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Physical therapists provide relief, support for patients

ST. JOHN'S, Antigua (May 8, 2009) -- Navy Lt. Commander Dan Gage, a staff physical therapist aboard hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) and Air Force Staff Sgt. Hugo Reiner, a physical therapy craftsman aboard Comfort, assess Teresa De la Pena's back pain as part of Continuing Promise 2009, a four month humanitarian and civic assistance mission through Latin America and the Caribbean. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Danielle Grannan)

ST. JOHN'S, Antigua (May 8, 2009) -- Navy Lt. Commander Dan Gage, a staff physical therapist aboard hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) and Air Force Staff Sgt. Hugo Reiner, a physical therapy craftsman aboard Comfort, assess Teresa De la Pena's back pain as part of Continuing Promise 2009, a four month humanitarian and civic assistance mission through Latin America and the Caribbean. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Danielle Grannan)

ST. JOHNS, Antigua -- Patients suffering from a variety of conditions and injuries are receiving care and relief from a team of physical therapists currently assigned to hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20). 

"Most of our patients are here for neuromuscular-skeletal problems that could have arisen from previous injuries or be something they've dealt with their whole lives," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Dan Gage, a staff physical therapist aboard Comfort. "Many times we'll even see both in the same patient." 

Clement Hughes, a local businessman, was hit by a car two years ago and still has pain and stiffness in his knee. 

"It is a constant struggle," said Hughes. "My knee has sharp pains and locks up whenever I try to go up and down stairs. The pain is worse when it rains." 

Comfort's physical therapy team was able to provide Hughes with a knee brace and taught him exercises to strengthen the joint so that it will stop locking and will have more power. 

"At least 50 percent of our mission here is teaching patients how to take care of various neuromuscular-skeletal problems that don't respond positively to medications and don't need surgery but are still a major hindrance to everyday life," said Gage. 

Diana Marte is a 14-year-old girl with scoliosis. The only way to permanently correct the condition is through surgery, said Gage. However the physical therapy team was able to teach her how to prevent her condition from worsening through exercise and strength training. 

"We see some patients who don't have the money or resources to get the medical care they need," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Hugo Reiner, a physical therapy craftsman aboard Comfort. "That's when we come in. We can help them alleviate the problem or at least teach them ways to manage their condition so that they can function." 

Isabel De la Pena works as a maid here and was seen by the physical therapy team for chronic back and wrist pain caused by the repetitive movements associated with her job. The team was able to realign the joints and tendons in her back to alleviate the pain. 

"It feels 100 percent better already," said De la Pena. "I felt something pop when they were working on me and it was instant relief!" 

The team was also able to make a custom fitted wrist brace for De la Pena at the medical site. 

"It's an honor to be here helping our patients," said Reiner. "Especially since I am from this part of the world, I've grown up knowing that a lot of people don't have access to the medical care we have in the United States. You see people who are so happy to get a knee brace." 

Comfort is currently serving as part of Continuing Promise 2009, a four month humanitarian and civic assistance mission through Latin America and the Caribbean.  The ship arrived here May 5 and is scheduled to stay until May 16. This is the third of seven stops for Comfort and its crew. They are also scheduled to go to Colombia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Panama.

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