t have to look farther than Stoneman’s staff.
“Physical therapy has changed how I approach my job,” said Army Staff Sgt. Sara Sutton, non-commissioned officer in charge of the physical therapy services department. “When you have that patient who suffered from an explosion in Afghanistan, can’t walk and is emotionally down, it’s hard to see. You work with them and help them as much as you can. Then the day comes when you are with them when they take their first step. You can’t help but be proud of them.”
Sutton’s primary duties include completing the administrative action that is needed for all patients. While she doesn’t get to see patients as often as the technicians, she understands physical therapy matters to more people than just the patients.
“It’s not only important to the wounded service members, it’s important to their families, the command and the community,” she said. “We help patients get back to where they were, while interacting and working with other patients to increase their motivation to get better.”
Other staff members echoed Sutton’s sentiments about how moving it can be to observe a patient’s progress in their recovery.
“I love seeing our patients’ progression from day to day,” said Hospitalman Whitney Smith, a physical therapy technician. “I see some of them post-surgery and they are not able to do any exercises and movements. After some time passes, I see them building their strength and endurance while pushing them every day.”
Smith said witnessing the dedication and determination of patients working toward recovery has affected her personally.
“This job has humbled me,” she said. “When you see wounded warriors that don’t give up, it rubs off on you. They don’t let their physical limitations define who they are. I look in their eyes and see determination and fight. Giving up is not an answer, and that is why I love my job.”
To schedule an appointment, contact your primary care manager or call the physical therapy department at 301-295-4880.