JOHN YDSTIE, host:
In the four years since the start of the Iraq war, at least 23,000 U.S. troops have been injured. Many are left with some type of permanent disability. Those troops need help learning to cope physically and mentally with their injuries.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This week, DAY TO DAY, has a series of stories about veterans whose rehab is happening outside the hospital's walls.
Captain EIVIND FORSETH (U.S. Army): Project Healing Waters is a program that was started by Captain Ed Nicholson. Basically, what we do is provide emotional and physical therapy to wounded warriors of every service and every conflict, through the skills of fly-fishing and fly-tying.
BRAND: That's Army Captain Eivind Forseth, who started out as a patient and is now one of Project Healing Waters' volunteer guides.
Captain FORSETH: Just to see the changes in these wounded service members, emotionally, when you get them out here in beautiful water like this, or we go on these trips - you know, when you go from lying in a hospital bed hooked up to pumps and machines and you got people poking you and prodding and feeding you, all kinds of medications and you're in the most severe pain you've ever been your entire life - to get out here was like being reborn.
Just right now, you know, you've got over 18,000 severely wounded from the global war on terrorism. The focus right now is on Afghanistan and Iraq, but we've actually got a gentleman here today who lost both his legs in Vietnam. So what we're trying to do is get everybody that needs this program, surviving from World War II all the way to now. There's a lot more people out there that need help.
My injury is a - right now, is a permanent disability, a paralysis of the right hand and very limited motion of the right elbow. I was with the 82nd Airborne when I got hit in Mosul, Iraq on 4 January '05. My convoy was struck by an IED. Basically, it was an artillery round that was placed inside a taxi cab that was parked on the side of the road in a traffic circle. And so as my convoy came around that traffic circle, it was command-detonated probably with either a cell phone or a garage door opener, or anything that has an FM frequency. My gunner and I were hit and we were put in a truck. My guys stayed there to fight it out with the insurgents. And, yeah usually what happens when an IED is used to initiate an ambush and so as soon as they hit us with the shock of the IED then they start shooting. But you know my guys - I mean everybody in my battalion, 82nd, they're so very well trained and used to reacting to contact that as soon as they started taking fire they rocked right back and started shooting up the insurgents and then I was put in another vehicle-my gunner and I and rushed to the combat support hospital.
I didn't realize how bad it was because I couldn't see underneath but it had taken nearly all of the soft tissue from underneath my arm exposing my bones. So it took muscle and tissue and it took my median and ulnar nerves with it. Unfortunately that's why my right hand is paralyzed. You know being-just being a platoon leader, being an officer, being an infantry man I'm so used to being able bodied, being completely independent. In a matter of a split second to become dependent-activities of daily living, they call them ADL's, those can be nearly impossible. I mean you know washing dishes, washing clothes, bathing yourself can be an issue you know when you got paralysis or an amputation or something like that. So I just-I, I dropped into a very deep depression. You know anger management issues; I was upset all the time. I had a very short fuse. It would take anything to set me off. I started to get apathetic. I thought man I just don't care.
And when Ed came to me and said, hey you know I heard you were a fly fisherman, would you like to fish, I thought, no I'm really not interested. You know, I didn't want to go and make a fool of myself and I didn't want to fail. Because I have this incredible fear of failure like most of us warriors do, you know? And it was my mom who said you know please for me just try it. And it also helped because Colonel Howard the chief of OT at the time was like, hey LT you will go out and do this. I was okay, so between him and my mom I got out there on the water and just really-I slowly started to come around and then pretty soon I thought yeah I'm-you know I can do this. I can do this and then everybody that knows me and loves me just noticed a huge difference. And then when I started helping with this program that became my mission. You know that's just kind of what I started living for besides my family so.
What's going to happen is eventually when, when all of us wounded service members are - when we're released from our recovery, we're going to be integrated into society and you're going to start seeing us a lot more. Especially because you know there are a lot of us that are not letting it slow us down so you're going to see us out doing adaptive sports and, and you know you're going to see us on the work force and things like that. The one thing I'd say is don't be afraid of it. You know don't be afraid of us. Don't be afraid to come up and say hello, or ask what happened or anything like that. I mean I think it's a very common reaction to, to see someone who's disabled and then you kind of turn the other way because you don't want to think that they noticed you. But we know you're looking. It doesn't hurt our feelings. Come over and ask what happened, you know we'll tell you.
These 18,000 plus service members that are severely wounded, they're not going to miraculously heal as soon as this war is over. You know nobody's going to wave a magic wand and they're going to be able bodied. Some, some will get better, some will get worse. So we'll need the support, absolutely. What a day, I love it.
YDSTIE: Captain Eivind Forseth's story comes to us from Barrett Golding of hearingvoices.com. Our series on Project Healing Waters continues tomorrow.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.