In December 2019, wheelchair-bound Veterans at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center worked toward independence in a local indoor botanical garden. Specifically, they explored the Mitchell Park Domes.
Air Force Veteran Kenny Uhan joined other Veterans and staff at the Domes for a trip focused on increasing mobility and independence and becoming wheelchair proficient. Uhan started using a wheelchair after an accident in July 2019.
“This is a heck of a good outing, especially at Christmas,” said Uhan. “I would love to come back here some other time, maybe for Easter, but hopefully I won’t be at the VA then.”
For this group of Veterans from the Spinal Cord Injury unit, the experience built their confidence in using their chairs in public settings. On this day, the crowds taking in the scenery were among the obstacles the Veterans overcame.
“That was really cool”
“Wow, that was really cool,” said Erinn Kulba as she watched Veteran Keith Depperschmidt negotiate a narrow dead-end path. “We have been working on wheel chair mobility skills and he just aced it.”
Kulba is a recreation therapist at the Milwaukee VA.
The Domes, with its elevation changes, tight corners and people, is an ideal mobility testing platform. As a result, it requires higher-level skills in negotiating a complete circle in tight spaces.
For his next challenge, Depperschmidt rolled on past a 20-foot Christmas tree to tackle an uphill curving sidewalk. In addition, Depperschmidt’s wife, Mary Kay, joined him to learn how to step in if he needs assistance.
“We are really excited,” said Kulba. “It means he can increase his independence in a public space.”
The outing served to train VA health care staff as well. Certified Nursing Assistant Renee Hummert saw how off-campus mobility training fits into overall patient care.
“It’s beneficial to see the full spectrum of care,” she said. “We can see where the patient is during various stages in the health care process.”
Kenny Uhan says the goal of independence helps keep him motivated. “I am hoping that someday I can walk again. Days like today make me shoot for something.”
Benjamin Slane is a public relations officer with the Milwaukee VA Medical Center Office of Public Affairs.