VA NY Harbor Healthcare System
To “adapt and overcome” is par for the course
NEW YORK — While COVID-19 drove nearly everyone indoors during spring and summer restricting physical activity to the confines of living rooms and basements across the country, the New York Harbor Healthcare System’s prosthetics team – and the Veterans they serve – had to adapt and overcome.
But, adapting to new challenges is a part of who they are.
The smell of freshly cut grass and bright, warm sun at the Toptracer Golf Course and Driving Range was a pleasant change of pace for a Thursday afternoon.
Golf courses and driving ranges avoided the onerous restrictions affecting other recreational activities because of the physically distant nature of the sport.
“Since the pandemic brought new restrictions regarding physical distancing, we’ve had to think outside the box. I sought out this opportunity to bring some Vets out here to the driving range for a physical therapy session,” Dr. Jonathan Glasberg, clinical coordinator for the VA prosthetics team covering New York and New Jersey said.
Jonathan arrived decked out in a red, white, and blue polo shirt, khaki shorts, a baseball hat and sunglasses looking the part of a quintessential golfer.
He hit a couple of drives as a warm-up while we waited for his patient to arrive by Access-A-Ride.
William “Bill” Alvarez arrived a few minutes later riding a bright red electric scooter, U.S. Army sticker affixed to the front, with an Eataly tote bag housing a hand towel and a bottle of water.
A Veteran of the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam, his right leg was amputated from the knee down, as well as right leg at the ankle. He now wears prosthetic legs which allow him to stay active.
“I started doing adaptive sports with Harbor about six years ago, beginning with hand cycle marathons. The first one I did was Pedals with Honor in Central Park. Got all the way around the park, and I had the handbrake on! That was my introduction to adaptive sports,” Bill said.
As Jonathan laid out a training mat and an exercise ball for warm-up repetitions, Bill explained that transporting training equipment is usually the biggest hurdle for adaptive sports.
Especially during COVID, it’s much more difficult to regularly exercise the way Jonathan’s patients are used to.
“I never thought I’d be able to do a marathon. It was very hard, but I kept going. Once I finished my first marathon, I thought to myself, ‘I wonder what else I can do?’ So now I’m here with Jonathan learning to golf for the first time in my life,” Bill continued.
After some stretching and calisthenics, Jonathan showed Bill how to properly hold a golf club while staying balanced, and Bill sent a few golf balls flying down range.
While they trained, they discussed the importance of staying active.
“There are different types of prosthesis. We mostly use suction sockets, which requires a technician to measure and ‘fit’ a prosthetic. When people gain or lose weight, or otherwise change their physiology, it affects how the prosthetic fits. It’s a constant, ongoing relationship with your health care provider,” Jonathan said.
As Bill’s physical therapy session came to an end, he thanked Jonathan for teaching him how to golf.
“Who knew that when COVID began I’d be learning how to do something totally new! I don’t know what I’d do without the amazing staff at Harbor. Thank you.”