Injured Veterens Hit the Water & Surf
CAMP PENDLETON ---- A thick scar runs from ankle to mid-thigh on Brice Brokaw's left leg.
The inch-wide mark is evidence of a surgeon's effort two years ago to harvest a donor blood vein in an effort to save Brokaw's right leg, which was mangled in a motorcycle accident.
The transplant worked, but the effort to save Brokaw's right leg failed, and the then-28-year-old Coast Guard fireman became "an above the knee amputee" who was later discharged from military service.
Brokaw and 15 other current and former service members ---“ most of them amputees ---- were guests at an instructional surf camp Saturday at Camp Pendleton's San Onofre beach hosted by "Operation Amped," an organization that helps injured veterans learn adaptive sports.
"Before I was hurt, I used to surf, so this is another way for me to try and reclaim some of my old self and do some of the things I used to do," said Brokaw, who uses a "stiff peg leg" when he hits the waves.
"It's a lot harder to surf now though," Brokaw said. "I'm not supposed to use the leg that bends at the knee ---- it might get rusty or damaged ---- so essentially, I can only use one leg to jump up on the board once I catch a wave."
Army Sgt. Saul Martinez also used to surf. He who lost his lower left leg during a tour in Iraq when the HumVee he was riding in was hit by an improvised explosive device.
"It's a lot different now," Martinez said. "Even when I get up on the board, it still feels a little bit wobbly and unstable because I only have one foot that can grip."
Both men are patients of Dave Donaldson, a retired Navy corpsman and now a recreational therapist at the Balboa Naval Regional Medical Center in San Diego.
Donaldson said he tries to plan several different types of outings, mostly sports related, to help injured service members regain their mobility and to stay mentally sharp.
"Keeping these guys active is our main goal, because it's not good for them to just sit around," Donaldson said.
"We try to get them involved in surfing, hiking, and other different types of physical exercise ---- we try to pack a lot of activities into their lives ---- even filling their leisure time.
"We also tell them they have to learn to be able to live alone and take care of themselves. We teach them how to cook and iron, while we're teaching them how to rock climb.
"It's all in an effort to get these guys to fully re-engage their lives again."