Marmeduke Loke and Caitlyn Collins help Holly Crabtree learn to use her new state-of-the-art brace
For Navy Chief Hospital Corpsman Holly Crabtree, just standing up is sometimes a victory.
On April 15, 2010, on a mission in Iraq, she was shot in the head while providing critical and life-saving medical care to Navy SEALS during an ambush. She barely survived.
Today, Holly remains paralyzed along the right side of her body, has difficulty with memory and reading, and is unable to type on a keyboard.
At SPC’s Orthotics and Prosthetics lab, she is re-learning to walk using a new cutting-edge orthotic brace that promises more balance and stability and fewer falls. For her and future patients, this new technology offers greater hope of returning to a somewhat normal gait.
“It’s not just a brace, it’s a solution,” said Caitlyn Collins, who is working with Holly while completing her residency in orthotics. Collins earned her bachelor’s degree in Orthotics and Prosthetics from SPC in May. “We are truly fixing the problem.”
For David Olson, who took Crabtree on a packrafting adventure to Alaska with the Combat Wounded Veterans Challenge in July, the new brace shows promise of what’s to come.
“We can eventually map these braces to the brain, so all she has to do is think about how to walk and it will happen,” said Olson, a retired Navy captain who started the Combat Wounded Veterans Challenge two years ago to improve the lives of wounded and injured veterans through outdoor challenges. “Right now, she has to un-learn the movements she’s been using to walk and learn new ones.”
Crabtree was initially fitted by the Veterans Administration with a traditional thermoplastic brace for her foot to help her walk. As she got stronger, however, she began overpowering it, which slowed her down. Olson, Collins and Crabtree’s VA team sought a solution that returned energy to her limbs and found it with this fairly new technology that uses carbon fiber instead of plastic.
They settled on a product developed by Marmaduke Loke’s Dynamic Bracing Solutions in San Diego. Loke came to SPC this week to work with Holly as she begins using the brace.
“For our students, this is wonderful exposure to see how their learning can really impact someone’s quality of life,” said Arlene Gillis, program director for the Orthotics and Prosthetics program. “It’s a multi-disciplinary approach as many of us are focused on getting Holly to where she needs to be – without this she would not advance. In this field, we have the ability to completely change someone’s life by the service and product we provide. “
In Her Own Words:
O&P graduate Caitlyn Collins shares what she was thinking and feeling Wednesday as months of work culminated in fitting wounded veteran Holly Crabtree with a brace they hope will help restore her mobility
After months of anticipation and countless conversations, we are finally going to fit the brace of the century. Fingers crossed that it works…
As I wait Wednesday morning, I think about how, six months ago, I met a wonderful, inspiring veteran who pushed me to make her life easier. Three years ago, Chief Hospital Corpsman Holly Crabtree was shot in the head while she was aiding her fallen comrades in Iraq. Because of her wound, she then suffered two massive stokes. These injuries left her with many physical and mental struggles.
She now has a very hard time walking. All she wants to do is be a benefit to society and keep up with her 7-year-old daughter.
When she came into SPC to talk to our program director about a trip she was taking to Alaska with a group called Combat Wounded Veterans Challenge, it was quickly decided that something needed to be done for her.
After meeting Holly for the first time and seeing her struggle just to walk, all I wanted to do was help her after all she had done for us (as a soldier). After all the research and debates on which brace would be best for Holly, the struggle to get the support to get the awesome veteran fit with the brace she needs and deserves, and finally arranging to get everyone together to achieve our goals, it was time Wednesday to show Holly what we have done.
I know there will be months of work and training for Holly after this, but I’m ready to see some results!
As Holly comes into the evaluation room, I can tell how excited she is. She just wants to get this brace on and get to walking. We quickly got her to realize that our goal is to get her away from her bad walking habits and to begin to walk using less energy so eventually she can go faster and further. But to get there, she is going to have to practice, practice, practice!
Not only did she have a downer hearing all that, but then we realize the shoes she has will not work for the brace. So we went shoe shopping! When we finally got back and were ready to fit the brace, there was an audience there to watch her. Usually that doesn’t bother her, but I could tell all she wanted to do is focus on conquering her walking.
It is so eye-opening to watch someone who has run out in front of flying bullets to help her comrades without hesitation try to conquer something as small as walking. It becomes terrifying to her. It really makes me be in awe of what she has had to overcome on a daily basis and how much courage she has to try to make her life better.
Once we got the shoes and made some adjustments so everything was comfortable, she began her walking training. Even though I haven’t seen her walk yet, my doubts are already disappearing. Just to see how slow he is taking the training and everything he is doing to make sure she is learning the correct form from the beginning. I know with this much training and practice, there is no way she could not succeed.
The more I see of these cutting edge devices, the more I’m convinced this is the future of the orthotic world.
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