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NEWS | Aug. 4, 2015

Physical therapy: Getting you back on your feet!

By Airman 1st Class Thomas T. Charlton Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

Walking through the doors, work stations and equipment are evident throughout the room. From the angled trampoline, to the colored bands, to the free weights, it all has its place and purpose. At the main desk is a smiling Airman ensuring you receive any needed assistance.

The medical operations squadron in the 628th Medical Group on Joint Base Charleston has a team of four physical therapists, whose passion it is to get people back on their feet from just about any physical injury.

Staff Sgt. Jake Wielgosiek, a physical medicine technician at the 628th MDG, has been working in the medical field for seven years. Although he has been stationed at Joint Base Charleston for the past two years, his first duty station was at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

"Going to my first duty station was hectic," Wielgosiek said. "Just out of tech school, I immediately began working with six to seven orthopedic surgery patients and receiving a lot of on the job training."

At Joint Base Charleston the job continues at a frenetic pace but he still enjoys what he does.

"I love my job," he said. "Every day is different. You constantly get to help people. The biggest reward is seeing people get back to their job within five to six visits. You are always getting new patients with new challenges, which I love."

By working with a wide variety of patients, Wielgosiek deals with minor, everyday issues, to the more major, complex injuries.

"I had an individual whose middle finger extender tendon popped," Wielgosiek said, "And two minutes later his ring finger extender tendon popped.  When they popped, it stuck his two fingers in a sort of 'L' shape with his hand. I had a surgeon take a flexing tendon from the middle and ring finger and, rerouted them to where the patient's flexing tendons became extender tendons. When we were conducting the patient's physical therapy, we explained to him if he wanted to flex or extend he had to tell his mind to do it. It took him a year to get his neural pathway to think that way."

With such a high dedication to his work and enjoying it as much as he does, it is amazing to think that Wielgosiek wasn't planning on a medical career at all.

"When I first talked to my recruiter, medical wasn't even on my mind," he said. "I wanted to be a fire fighter or anything special operations. However, when I went through MEPS, I found out I was color blind. They then showed me a list of jobs I still qualified for and I saw physical therapy. I was huge into weightlifting so I thought it was a good job to get into. It was the right choice, I love what I do."

Before joining the military, Wielgosiek said that he had a life-long fear of hospitals. It is quite ironic for him to be working in and loving every bit of the hospital environment now. And he isn't the only one either.

Captain Josh Van Wyngaarden, the flight commander for the MDOS in the 628th MDG, has the same level of dedication as Wielgosiek. Like Wielgosiek, Van Wyngaarden has been here for two years, with Wright Patterson AFB as his previous duty station.

"I always had an interest in anatomy and physiology in high school," Van Wyngaarden said, "and I have the type of mentality to help people. Because of that I thought medical would be a good fit for me. After shadowing this field, I found physical therapy to be more sports based and I connected to that the most."

Finding his niche in the medical field, Van Wyngaarden has treated some unique patients beyond the standard icing and stretching.

"The craziest thing I've seen was an aneurysm in a man's abdomen," said Van Wyngaarden. "He was referred to me for lower back pain. After treating him I thought, 'This doesn't just add up to just back pain,' and I thought it might be an aneurysm. After taking some tests, it turns out there was an aortic aneurysm in his abdomen that was two and a half times the size it should have been. The patient needed immediate treatment. We removed the aneurysm, saving the guys life."

Being a flight commander at JB Charleston, Van Wyngaarden ensures the Airmen and civilians he supervises get as much outside and non-patient treatment experience as possible.

"I advocate for them to do duties they want to get involved in," he said. "I want to give them the opportunity to show their potential. I don't just throw work at them. I want them to soar in all of their abilities and get a more well-rounded experience."

While looking out for his staff, Van Wyngaarden has some personal goals and wants to take advantage of some opportunities as well.

"An opportunity that caught my eye recently was for Air Force physical therapists to embed with special operations groups," Van Wyngaarden said. "I would love to do that because you get to go on some of the deployments with those individuals. You get to work with a very athletic group which would be like working for a professional athletic team. That's something I have always wanted to do."

The professional individuals of the 628th MDG, working together as a team, ensure mission readiness for JB Charleston. Their dedication and attention to detail enable patients to continue their careers with little to no physical limitation.