Christine Stuart photo
U.S.M.C. Sgt. Greg Caron (Christine Stuart photo)

U.S. Marine Corporal Sgt. Greg Caron lost both his legs below the knee on Nov. 12, 2011, to a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. Just nine months later, he was at Walter Reed National Military Veterans Center learning how to walk again.

Caron told a group of University of Hartford students planning to work in the prosthetics and orthotics field that it was a slow and painful process.

Accompanied by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal on Monday, Caron said he’s having trouble doing squats at the gym because his walking legs are pushing him forward and there’s not enough flexibility in the toe and ankle to keep him flat footed during the exercise.

He challenged the students to come up with a prosthetic device that would give him the ability to complete a squat with the proper form.

The Ellington resident said he has about six different legs that do different things, including a new golfing leg that allows him to pivot to a greater degree than his walking legs. He said he’s anxious to find out exactly how much his golf game will improve.

Caron, who served with one of Blumenthal’s sons, told the students that he would rather go through the pain of his initial injury than have to go through the nerve and phantom pain of trying to get accustomed to a prosthetic for the first time.

“These wounded warriors are heroes and they might have lost limbs, but they never lost hope,” Blumenthal, said. “We need to match their hope and courage with the best technology, the finest medical care this country can offer.”

Christine Stuart photo
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (Christine Stuart photo)

He said that’s why he’s fighting for funding for the prosthesis center at the University of Hartford. The U.S. Senate is expected to take up legislation next week. The bill, which funds dozens of veterans benefits, includes about $10 million for programs like the one at the University of Hartford.

Blumenthal said that funding will help soldiers like Caron “renew their lives, not just restore limbs.”

But Blumenthal said the $10 million competitive grant is just a beginning. He said the lab at the University of Hartford is one of a dozen in the nation to provide for this type of training in prosthetics.

“I am relatively optimistic that we can cut through the gridlock and the unfortunate partisan paralysis because supporting veterans like Greg Caron, providing the health care they need and deserve, should not be about partisan politics,” Blumenthal said.

He estimated there are 600,000 veterans who could benefit from these types of prosthetics and orthotics.

Blumenthal said the Veterans Administration covers the cost of the limbs which range from $20,000 to $80,000 each.

“But the training and the innovation has to be supported as well and that’s the purpose of this bill,” Blumenthal said.

Caron said he would like to see amputees with more severe injuries than his own be able to get fitted with a prosthetic. He said some of the amputations have to happen above the hip, which make it impossible for some soldiers to get fitted with a prosthetic.

He hopes technology may be able to advance to the point where he can one day play soccer again. At the moment, it’s just not there.

Caron’s wife, Nina, and his parents accompanied him Monday to the university. Blumenthal, who visited Caron while he was at Walter Reed, said Nina never left her husband’s side while he was there. She encouraged the students to visit the hospital and see the work that’s done there.

One of the students wanted to know what they can say to their patients who may not have the support of their family as they work through the process of getting fitted with a prosthetic limb.

Caron responded with some comments about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and said many returning soldiers suffer from PTSD regardless of whether they have family support during the recovery process. He said PTSD can interfere with the fitting process and encouraged the students to recommend their patients find a counselor. He said finding a counselor made a huge difference in his life. He said his two brothers, who are also veterans, helped him seek the help he needed.

Blumenthal said most of the soldiers injured by a roadside bomb also suffer from PTSD, which he described as “an invisible wound” of war. He applauded Caron for having the courage to discuss it so openly.