Bernard S. Little
Walter Reed National Medical Center
Sgt. Ryan Long met with Boston Marathon bombing victim J.P. Norden at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., June 12, to encourage him on his road to recovery.
While on patrol in Afghanistan last year, Long was injured when the vehicle he was traveling in encountered a roadside bomb.
He lost his right leg as a result of the explosion.
Norden also lost his right leg, April 15, when the second bomb went off at the Boston Marathon.
Long told him the road to recovery has it challenges, but there are also rewards along the way.
Long shared an anecdote with Norden about how his 3-year-old daughter had accepted the changes to her father.
Before he got his prosthetic, she observed: "You got one foot." And then just recently, after he received his artificial limb, another matter-of-fact observation from his girl: "You have two feet."
Long said it’s "the little things" that are rewarding.
"It gets better," Long told Norden and other victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. He told them their recoveries will depend a lot on their attitudes and how they approach their rehabilitation.
"Right now, it may seem [difficult]," Long said. "I know I had days when I was down. I thought, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’"
Long said he found inspiration and motivation to push forward by being around his fellow wounded warriors and seeing how hard they worked to get better.
"That’s what makes it easier when you’re in this situation," he said.
During his day at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, or WRNMMC, Norden visited the medical center’s Gait Lab, which uses a large open space for patients to walk, run and do various forms of physical activity, including range-of-motion exercises that help evaluate, measure and improve their gait, balance, and walking.
He also visited the CAREN Lab, a computer assisted rehabilitation environment, and the Military Advanced Training Center, where he saw numerous wounded warriors and other patients go through the rigors of rehabilitation so that they could either resume duty or succeed in the civilian community.
Norden described what he saw at the Nation’s Medical Center as amazing.
"I was shocked seeing all those people there with the same type of injuries [as mine], or worse, doing stuff I didn’t know I would be able to do," he said.
Adding, "I really just want to walk again, more than anything."
Staff Sgt. Travis Mills, 26, is one of only five quadruple amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive his injuries. He also greeted Norden.
This wasn’t the first time Mills had met with Norden, however.
Mills and other wounded warriors visited Boston Marathon bombing victims in Boston not long after the incident.
At that time, they had been able to visit Norden’s brother, Paul, 29, who also lost one of his legs. The brothers had been injured near the finish of the marathon while shielding other spectators during the second blast.
At WRNMMC, Norden used his cell phone to call his brother.
He then handed the phone to Mills, who urged the younger Norden to visit WRNMMC to see firsthand the recovery of the nation’s heroes.
"There’s life after amputation," Mills told him.
Marine Corps Sgt. Luis Remache, who lost both his legs and suffered other injuries during a 2011 grenade attack in Afghanistan, also met Norden.
"It’s all on you," Remache said. "It takes a little time, but you still will make it."
Norden’s surgeon, Dr. E.J. Caterson, serves as the chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Harvard Medical School’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He arranged for Norden’s trip to WRNMMC.
The surgeon had worked briefly with other surgeons at WRNMMC a few years ago, and remembered the wounded warriors he saw recovering there.
"This is an incredible place. I know about [WRNMMC], and I remember seeing J.P. have a down day," Caterson explained.
Adding, "I knew I had to get him some place where he could see people recovering. [Walter Reed Bethesda] was kind enough to allow us to tour the facility and interact with wounded warriors."
"Walter Reed has the most experience with amputees," Caterson said.
Adding, "[The doctors] shared with us their expertise because there are some difficult decisions we’re making in fitting patients with prosthetics and providing rehabilitation programs."
Wounded warriors at the medical center are eager and work hard to get better, said Air Force Lt. Col. (Doctor) Eric Holt, said.
"They push the limits," Holt said.
He added, "For us to be able to show [the Boston Marathon bombing victims and their doctors] what we do here is motivational for us and for them, hopefully."