VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System
VAECHCS opens Spinal Cord Injury & Disorder Clinic
The VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System (ECHCS), in partnership with the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), cut the ribbon to open the highly anticipated Spinal Cord Injury and Disorder (SCI/D) Center at the new Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center on April 9, making this the 25th SCI/D Center in the VA’s health care system. The ceremony took place in the specialized courtyard designed in collaboration with PVA. Not only was the sun shining bright upon this event, but excitement radiated from both staff and Veterans alike.
PVA Executive Director Carl Blake began his speech with, “This is the best of VA right here,” and there was not a person in attendance who would disagree with him. Former ECHCS Director Sallie Houser-Hanfelder echoed Blake’s remarks regarding the facilities but also spoke about her own profound pride in the work that Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs), especially PVA, did to make this day a possibility, stating, “It is important to always know who the people are that make it happen.” Hanfelder has made it a mission of hers to connect ECHCS with the VSOs in Colorado, who were crucial to completing this project. She also thanked the staff for their hard work and their commitment to making this day a reality.
“As long as there is life,
I’m going to live it.”
The commitment for this patient population was palpable among the staff, but the passion for life exuding from the Veterans was remarkable. U.S. Army Veteran David Ortiz said, “As long as there is life, I’m going to live it.” As an SCI/D Veteran, he said he was there “celebrating the opening of this great facility,” and added, “(This is) great for Veterans of Colorado because now we don’t have to go to Albuquerque anymore.”
The new SCI/D Center has 30 inpatient beds, an incredible rehabilitation gym, therapy pools and an outdoor skills course. The state of Colorado attracts Veterans interested in adaptive sports and it is the hope of this center that the state-of-the-art facility will attract Veterans for their SCI/D needs from all over. It will become the hub for five different sites of care, receiving VA SCI/D patients from Cheyenne, Wyoming; Fort Meade/Hot Springs, South Dakota; Grand Junction, Colorado; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Sheridan, Wyoming.
Dr. David Coons, Director of the new SCI/D Center said, “In 2017, (VA) took care of more than 27,000 Veterans with spinal cord injury.” The pride for his unit, staff and the Veterans they serve exuded from him, especially when he spoke about their patients. With pride in his voice, Coons said, “This is the best population to work with…You get to see their courage and resilience.”
“This is just a beautiful facility. All the staff I have met are just incredible.
They are caring, they have a lot of great knowledge and abilities..."
Resilience is something very familiar to SCI/D patients. It is figuratively and literally about getting back up every time. Marine Veteran Allen Bodine was seen walking around the SCI outpatient center in a Hocoma Andago, an assistive device that helps with walking, a task that not all patients can do independently or at all. When asked how it felt, Bodine said, “It’s incredible to be up and walking around. To feel unassisted, to have the opportunity to be up and walking around again and have the knowledge that I won’t end up on the floor.”
Bodine used to walk seven miles a day as a United States postal worker before he was impacted by a SCI/D, but this has not slowed him down and it appears as though nothing can dampen his spirit. Bodine beamed from ear to ear when he shared, “I won’t let this define me. My life is really good. I’ve been very blessed in my life and I still am.”
Bodine closed it out stating, “This is just a beautiful facility. All the staff I have met are just incredible. They are caring, they have a lot of great knowledge and abilities, and this new facility has caught a lot of grief, but I look at it and watch what they are doing and I can’t imagine not being happy with every penny they spent.”
ECHCS SCI/D accepted its first inpatient Veteran the following day. Staff are excited about the future of the center and the difference it will make in many Veterans’ lives.