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Therapeutic rock climbing wall helps wounded warriors reach milestones

Local wounded veterans are using new therapeutic techniques such as climbing walls at the Charlie Norwood VA. (WRDW-TV / Aug. 30, 2011)

News 12 This Morning / Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- A new 50-foot rock climbing wall at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center is helping patients reach new milestones in their recovery.

It's a feat Specialist David McHone might have thought was next to impossible a year ago without his right leg.

"When it did happen to me, I did think about the stuff I did, used to do, stuff I may not be able to do now," said McHone who is one the the first patients to use the therapeutic rock climbing wall.

When McHone returned home from Iraq, a motorcycle accident took his leg and abdominal muscles. He was determined not to let that stop him from living an active life.

"What am I gonna do?" he asked. "Have someone help me all the time? No, there is not always going to be someone."

Through a year of physical therapy and rehab at Augusta's Charlie Norwood VA, he built his strength and endurance. This week, he used that strength to conquer the medical center's new rock climbing wall.

Eric Gray, a recreational therapist at Charlie Norwood, said this is the first climbing wall at a VA hospital.

It was no easy task getting clearance to attach the wall to a government building.

"When they think of climbing. they think OK, this is really dangerous. I don't know if we should be putting people up there," Gray said.

The physical therapist takes every precaution to strap patients like McHone in and keep them secure.

"It's safer than walking down the street because it's in a controlled environment," Gray said.

McHone worked hard to pull himself up and reached for a new limit.

"It felt good," he said. "It was nice being up in the air again."

The recreational therapists here hope to get many patients to use the wall.

"A a lot of people are restrained to a chair -- anytime you can give them some freedom, whether they are pulling themselves up or climbing up a wall," Gray said.

As other patients climb to new heights for the first time, they are happy to see the view from the top. McHone plans to use it at least once a week.

The project cost around $150,000. The National AMVETS donated the money for the project to be possible.

Physical therapists say from conception to construction, the climbing wall project took two years to complete.