Swimming with the largest shark in the world may sound a bit unnerving to some, but for a handful of disabled Veterans receiving health care at Atlanta VA Medical Center’s recreational therapy program, it’s exactly the kind of therapy they need.
The Atlanta medical center’s recreation therapy program partnered with the Georgia Aquarium Aug. 12, 2015, to provide six disabled Veterans a unique opportunity to submerge in the aquarium’s 6.3 million gallon exhibit, Ocean Voyager, and experience the tranquility of the graceful animals swimming below.
Georgia Aquarium dive coordinator Chris Duncan explained that disabled Veterans participating in the “Journey with Gentle Giants” dive immersion program experience peace, happiness and tranquility. “They’re going to be happier, more relaxed, and hopefully not be thinking about their injury,” Duncan said.
Six disabled Veterans participated in Georgia Aquarium’s Gentle Giants Dive Immersion Program. The Dive Immersion staff is trained to accommodate guests with any disability, from blindness, to brain injury, to quadriplegia, to amputation, to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Photo courtesy of the Georgia Aquarium.
For America’s Veterans, therapeutic recreation promotes health and wellness along with reducing or eliminating activity limitations and restrictions caused by an illness or disabling condition.
In addition, Atlanta VA medical center recreation therapist Chauncy Rozier wants the Veterans in her care to develop and use their leisure in ways that enhance their health, functional abilities, independence and quality of life. “There’s a whole plethora of things they can get involved in,” Rozier said.
Veteran Mark Sikes, who was a bit apprehensive before entering the water, was surprised to discover a different world under the surface. “My biggest fear was the sharks,” Sikes said. “I’m going to defeat something I’m afraid of.”
Therapeutic recreation is based upon a holistic framework that focuses on all aspects of improving an individual’s health and functioning. Rozier was satisfied that not only did the Veterans face legitimate fears, but that the event helped to build confidence, improve self-reliance and have fun while improving their physical ability. “They were totally living and totally free,” Rozier said.
“To see the bodies elongated and stretched beyond what I have never seen on some of them was great,” Rozier said. “But overwhelmingly, to see the smiles afterwards on their faces, I can never forget.”
This article was submitted by the Atlanta VA Medical Center, a Joint Commission and Magnet®-designated medical facility. The main medical center is a level 1A tertiary care facility providing patient-centered healthcare via an array of comprehensive medical, surgical, geriatric specialty services, as well as state-of–the-art diagnostic testing throughout 14 sites of care. With 445 inpatient beds, including a 120-bed Community Living Center, a 40-bed domiciliary, and a 12-bed Residential Treatment Program, the Atlanta VAMC is uniquely positioned to serve the healthcare needs of more than 130,000 enrolled Veterans living in 50 counties across northeast Georgia. The medical center, also a teaching hospital, provides hands-on and state-of-the-art technology, education and research to residents in collaboration with Emory University School of Medicine and Morehouse School of Medicine.