Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Fishing Cast into Rehab Therapy for Veterans

July 28, 2008

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Texas Flyfishers of Houston member Michael J. Arnold (left) gives tips on tying a fly to veterans (from right) Hector Bernavidez, Ronald Holt, Larry D. Holt, and Basil Moorehead.
PHOTO: Bobbi Gruner, MEDVAMC

 

HOUSTON – Recreation therapists at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) are teaming up with the Texas Flyfishers of Houston to give injured veterans a crack at fly fishing and add a bit of fun to the rehabilitation process.

The primary goal of physical medicine and recreation therapy at the MEDVAMC is to help patients regain physical, psychological, and social functioning. This includes recovering skills as well as restoring, remediating, and rehabilitating function to reduce or eliminate the effects of illness or disability. Recreation therapy staff works with each patient to develop individual treatment programs that will maximize each patient’s potential, enable the veteran to achieve the highest level of independence possible, and provide recreational resources and opportunities in order to improve health and well-being. Fly fishing is another community resource for health care providers to use for patient treatment and recovery.

In preparation for an upcoming community reintegration fishing trip, Dave Steffek and two other members of Texas Flyfishers of Houston recently taught some 25 veterans the basics of fly fishing and how to tie a fly. “It’s not, ‘Take a vet fishing,’” said Steffek, a Texas Flyfishers of Houston member. “We’re teaching skills that are good emotional, social, and physical therapy.”

The fly tying classes teach those with upper limb, hand, and vision injuries to use their hands and eyes to do the small tasks involved making fishing flies. This task helps a patient relearn fine motor skills, develop damaged muscles, and improve balance and mobility. The classes also provide an opportunity for veterans to enhance their cognitive skills, creativity, and socialization.  The fishing trips help the patients relax in a different environment from the hospital while using those skills and movements to catch fish.

Patients of all ages, some who have never been fishing before, are excited about learning how to fly fish and catch the big one. They are eager to share the experience with fellow veterans, thus promoting emotional rehabilitation, camaraderie, and friendly competition.

“I joined the group because I wanted to add something different to my physical rehabilitation,” said one participant and novice fly fisher. “Plus, I wanted to have some fun and meet other veterans.”

Fly fishing and tying equipment and materials are provided to the participants as part of the program. This includes equipment to accommodate special needs.

“Our goal is to ignite or rekindle our veterans’ appreciation and enthusiasm for recreation,” said Robert Gordon, Rehabilitation Care Line recreation therapist. “Fishing is an adventure; a great way to encourage patient treatment and recovery.”

The Texas Flyfishers of Houston was founded in 1976 by a group of avid fly fishermen. Their objectives are to share their knowledge of fly fishing with one another and others who want to learn, to help in conserving natural resources, to enjoy the camaraderie of fly fishing, and to have a good time doing it.

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