Symposium puts rehabilitation on the FAAST track

A shot of four people from the waist down. In the center, a man with a prosthetic left leg stands on top of a wooden platform with his regular leg while the prosthetic one is on a platform with wheels. Two individuals stand at his sides while another stands behind him. (Image credit: Christopher Austin)
 By Christopher Austin

The loss of a limb isn’t just the subtraction of a body part, it’s the beginning of a new normal for the injured. Prosthetics can replace some of those missing pieces, but rebuilding a person requires a major human element.

Republican Congressman Brian Mast of Florida’s 18th district gives a keynote address He is wearing a suit, but with shorts that show he is wearing prosthetic legs below the knee.
Republican Congressman Brian Mast of Florida’s 18th district gave a
keynote speech at the Federal Advanced Amputation Skills Training
(FAAST) Symposium. He addressed the physical and occupational
therapists present, and focused on how important their work is in
the rehabilitation and recovery of wounded warriors.
(Image credit: Christopher Austin)
“I have to believe, that for everyone in here that is not missing a limb, it has got to be one of the most difficult things for you to walk to the bedside of somebody that’s been injured and give them a size 10 in the backside and say get your butt up and do some work,” said Republican Congressman Brian Mast of Florida’s 18th congressional district. He was honorably discharged from the Army with a rank of staff sergeant after losing both of his legs and a finger to an improvised explosive device while serving under the Joint Special Operations Command as a bomb disposal expert. “It is something that is absolutely necessary. We have to have that drive.”

Mast was a keynote speaker at the fourth Federal Advanced Amputation Skills Training (FAAST) Symposium, an event co-hosted by the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC). Physical therapists, occupational therapists and prosthetics developers met to share advances made in their fields, and address different aspects of recovery for those dealing with limb loss. 

Topics covered included techniques for observing the gait of those with lower-limb prosthesis, the use of sports in occupational therapy, advancements in prosthetic technology, and the complexities of socket design for limb replacements.

One seminar, led by Katheryn Ellis, an occupational therapist at WRNMMC and assistant professor of Urology at USU, focused on how sex and intimacy are impacted by injury. 

“[Occupational therapy] is a valued life occupation and, if integrated well, it goes into comprehensive standards of care, -- looking at the patient holistically,” said Ellis. “Addressing all of these other areas of occupation but not addressing sexuality, we’re not really doing holistic care. People who have healthy relationships have healthier lives, higher quality of life, less mental illness and more longevity.”

Michael Amrich manipulates a prosthetic hand on a model arm held by Bob Quinzani during a presentation in a classroom at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.
Michael Amrich, a clinical prosthetist, and Bob Quinzani, a technical support and engineering specialist, present a model prosthetic arm produced by Liberating Technologies, Inc., during the FAAST Symposium. Several prosthetic producers were present to show off advancements in prosthetic technology. (Image credit: Christopher Austin)
The main push by presenters was to develop the person more than relying on technology. Mast punctuated this at the end of his keynote by saying that he believes there are only two disabilities that exist in life: a lack of courage and a lack of drive.

“That’s my encouragement: go out there and make people the strongest person they can be,” he said. “Let them know that the only disabilities that they can have are the same they had before they were injured, they have the ability to go out there and make themselves stronger.”