Friday, September 25, 2009

Texas military mom amputee helps wounded soldiers regain strength through aquatic therapy

From The Express-News in San Antonio:

The rhythmic beat of “Roxanne” by the Police ripples across the pool as Kara Roth (pictured) does her work.

It's here at the Center for the Intrepid that Roth, a military mom and amputee, introduces wounded troops to the possibilities that lie beyond a traumatic injury. Since the center opened at Fort Sam Houston 21/2 years ago, Roth has worked as an American Red Cross volunteer, helping the wounded regain stamina and confidence through aquatic therapy.

“I planned at first to work a few hours a week, but I saw a need for someone to be here. I've always worked in the water in some way,” said Roth, 49.

Staff Sgt. Allan Annaert, 30, had a hip broken and his leg burned in a bomb blast in Iraq. Roth is helping him build up strength to do simple things like grocery shopping.

“She doesn't yell like a drill sergeant,” Annaert said. “If you don't feel like working out, she'll say, ‘OK, see you next time.'”

But that doesn't mean she's a pushover.

Roth works the troops hard if they hope to run again or stay in the military, said Eli Ramos, the center's aquatics director.

“She leads by example. She pushes them, lets them know it can be done.” Ramos said. “If I say, ‘Kara, smoke ‘em,' they get smoked.”

Roth's above-knee amputation is the result of a horse-riding accident at age 16. After years of knee surgeries, an infection forced her to have her right leg amputated in 2006. While recovering with other amputees at Brooke Army Medical Center, she realized aquatic therapy was her forte.

Reared as a water baby, Roth has been a competitive swimmer since age 4. She's studied kinesiology in college, and has worked as a certified lifeguard, scuba-diving trainer and water safety instructor.

When she finished rehabilitation, the staff at BAMC asked her to return as a volunteer therapy tech. She now works up to 11 hours, five days a week, and swims up to three miles a day. She's on the road at least three hours a day, to or from her house in Spring Branch.

Roth runs troops through endless combinations of exercises, including water weights, steps, kicks and “aqua jogging,” which simulates running but without stress on the body. In the pool, someone without legs can put on resistance boots and get a feel for the sensation of walking.

For many of the wounded, it's their first workout after being laid up for weeks in a bed.

“As soon as they can get into good enough shape to run, they get out and don't come back,” Ramos said.

Roth said she's come to appreciate volunteers after growing up in the Army and raising three children as an Army wife. As a young teen working as a Red Cross volunteer “candy striper,” she used to help hospital patients walk or get out of bed and into a wheelchair.

“I strongly feel that there's a need for people to give their time to really make a community work well,” said Roth, who has a son due to return from Iraq at Thanksgiving.

And so she plays the role of coach, companion and cool mom, at no cost to taxpayers. She brought in a speaker system so troops could plug in an iPod or MP3 player and listen to their music.

Strains of the Rolling Stones' “Satisfaction” waft through the air, reminiscent of the water-skiing scene from “Apocalypse Now,” as Spc. Michael Wilson plays water basketball with other wounded veterans.

At 21, after having his back broken and hip damaged by a land mine in Iraq, Wilson credits aquatic therapy with his renewed power to lift his legs.

“This is the best therapy I've done,” after trying weights and balancing exercises, Wilson said.

He's known Roth for months, but was surprised to learn she's a volunteer.

“I didn't know. That's outstanding,” he said.