The physical therapy team at the VA Medical Center aims to give amputees their purpose and lives back.
More and more, veterans not only want function, but they want to be back in competition.
Juanita Partain was only in her 20s when something caused a mass to grow on her right foot. She had served in the U.S. Army overseas in Germany for four years, and turned to the VA for treatment. But after multiple surgeries and skin grafts, the mass kept growing back. Years of pain and being on crutches went by and she was tired of living that way.
"You couldn't go do things with your grand kids. You couldn't hold their hand. You can't carry them on crutches. I have dogs. I wanted to be able to walk my dog," said Partain, 57 of Des Allemands.
She asked for an amputation. Doctors tried to talk her out of it. She convinced them she was ready.
"I've been two years with my prosthetic, and I love it. And there's no regrets."
But something was missing for the Des Allemands girl raised swimming in the bayou.
"Going swimming with the kids in the pool with a (amputation) you kind of like swim in circles," Partain shook her head. "So when they said they have a fin, I was like, 'Oh yeah. Let's try it,'"
Jason Cordes, who custom makes and fits prosthetic limbs for veterans at the VA, made Juanita the AMP Fin.
"We in Southeast Louisiana, what do we love to do? Swim. So why not?" said Cordes.
"With the fin, you can go across the pool. You can chase the kids down," said Partain.
A physical therapy team works with Juanita and monitors her progress in a special resistance pool that has a floor with goes up and down. Underwater cameras monitor her movements and progress.
"To see where our technology has come, what our patients are now able to accomplish and the advances we've made over the years to give that back, and give them that opportunity to do things that they couldn't do, and it gives you that satisfaction," said Dr. Cecile Picou, the Physical Therapy Supervisor at the New Orleans VA Hospital.
"The joy that we get bringing people back whole, I mean that's exciting. You know what I'm saying? That's what we do our job for," said Cordes.
"I can do everything you can do with your two legs," said Juanit proudly.
The VA Hospital also has a support group for veteran amputees.