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FAAST symposium: Helping those who help warriors with limb loss

Marine Corps Sgt. Ivan Sears participates in a yoga class at Joint Base San Antonio. Topics like yoga and other therapeutic recreation programs for wounded warriors were covered during the Federal Advanced Amputation Skills Training or FAAST Symposium in Bethesda, Maryland. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Tomora Nance) Marine Corps Sgt. Ivan Sears participates in a yoga class at Joint Base San Antonio. Topics like yoga and other therapeutic recreation programs for wounded warriors were covered during the Federal Advanced Amputation Skills Training or FAAST Symposium in Bethesda, Maryland. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Tomora Nance)

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The official name of the three-day symposium is Federal Advanced Amputation Skills Training, or FAAST. But it’s probably easier to call it a collective-sharing event. In July, FAAST brought together health and wellness experts from the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to share best practices in caring for those who have lost limbs because of combat, injury, or disease.

“The goal of FAAST is to provide health care professionals and researchers with advanced knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques they can take back to their clinical practices,” said Laurie Lutz, who led the team that organized this year’s conference. Lutz is chief of training, education, and simulation at the Extremity Trauma and Amputation Center of Excellence, or EACE.

During FAAST, experts shared findings related to identifying and lessening secondary health complications, including osteoarthritis of the hip and knee, weight gain, and lower back pain. Other topics included laser hair removal and other procedures to make wearing prosthetic sockets more comfortable; acupuncture and other pain-management techniques that don’t involve medications; therapeutic recreation programs such as yoga, swimming, and horseback riding; rehabilitation programs to optimize agility; and guidelines for discussing sex and intimacy after limb loss.

EACE served as the primary sponsor of FAAST, with the VA’s Amputation System of Care in a supporting role. FAAST was held at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. About 250 people attended, including members of the Royal Thai Army, who were invited as part of EACE’s global health engagement, Lutz said.

Since 9/11, more than 1,700 American men and women in uniform have experienced deployment-related amputations, with greater than 300 returning to duty, Lutz said.

“Amputation is a catastrophic event – causing impaired mobility plus secondary health issues as well as psychological issues,” Lutz said. “So aside from physical concerns, many patients experience depression, anxiety, anger, grief, and low self-image. How can we all bring our game up to provide the best care to wounded warriors days, months, and even years after their initial injuries?”

EACE is one of four congressionally mandated centers of excellence established by the DoD and VA based on the National Defense Authorization Act of 2009, and the only center mandated to conduct research.

“Many EACE employees are embedded at rehabilitation centers as clinical researchers, so it’s research at the point of care,” Lutz said. “They interact with clinicians as well as the patients themselves. This interactivity means patients drive research and make it clinically relevant, and that positively affects patient outcomes.”

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