Luke Murphy, retired U.S. Army staff sergeant and author of Blasted by Adversity, gave the keynote address during an alumni event on the St. Augustine campus this summer. Here, he shares with faculty member and fellow amputee Dr. Scott Love how PTs at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center helped him recover—physically and mentally.
Dr. Scott Love: On April 25, 2006, your life changed. Tell us about that incident.
Luke Murphy: I was on my second tour in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division. I was leading a 12-man recon team. We were coming out of Sadr City, Baghdad, [when] an IED injured everybody but the driver. It blew off my right leg and fractured my left. [It] did a lot of deep muscle damage as well. I’ve had 32 surgeries since the blast and a lot of rehabilitation. One thing I’ve learned is you’re never done. You continue to heal your whole life.
SL: All of a sudden you’re lying in a bed and you have to rely on somebody else. Tell me about [the physical therapists] who helped you.
LM: I wasn’t in charge anymore. It was hard to believe that my team would go on without me in Iraq. On top of all the physical pain, you have to try to get better. [I’d] never been to physical therapy. How could this person know about what’s going on with me? How do they know how hard to push me? How do I know they’re not going to hurt me? When you see other guys running and rock climbing, you want to be like them. You know you’ve got to listen.
SL: Tell me a little bit about your first therapist.
LM: From the first day to the last day it was a lot of pain. We had a sign at Walter Reed. It said, “No whining.” They used to point it [out] to me all the time. They tell you their job’s to make you better. [I’d arrive] a little early. I see she’s training another guy who is up and walking. I’m thinking, “She took him from where I am to there? I need to listen to this person.”
SL: That’s one of the biggest thrills that we get as physical therapists is seeing motivated gentlemen such as yourself proceed. When she told you [that] you were going to walk again, what’s the first thought that came in your mind?
LM: I honestly thought it was going to be a lot easier than it was. The first time I stood up, I looked down. My left leg turned purple. All the pin sites started bleeding. I looked in the mirror and my face was white. [My PT was] explaining that blood wasn’t going back up [my leg] and it’s normal. And that’s it for today. That moment I realized how long this road was going to be.
SL: One of the things we teach at the university is how students [can] advance patients. You get a short congratulations and all of a sudden it’s, “Now we’re going to do this.” Who got you into hand biking?
LM: A woman named Mary came to Walter Reed with the Achilles Freedom Team and brought hand-cranked bikes for us to [use and] get a little confidence. I was a guy who worked out a lot. The bike was cool because we got to go outside. I got to feel wind in my hair. I got to break a sweat. I ended up sticking with Mary and the Achilles Freedom Team and I did four marathons with her. You’ve got to find ways to push yourself. Hand-cranking is hard.
SL: How can PTs [help] veterans stay motivated? And what do you think that motivation does for you over [the] span of your life?
LM: I’m naturally competitive. I have three brothers. I hate losing. My big brother kicked my butt my whole life. Once [my PTs] figured out I was competitive, they would bring somebody with my kind of wound near me and see me watching him. I’m [wondering], “How can Paul can do that and [I] can’t?” I would see red. They know what makes you tick.
SL: You sell real estate and get out to work every day. What do you say to that veteran who might not want to seek out OT and PT services but you know those services will get him back to life?
LM: Ask yourself a question: Are you as good as you can be? If the answer is no, look for help. You can’t push yourself as hard as the PT can. Reach out and find out what you’re missing. Once you find that, it’ll unlock your true potential. You’ll realize that anything’s possible. I’ve skied black diamonds. I’ve climbed mountains. I fish offshore. And I sell raw, large acreage. If I break down on 5,000 acres, I’ve got to walk a few miles. You’ve got to be able to do it. Physical therapists give people their lives back.