They are impossible to overlook. They stand a bit taller and sit a bit straighter. They look you in the eyes when they speak, quietly and clearly, and with absolute conviction. They work hard and never complain. They are the United States soldiers.
Since it first opened its doors in 1986, National Rehabilitation Hospital has delivered care to those in uniform. Conditions have ranged from orthopedic injuries to traumatic brain injuries to spinal cord injuries. The mission of our care, however, has never wavered. Says Ed Eckenhoff, NRH President and CEO, “We have always made our hospital available to serve as a supplement to the care provided by the military to our wounded warriors. Our soldiers deserve the very finest care, and from our inception, we have worked with the military to be a part of the team delivering the highest level of physical rehabilitation to those who need it.”
One such soldier is Oscar Canon, a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps. “The only thing I ever wanted was to be a Marine,” says Canon. In 2004, his platoon encountered heavy fighting in Fallujah, Iraq. He was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and sustained life-threatening injuries. Six of his men lost their lives and three died in his arms. Canon lost a large portion of the muscle quadrant in his thigh and incurred additional wounds over his entire body. He was told he would never walk again.
Canon was determined to overcome his injuries when he arrived at NRH. He assumed a higher purpose as well -- to live his life in honor of those who had died. He applied himself to his recovery with a fevered passion. He worked to strengthen his legs, moving through the pain and remaining focused on his goal – all with the same resolve that he demonstrated as a decorated soldier on the battlefield.
“There were many challenges to treating Oscar, not the least of which was earning his trust as a civilian care provider. He had to feel comfortable telling me when he was sick or in pain—things he would never admit in his capacity as one of the military’s elite forces,” says Max Hammer, an occupational therapist on Canon’s recovery team.
“Oscar always held as a goal returning to the Marines and to his platoon in Iraq,” says Hammer. “He did mat work to build his abdominal muscles, most of which had been harvested to rebuild his leg. With his remaining abs, he did 100 sit-ups on a medicine ball. Needless to say, it was extremely motivating to work with him. The amount of sacrifice he had made to his country, and his determination to return to that service, far exceeds anyone I’d ever worked with before.”
When Canon wasn’t exercising his leg, he was hitting the weights, further building his upper body. A few months later, Oscar Canon left NRH walking under his own steam. To prove that he was back, he vowed to complete the Marine Corps Marathon. At the race, he climbed aboard a hand cycle and powered his way through more than 26 miles of pavement, memories and pain. And he carried with him the spirit of his fallen comrades.
Oscar Canon was indeed back. He eventually rejoined his platoon in Iraq, serving as a Special Forces instructor. He never once shied away from the scene of a battle that almost took his life and today is a shining example of a man devoted to the Marine Corps, himself and his country. He stands as a reminder of what can be accomplished when strong partnerships lead to quality medical care for our soldiers. NRH continues to build on our relationship with the U.S. military and our hope is that the Oscar Canons of the world are the rule in recovery and not the exception.