Many people living with a spinal-cord injury literally owe their existence to the angels among us
By Charles Brown
As I sit here at my room’s desk at the Omni Dallas Hotel in Texas after the opening reception for late August’s Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) Healthcare Summit + Expo, I’m reminded of the sacrifices of many of our medical professionals.
The thing that strikes me the most is that they don’t see the sacrifice. They see it as a way of providing healthcare to those in need. It’s amazing to me to remember these professionals as human beings who anguish, suffer, cry and feel the pain of loss when one of their patients passes away.
Because they’re not patients to them — they’re family members. That’s the way I see it. Last month, I wrote about the ability for us to be mentors to the new injuries, the next leaders of PVA. This month, I’d like to focus on the clinicians, doctors, nurses and therapists — the group of professionals who sacrifice continually.
I’ve often mentioned that I was injured in 1986 and rehabbed at the Charlie Norwood VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) Medical Center in Augusta, Ga. I remember my doctor very well. I remember some of the nurses and definitely remember my two therapists. Janusz Markowski, MD, was the chief of the spinal-cord injury (SCI) center, a doctor who led by example, cared deeply for his patients and was a kind mentor to those patients and young professionals entering the SCI world.
I remember his gentle words to my parents as he assured them that I would be fine and would live a productive life if I chose to do so. I remember quite a few nurses in the unit, and I’ve had the pleasure recently of connecting with one of them, Mark Hall, as a caregiver for a few of my road trips required as PVA president.
Mark was only two years older than I was when I was injured. Mark has grown to be an incredible man and even more incredible nurse. Just talking about those early days has brought up some great memories for both of us.
There were many other faces and nurses and people who impacted my life. Two of the most effective people in my life who led me on the path that I’m on today are my therapists. Linda Bolt was my occupational therapist. She’s kind soul but, boy, could she drive you to do many things by that little challenge of my Marine status. Linda helped me realize I could do many things if I just put my mind to it and figured out the proper way for me to accomplish that goal.
My physical therapist was Jenelle Kelly. I don’t think Jenelle knows this, but she’s the one who pushed me to be stronger, healthier and more driven to accomplish any goals. All of these individuals (and many more) were significant influences as I was coming through my initial therapies.
Since that time, I’ve had the pleasure of working with many people through the medical profession. I moved back to my hometown of St. Louis in 1987 and then transferred my medical care to the Jefferson Barracks VA Medical Center and the John J. Cochran VA Medical Center downtown. I lived there for almost 10 years before the winters got too cold for me. Since I had family in south Florida, I decided to visit and fell in love with the weather and the area. So, I moved there. I then started receiving my care from the Bruce W. Carter VA Medical Center in Miami and the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center.
At each of these outstanding facilities, I’ve met professionals who sacrifice their time with their families and even miss weekends off to make sure the units run smoothly. These clinicians are truly angels among us. And, there are countless other dedicated medical professionals across the country.
Thank you to each of you for your sacrifices and for caring for each and every one of us. You truly improve our quality of life and extend our lives by many years.