Free Caregivers Conference this week

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed a harsh spotlight on the term polytrauma – more than one injury – a problem all too common for returning veterans.

Lee and Bob Woodruff (photo courtesy of People Magazine).

This critical issue will be the focus of the Second Annual Pathways to Resilience Caregivers Conference this Thursday, March 10th, at the University of South Florida Tampa campus. The keynote speaker is Lee Woodruff, wife of ABC News anchor and reporter Bob Woodruff..

This special daylong event is free, open to the public and focuses on the needs of family members and caregivers who are involved in the lives of veterans with polytrauma. It will be held at USF’s Marshall Student Center from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Lee Woodruff’s speech takes place at 11 a.m.)

While pre-registration has closed, you can still attend. On site registration is available at the Ballroom entrance on the second floor of the Marshall Center.

Bob Woodruff with his daughter Cathryn (left) and son Mack two days after he woke from a coma. Photo courtesy of the Woodruff Family.

Bob Woodruff sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury, TBI, when the vehicle he was traveling in was blown up by a roadside bomb while he was on assignment in Iraq in 2006. Together the Woodruffs founded, a non-profit organization that helps wounded service members.  Lee has become a national advocate and travels around the country raising awareness of traumatic brain injury and the sacrifices of service members and their families. She and her husband co-wrote the best-selling book, In An Instant, about their family’s journey to recovery.  She will sign copies of her new book, Perfectly Imperfect, at the event. (The book signing is around 12 noon during lunch).

There will be various breakout sessions and special presentations including, “Family Caregivers” by Dr. Steven Scott who is from the James A Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa where he serves as the Medical Director of the Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center. Dr. Scott is also the Principal Investigator of the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. In 2004, Dr. Scott was the recipient of the “Olin E. Teague Award”; it’s the highest honor for treating War-Related Injuries in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  He also received the “National Commander’s Outstanding VA Employee Award” from the Disabled American Veterans in 2007.

Dr. Linda Mona will give a talk about  “Dealing with Sexuality & Intimacy Issues.” Dr. Mona is a licensed clinical psychologist who has advocated for the sexual rights and sexual expression of people with disabilities for the past 15 years.

In addition, Father David Czartorynski will speak in a session titled “Resiliency through Faith & Spirituality.” Czartorynski is the acting chief of the Chaplain Service at the James A. Haley VA Hospital (JAHVA) in Tampa.  He specializes in pastoral care to spinal cord injury patients and polytrauma.

And Shealyn Holt, who is the Family Caregiver Coordinator at the Washington, D.C. office of the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, will talk about  “Caregiver Resources.” Holt conducts research on traumatic brain injury and advocates for patient and family education and support.

The day concludes with a CPR training session provided by the USF chapter of the American Red Cross.

I am personally thrilled to be helping to organize this event and am proud of my husband, USAF SMSgt Rex Temple who is volunteering his time as the emcee for the event.  Rex is stationed at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base, but he recently spent a year on deployment in Afghanistan where he was embedded with the Afghan National Army. While there, he completed more than 180 combat missions and was awarded the Bronze Star.

We both believe that having one trauma is certainly bad enough, but polytrauma presents a particularly unique set of problems that require a multidisciplinary approach to treatment. But, polytrauma also creates a unique set of demands on those closest to the wounded veteran – compounded injuries, compounded need for care and for understanding. This conference will go a long way toward helping people start to get a handle on the associated issues.

Note: A version of this blog post was first written by me and Barbara Melendez for the website.

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