SAN DIEGO, Feb. 19, 2014 (NNS) – It’s a warm February day in San Diego, and a crowd gathers in front of an outdoor stage. A short distance away, the air carries the smell of a barbeque and there are bounce houses, clowns, and face painting. You might think you’re at a county fair, but you’re actually at Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD), enjoying the Gary Sinise Foundation’s “Invincible Spirit Festival” and the culinary talents of celebrity chef Robert Irvine.
For the second time since 2012, Sinise and Irvine have partnered to honor the service, sacrifice, and heroic spirit of our nation’s wounded warriors and those who care for them. Their goal is to provide a break from the day-to-day challenges that many wounded warriors and their caregivers face on the road to recovery.
“We’re here to bring a little joy, a little fun, and a little food,” said Sinise. “We want to give everyone a good time and show support.”
Irvine, a former member of the British Royal Navy, knows a thing or two about deployments and military service, said it’s important to him for veterans, wounded warriors, and their caregivers to know that they aren’t forgotten.
Sinise, also known as Lt. Dan for his iconic role in the film “Forrest Gump,” has been visiting NMCSD for the past seven years, spending time with patients and staff, thanking them for their service, and boosting morale. But he wanted to do more for the wounded warriors as well as their family members and the medical staff who spend countless hours providing care and guiding them through their rehabilitation. So, in 2012 he brought the first “Invincible Spirit Festival” to NMCSD.
“This festival lets patients and staff at the medical center know that their efforts are appreciated not only by celebrities, but by the broader community in general,” said Rear Adm. Bruce Gillingham, commander, Navy Medicine West and NMCSD.
Appreciation and gratitude are definitely key components of this event. Walking through the crowds, the interaction between patients and staff is notable for its sense of friendship and camaraderie. For many patients, what they have found at NMCSD is not just comprehensive, cutting-edge medical care that gives them their lives back. Many of them have formed lasting bonds with their caregivers because of the high level of dedication and compassion among the staff at the medical center. So, in addition to live music and plentiful food, the “Invincible Spirit Festival” also provides an opportunity for former patients to reconnect with their caregivers.
David Berling, a former patient, and his wife Melissa returned to the medical center for the festival. They both have a deep appreciation for the staff that cared for Berling after he was severely injured in 2007 and had to have both legs amputated above the knee.
“The level of expertise was great,” said Berling. “The staff here was willing to work so hard and do everything they could to ensure that I had a very good quality of life.”
In addition to the surgeons who worked to preserve as much of Berling’s legs as they could, the couple is grateful to all of the staff they encountered at NMCSD. Like the physical therapist who walked with Berling for hours, holding his gait belt, as he learned to walk using his prosthetics. And the respiratory therapists who made sure he continued to breathe while he was in a medically induced coma.
According to Melissa, when they look back at the pictures they took to chronicle her husband’s recovery, one thing that struck them was that he was never alone in any picture. He was with at least one of his caregivers in every single one of them.
That tireless dedication is second nature to the staff at NMCSD. They spend countless hours helping their injured and ill patients every step of the way throughout their recovery. And this is why the “Invincible Spirit Festival” is so important, not just for the patients, but for the staff who care for them.
“Everybody is trying to do what’s best for our service members and their families, and our caregivers are invested in their recovery,” said Jennifer Town, director of the Comprehensive Combat and Complex Casualty Care (C5) program that provides medically-advanced rehabilitation to wounded, ill, and injured service members.
For Town, the festival is an opportunity for everyone who contributes to the care of wounded warriors to be recognized and realize that their contributions are valuable.
“Those who participate in wounded care aren’t just a group of people, we are a team,” said Town. “Whether its answering phones, taking blood, or administering paperwork, everyone who touches a patient in some way deserves to be recognized and appreciated for all they’ve done in support of our wounded warriors and their families.”
According to Gillingham, it’s because of that emotional investment that the medical center’s staff has in their patients’ recovery that it’s important to pay attention and watch for compassion fatigue, stress-related symptoms associated with the continual exposure to the suffering of others. Events like the festival that bring the caregivers and patients together to take a break and just enjoy the day helps relieve a little of that stress.
“Today, what I’ve enjoyed the most is just seeing the smiles on the faces of our patients and staff,” said Gillingham.