After a long day of cutting-edge medical treatment, Holly Crabtree sat back in one of the comfy chairs of a Ray Jay luxury box. Crabtree, a medically retired Navy hospital corpsman, nearly died after being shot in the head in Iraq while on a mission with Navy SEALs on April 15, 2010. The bullet that pierced the left side of her skull left her largely paralyzed on her right side, damaged her brain and her vision. Her right arm is in a sling and she needs a cane to walk. Hours before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were crushed by the Washington Redskins, the home team wanted Crabtree on the field, to honor her for her service. But she was too wiped out from her treatment. Crabtree wasn’t expected to survive at first, and was given the moniker Hope Trauma by battlefield medics. But she is tough and stubborn and, thanks to an organization called the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge, she has climbed a mountain and rafted down a river after a long rehab at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital.
And now, thanks to the organization, she is testing out a new orthotic brace, designed by Marmaduke Loke, one of the world’s leaders in improving skeletal structural alignment and walking capabilities in patients. Loke was in town last week to help Crabtree adjust to a new brace designed to change her walking gait, taking stress off her joints and eventually allowing her to even jog again. But before that can happen, Crabtree faces a long and arduous rehab with the Loke brace. Crabtree says the potential to regain more natural movement makes it worth the effort. “I’m exhausted,” she says, walking out of the stadium shortly after halftime. The new brace, she says, “is working well, but every single move seems like a baby step. I have to go slow.” Crabtree says she is confident that the brace will help her quest to regain more mobility. And that, says Loke, is one of the reasons he set up a meeting with Steven Scott, medical director of Haley’s Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center. Loke is trying to convince the VA, which doesn’t routinely pay for these devices, to pick up the cost. With the help of Scott, the VA has picked up the cost of Crabtree’s brace, which Loke calls a DR3 or “gait-shaper.” The cost of the braces varies, depending on complexity, says Loke. The one he designed for Crabtree costs about $8,000. “The door is slowly opening” for more funding, says Loke. Haley spokeswoman Karen Collins says the “VA is always looking at ideas and research to improve care for our veterans with disabilities to allow them to more independent lives. This preliminary meeting is exploratory in nature to look at the possibility of future collaboration and/or research.” Acting secretary at MacDill Acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning, the civilian head of the flying branch, paid a short visit to MacDill Air Force Base Thursday. Fanning’s trip to Tampa was a rescheduled visit planned for last month, said Maj. Toni Whaley, an Air Force spokeswoman. Fanning met with leaders from U.S. Central Command, U.S. Special Operations Command and the 6th Air Mobility Wing, said Whaley. He also visited a KC-135 Stratotanker simulator and took a spin with the 6th Security Forces marine patrol unit, otherwise known as MacDill’s Navy. “He wasn’t there very long, about six hours I believe,” said Whaley. “I haven’t had the opportunity to talk to him, but I’m told he enjoyed the marine patrol.” Given events taking place in Centcom’s region, I asked Whaley if Fanning was having discussions about the potential for air operations over Syria, where President Barack Obama, who has blamed the regime of Bashar Assad for killing more than 1,400 of his own citizens in a chemical weapons attack, is mulling military action. Whaley said because she hadn’t talked to Fanning, she didn’t know. Lt. Col. Christopher Belcher, chief of media for Centcom, said he didn’t know what Fanning may have discussed during his short visit to CENTCOM. I do know that the visit was scheduled well before the news broke about the use of chemical weapons. But it’s a safe bet that they talked about more than the weather. By the time you read this, we may well know how the tinderbox Syrian situation has played out. IT support contract Tampa’s Vykin Corp., was awarded a $12.3 million firm-fixed-price contract to provide on-site information technology (IT) support services for the Defense Media Activity, according to the Pentagon. Work will be performed in Maryland and Pennsylvania with a performance period beginning Oct. 1 and run through Sept. 30, 2014. The base period of the contract will be subject to availability of fiscal 2014 Operations and Maintenance funds. Verissimo Global grant A veteran-owned company from New Port Richey received a $30,000 entrepreneurial grant last week from Veteran’s Pathway to Business Success. It is the organization’s first such grant in the Tampa area. The grant went to Verissimo Global, a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business owned by Bill Puopolo, who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The company, which provides a full range of information technology and communications solutions for both the government and commercial sectors, received the grant “because Bill Puopolo has shown a tremendous dedication to his country and to his fellow veterans through his service in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as continuing outreach and support to various veteran service organizations upon his return from duty,” according to VPBS publicist Carroll Nguyen. Bay Pines summit The Bay Pines VA Healthcare System will host a mental health summit on Friday from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the St. Petersburg College Library Conference Center in Seminole. According to Bay Pines, the summit will “enhance positive working relationships between the Bay Pines VAHCS and community mental health agencies to better address the broad mental health care needs of veterans and their families. The summit will provide an opportunity for direct dialogue and active engagement between VA and community partners.” The summit will feature VA mental health care presentations and “breakout” sessions intended to address specific collaborative opportunities like veteran transportation needs, guardianship, suicide prevention and community hospital integration. Deaths in Afghanistan Five soldiers were killed in Afghanistan last week. *Staff Sgt. Michael H. Ollis, 24, of Staten Island, N.Y., died Aug. 28, in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device, small arms and indirect fire. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light), Fort Drum, N.Y. * Sgt. 1st Class Ricardo D. Young, 34, of Rosston, Ark., died Aug. 28, in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit with small arms fire. He was assigned to the 307th Engineer Battalion (Combat/Airborne), 20th Engineer Brigade, XVIII Airborne Corps, Fort Bragg *1st Lt. Jason Togi, 24, of Pago Pago, American Samoa, died Aug. 26, in Hasan Karez, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained when enemy forces attacked his vehicle with an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas. *Spc. Kenneth Clifford Alvarez, 23, of Santa Maria, Calif., and Pvt. Jonathon Michael Dean Hostetter, 20, of Humphreys, Mo., died Aug. 23 in Haft Asiab, Afghanistan, from wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked their unit with an improvised explosive device during combat operations. Both soldiers were assigned to 2nd Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade, White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. There have now been 2,255 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the nation’s longest war. email@example.com (813) 259-7629 @haltman