Serving Wounding Warriors

In 1918, in the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the armistice marked the end of World War I. This infamous day in history also marked the origin of Veteran’s Day.

While Memorial Day honors those who died in active military service, Veteran’s Day honors all who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, living and dead.

These men and women that have given so much for our country deserve access to top-notch health care that addresses issues with which they may struggle—physical or otherwise.

John L. Esterhai Jr., MD, a Penn Medicine orthopaedic surgeon and chief of orthopaedic surgery at the Philadelphia Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center (PVAMC), knows this all too well. Dr. Esterhai is a veteran, having served in the Air Force as a flight surgeon stationed in Okinawa, Japan during the Vietnam War.

For him, and other physicians who volunteer at PVAMC, care for veterans goes far beyond just Veterans Day.

How Penn Medicine and the PVAMC Help Veterans

Together, Penn Medicine and the PVAMC provide access to health care for nearly 90,000 veterans living in and around the Philadelphia area.

“We take care of a lot of people who come a fair distance because they need care specifically for service-related injuries or simply because we’re their preferred provider,” he explains.

Healing the Deepest Wounds

The orthopaedics team at the PVAMC provides services that range from total joint replacements for aging Vietnam veterans to fracture care and sports medicine care for veterans from more recent wars.

From a physical perspective, some injuries are more challenging to overcome than others.

“One of the most debilitating issues is when the folks who have already lost a limb need to have the amputation revised,” says Dr. Esterhai.

He explains that the need for revision may be because of infection, healing difficulty, chronic pain, or the inability to use prosthesis because of limb damage. This obstacle on the path to physical recovery after losing a limb can keep them from moving forward with their lives.

But Dr. Esterhai says that helping veterans return to civilian life transcends orthopaedic care.

Many patients have had closed-head injuries because of the blasts from improvised explosive devices. And many come back with post-traumatic stress disorder from the situations that they’ve been in overseas.

“We at Penn are available to help so many other damaging effects of being a war fighter,” says Dr. Esterhai.

The Power of Empathy

Dr. Esterhai says empathy and the ability to relate to veterans on a human level is a critical part of their care.

“It’s easy to become a surgical technician who can fix something but then really doesn’t relate well to the patient, and the veterans are very sensitive to that,” he says. “It takes extra time in the office to listen to what a veteran says and to have some empathy.”

But it’s worth it. The physicians who provide care for veterans know that those few extra moments can go a long way in healing the wounds of those who have sacrificed so much for the safety and well-being of others.

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