On July 22, 1990, John Sharpe sustained a severe Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and was air lifted to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Medical Center. He spent 40 days in a comatose state in the ICU while his brain healed, and he was eventually transferred to Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center for months of intensive physical, mental, speech and occupational rehabilitation.
“I was a 26 year old man who was taken back to being a very young child, all over again. I had to re-learn bowel and bladder control, how to sit up, how to get out of bed, and how to stand and maintain my balance; all the things we all take for granted, everyday,” says John.
As he relearned to walk and communicate, it was clear that his recovery was nothing short of miraculous. But as time went on, it was his positive attitude and relentless pursuit of wellness that made him stand out as a patient at VA.
“[During my time in treatment] I was serving as a role model and a motivator, encouraging other Veterans to not only participate in their therapies, but to strive to make a little bit of improvement every day. All the therapists loved this and began to suggest that I could be a therapist myself,” says John.
At the time, John laughed at the suggestion. Then his mother, a constant by his side from day 1 of his TBI, made a powerful observation: “You were kept alive so that you can help other Veterans,” she said.
Three years later, John enrolled in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Pre-Physical Therapy Program through VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation Program, and was later accepted to Thomas Jefferson University to pursue a Masters of Science degree in Physical Therapy. Upon graduation, John was back to motivating Veterans, but this time in an official capacity as a Spinal Cord Injury Specialist and as a peer counselor for patients and families experiencing TBI.
“I realized the more opportunities I had to share my story and the challenges of reintegrating back into the community after a TBI with Veterans, service-members, and their families, either as a clinician or providing peer support, the more I felt I was making a difference in serving as a source of inspiration and hope in the lives of my fellow Veterans, military brothers and sisters and their families,” says John.
After becoming a board certified Physical Therapist, John began his VA career as a physical therapist in Spinal Cord Injury. In 2004, he graduated from the VISN-6 Leadership Development Institute and in 2007, he received his MBA and was also selected as a Presidential Management Fellow (PMF) finalist. He was offered a position in the Office of the Under Secretary for Health to start up the new Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) Program office. In May 2010, he assumed his current position as VA/DOD Liaison in the Office of Academic Affiliations and in 2011, he received board certification in Healthcare Management as a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE).
When asked why he pursued a career at VA, John’s immediate response is that he owes his life to VA. From the treatment he received while in critical care, to the access to higher education through Chapter 31, he sees the value of the organization in his daily life.
“Where else can someone who was on life support one day receive an education and come back as a clinician to help facilitate and improve the quality of life and healthcare experiences for fellow Veterans?” says John. “To me, VHA is a great fit! I will never work anywhere else and I will always get all of my healthcare from the VA; the BEST HEATHCARE in the WORLD!”