Peer Amputee Volunteer Puts Experience, Compassion Into Recovery
Jack Farley, a peer amputee visitor, meets with a patient at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. His right leg was blown off by a mortar in Vietnam nearly 40 years ago. Mr. Farley was fitted for his first prosthesis at Walter Reed and met his wife there while being treated.

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, July 20, 2007) - An admitted golf "nut," Jack Farley said he has heard probably every handicap joke there is, having hit the green for the last four decades wearing a prosthetic right leg. Still, nobody cuts him any slack, he said.

"I try to get strokes for this and nobody will give me any strokes," Mr. Farley said and laughed.

Mr. Farley is a peer amputee visitor at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here. A retired federal judge, Mr. Farley is quick with a joke and a smile. He knows nearly everybody at the center it seems and knows nearly everything there is to know about prosthetics.

His right leg was claimed by a mortar in Vietnam nearly 40 years ago. He was fitted for his first prosthesis at Walter Reed. It was there, on a blind date, that Mr. Farley met the woman who would later become his wife. It was there he started a new life. If he hadn't lost his leg, Mr. Farley said, he wouldn't have returned to college to study law and subsequently would not have become a federal judge. It is only fitting, Mr. Farley said, that he returns to help others.

"It's a sense of paying back. I had mentors and people visiting me when I was here in Walter Reed in 1969 and '70," he said. "I get more out of it than they do. It's a real selfish act on my part."

The peer visitor program began four years ago at Walter Reed when, due to the war in Iraq, an influx of amputees started entering the hospital system. It began with a small group of amputees experienced in visiting and listening and helping new amputees and has grown into a formal program offering training and certification. Peer amputee visitors are considered part of the treatment team at the center. They have access to every floor.

"In the beginning our job is just to listen. I don't come in and say, 'Hey, look at me,'" Mr. Farley said. "The peer visitor comes in and just tries to deal with the family and deal with the patient, explaining that life is going to be different, but whether it's better or worse it's still up to the patient."

On this visit, Mr. Farley talked with Marine Lance Cpl. Josh Bleill, who lost both legs in Iraq when the Humvee in which he was riding struck a bomb. It killed two fellow Marines, one riding to the front and one to the left of him. The gunner lost his right leg. Remarkably, the driver was uninjured and is still serving in Iraq, Lance Cpl. Bleill said.

Lance Cpl. Bleill was getting a new socket, the piece of the prosthetic leg in which the residual portion of the leg fits. New bone growth in Lance Cpl. Bleill's leg rubbed against his old socket, causing pain.

Wearing a pair of khaki shorts, Mr. Farley sported a star-spangled socket -- blue with white stars, just like an American flag. It is the most important piece of the prosthetic leg, he said.

"You can put a million dollars in technology below the socket, but if it doesn't fit right or is uncomfortable, nobody is going to wear it," he said.

Lance Cpl. Bleill said Mr. Farley's experience sometimes helps him explain things to the doctors and technicians that are hard to put into words.

The program consistently receives the highest ratings from patients at the center, he said.

"It's a great program," Lance Cpl. Bleill said. "It's nice to see when you are first injured that there is life after this."

Mr. Farley said his role changes during the progress of the amputee. Each goes through five stages: enduring, suffering, reckoning, reconciling and normalization.

For many, though, there is a sixth stage -- thriving, Mr. Farley said.

"You'll see people who actually accomplish more having gone through the trauma ... than they would without it," Mr. Farley said.

"I wouldn't have gone to law school. I already had an MBA. I was going into business. I would have never been a lawyer, much less a federal judge," Mr. Farley said. "By overcoming this in a positive way, it actually can assist you in other challenges in life."

Mr. Farley said that some younger servicemembers resist help at first. He told the story of a young man who was trying to do everything himself, resisting the helpful efforts of a new bride.

"He wanted to do everything himself," Mr. Farley said. "One day I just pulled him aside and said, "You know, the greatest gift of love you can give is to maybe allow somebody to help you.

"Later on, we all realize we need the help of everybody," he said.

(Fred W. Baker III writes for the American Forces Press Service.)

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