On Tuesday Dan met with former GA Senator and triple amputee Max Cleland. Dan and I have discussed on several occasions how, had he been injured in a similar fashion in any previous war, he not only wouldn’t have survived his initial injuries, but he also wouldn’t have been able to look forward to the quality of life that we’re confident he’ll attain now and in the future. Talking with Mr. Cleland about his experiences after returning from battle in Vietnam really underscored for us the advances made over the last four decades in the not-as-unrelated-as-you-might-think fields of prosthetic technology and national compassion for wounded warriors. Between the outpouring of love and support he’s received from what is now a nation-wide “community” of well-wishers, and the tremendous technological advances made in recent years by scientists funded by the Department of Defense, Dan luckily won’t have to face many of the challenges posed to amputees of Mr. Cleland’s generation. All of which—as Mr. Cleland eloquently stated in an op-ed run in yesterday’s NY Times—isn’t to say that today’s veterans don’t face their own significant challenges upon returning from battle.
On Thursday Dan met with the Hon. John McHugh, the newly appointed Secretary of the Army. Unfortunately the meeting occurred against the backdrop of the unfolding tragedy down at Ft. Hood, and was thus fairly short. I did have a chance to snap this photo:
And to close the week with a bang, on Friday Dan met with President Obama. The first words out of the President’s mouth as he introduced himself were that he had heard from the Walter Reed staff that Dan continued to lead and inspire the other wounded soldiers from the 5th Stryker Brigade in the hospital. Dan replied with his usual nonchalance, “Yes Sir, that’s my job.” Duty, Honor, Country indeed.
The best part of the visit came half an hour after the President left Dan’s hospital room and we thought we were free to get on with the rest of the day. At that point the Secret Service came back into the room to tell us that one of the soldiers from 1-17 who was slated to receive a Purple Heart from the Commander-in-Chief had requested that Dan witness the ceremony. SPC Sean Burke was wounded in his Stryker by an IED while driving back from Combat Outpost Berschinski (yes, Dan has a base named after him in Afghanistan) outside of Kandahar. Now Walter Reed’s docs are doing heroic work to save SPC Burke’s left leg, which was badly injured in the blast. The scene in SPC Burke’s room as President Obama handed out the Purple Heart while Dan looked on was pretty cool. The President was accompanied by an official photographer who promised to distribute all his pictures, so I didn’t take many, but here a couple that give you a sense of how it looked:
Lastly, after finishing up with President Obama, Dan got up on two legs for the first time Friday afternoon. Here are what the legs looked like:
These are what are called “shorties,” meaning that they don’t have knee joints and are six inches or so shorter than the final version Dan will eventually use to walk (meaning, you guessed it, Tallest Berschinski and Best Looking Berschinski are still held by the same owner). As you can see in the picture above, the right leg does have the mechanical joint that will allow Dan relatively smooth motion at the hip once he starts walking. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone to hear that replicating the three-dimensional motion of a ball-and-socket hip joint is an incredibly complex task. Mike Corcoran, Dan’s prosthetic technician, a two-time Olympian in slalom kayaking, and one of Walter Reed's many unsung heroes, explained to us on Friday that the hip mechanism you see here didn’t exist as recently as two years ago.
Here’s Mike fitting Dan with the legs:
And Dan upright on his own power:
Mike’s purpose in having Dan stand on the shorties is to test the fit of the custom-made sockets that connect the legs to Dan’s body. A socket that feels comfortable when lying down (as when Mike originally fitted Dan for his left socket in the picture that made the front of last week’s WaPo) might cut into Dan’s skin or otherwise impede motion when Dan is vertical. So Mike and Dan will spend several hours together over the coming weeks tweaking the sockets so that they achieve a perfect fit to Dan’s body.