Trailblazing success at botanical gardens - Milwaukee VA Medical Center
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Milwaukee VA Medical Center


Trailblazing success at botanical gardens

A therapist and Veteran who is in a wheelchair celebrate after negotiating a 360-degree turn in a tight space.

Recreation therapist from Milwaukee VA, Erinn Kulba and Veteran Keith Depperschmidt celebrate after negotiating a 360-degree turn in a tight space. In this case, about five feet. This was one of many benchmark successes on the road to independence for wheelchair-bound Depperschmidt.

By Benjamin R. Slane
Thursday, December 19, 2019

Wheelchair-bound Veterans took in the holiday spirit at the Mitchell Park Domes while working toward independence.

Kenny Uhan, who was wheelchair-bound after an accident in July of 2019, joined other Veterans and staff at the Domes for a holiday recreation outing centered around increasing mobility, becoming wheelchair proficient and increasing independence.

“This is a heck of a good outing, especially at Christmas,” said Uhan, an Air Force Veteran. “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 builds their confidence in public settings. On this day, the Domes were packed with people taking in the holiday scenery becoming obstacles Uhan overcame.

“Wow, that was really cool,” said Erinn Kulba, recreation therapist at the Milwaukee VA. She was watching Veteran Keith Depperschmidt negotiate a narrow, dead end path. “So, we have been working on wheel chair mobility skills and he just aced it.”

Photo Gallery - View more photos from the Mitchell Park Domes outing in our flickr album

Depperschmidt rolled on past the 20-foot heavily decorated Christmas tree and poinsettias to tackling an uphill, curvy sidewalks for the next test.

The Domes provide that mobility testing platform, elevation changes, tight corners and people. One of the higher-level skills is negotiating a complete circle in tight spaces. 

“We are really excited,” said Kulba. “It means he can increase his independence in a public space.”

Depperschmidt, who was joined by his wife, Linda. She participated in the outing to learn where she can step in if her husband needs assistance as he works toward improved independence.

Three recreation therapists and a Veteran in a wheelchair

Erinn Kulba, Milwaukee VA Recreation Therapist; Air Force Veteran Kenny Uhan; Joyce Casey, Milwaukee VA Recreation Therapist; and Renee Hummert, Milwaukee VA certified nursing assistant gathered at the Mitchell Park Domes for a holiday outing and mobility training.

Understanding the goal for independence is a team effort at VA. For this particular outing, a Certified Nursing Assistant from the inpatient unit attended as part of a cross-unit practice of understanding the whole picture of a patient’s care. In this case, understanding of the role and practicality of off-campus outings and the contribution to the patient’s benchmarks to success.

“It is beneficial to see the full spectrum of care,” said Renee Hummert, a CNA on the unit. “We can see where the patient is during various stages in the health care process.”

Which, Hummert said, is important for the continuity and quality of care as patients transition – if need be – to inpatient care. Ultimately, meeting the patient where they are in the process.

“I am proud to keep serving these veterans,” said Hummert. “They served us, now we can serve them.”

With that goal of independence in mind, Uhan said that is the type of motivation he likes.

“I am hoping that, some day, I can walk again.”

Though he said he remains optimistic in his 5-month stay at the hospital, this outing offers more than just holiday cheer.

“Days like today make me shoot for something.”

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