Wounded veteran finds new calling as fitness teacher

Wounded veteran finds new calling as fitness teacher

Over 10 years beginning in 2003, Marine veteran Calvin Smith endured 21 surgeries and a leg amputation caused by war injuries in Iraq, a motorcycle accident and a brain tumor.

But looking back on that devastating decade, the 37-year-old Vista, Calif., resident said he wouldn’t change a thing.

On his road to recovery, he fell in love with his speech therapist and she’s now his wife. He also discovered Pilates, which has so reshaped his mental and physical health that he’s now becoming an instructor. His new mission in life is to share the health benefits of the strength-training exercise program with other veterans who’ve experienced traumatic injuries.

“My message is that just because you’re wounded, that doesn’t mean you can’t do something,” he said. “The only person holding you back is yourself.”

Smith is the first veteran amputee in training to become an instructor for Club Pilates, which has 400 gyms nationwide and 250 more scheduled to open this year, said Tianna Strateman, vice president of education for Club Pilates.

Strateman said Pilates is ideal for people like Smith with disabilities or physical limitations because the regimen can be modified for each user. “The goal is to make it the best for one person, not a one size fits all.”

Smith began taking classes at the San Marcos club every day, which helped him shed 45 pounds. And through interacting with trainers and fellow students at the club, it also helped him come out of what he calls his “bubble of isolation” at home.

Wounded veteran finds new calling as fitness teacher

Over the past year, Smith has completed nearly 500 hours of classroom, fitness and assistant teacher training. Once he finishes his teaching hours and an anatomy class next month, he’ll be certified to teach classes at several North County clubs. Eventually, he hopes to teach Pilates to Marines at Camp Pendleton.

Reinhold-Smith, who now works as a speech therapy manager for Kaiser Health, said she’s been amazed by her husband’s transformation. He no longer walks with difficulty, no longer suffers muscle spasms and his personality has been transformed.

“He was really depressed before the brain tumor was removed and was increasingly isolated and trying to figure out his future,” she said. “Coming here gave him a purpose for his day. He’s a people person and a natural teacher, so being here makes him so much more happy.”

Smith said he’d like to bring more men into the fitness program, which is primarily practiced by women. Reinhold-Smith said she thinks her husband’s recovery through the program might be an incentive for other veterans struggling with amputations and chronic pain.

“I think he could become an ambassador for people with injuries who are looking for something,” she said. “He has a lot to give back to people.”

New hearts forge new friendship for transplant recipients

friendship for transplant recipients

A suburban Detroit woman and South Side Chicago man are recovering in a Chicago hospital following rare triple transplant surgeries that gave them the healthy heart, liver and kidney each needed — and a new friendship they never expected.

University of Chicago Medicine doctors announced Friday that they successfully completed the triple organ transplants on Sarah McPharlin, a 29-year-old woman of Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan, and Daru Smith, a 29-year-old father from Chicago’s South Side, within 30 hours of one another.

McPharlin had two transplants canceled earlier in the year, pushing her surgery back.

“Maybe because it’s only luck that both of those transplants were supposed to be at the same time,” Nir Uriel, the director of heart failure, transplant and mechanical circulatory support for the hospital, said at a news conference Friday. University of Chicago Medicine has performed the most heart-liver-kidney transplants in the world.

Just eight minutes after a medical team finished Smith’s liver transplant on Dec. 20, hospital staff learned that donor organs were available for McPharlin. Smith, who finished surgery that day, became only the 16th person in the U.S. to undergo a heart-liver-kidney transplant and hours later on Dec. 21 McPharlin became the 17th.

Each surgery required a 22-person team, with some staffers working on both patients. The hospital also performed five other organ transplants during that time period.

Smith and McPharlin, who had her first heart transplant at the age of 12, arrived at the Chicago hospital in November.

friendship for transplant recipients

But neither knew they were both seeking a triple transplant when they first met during pre-therapy sessions ahead of surgery. The sessions were quiet and patients didn’t share details about their transplants. But McPharlin’s mother, who quit her job as a school teacher in Michigan to be with her daughter for treatment, pried out of Smith that he was awaiting the same organs as McPharlin.

“It’s been mind-blowing and amazing, having someone go through the process with me, gave me more motivation,” Smith, a truck driver, said during a video interview at the hospital Friday.

The pair, who are recovering on the same hospital floor, share walks and give each other high-fives when they pass one another in the hallways. Their families are already planning a dinner together in the city once the two are released and feeling better.

Nurses say they notice a difference in recovery for the two compared to other transplant patients, because they have gone through the same unusual and debilitating surgery together.

McPharlin and Smith notice too.

“It was so cool to know we would be able to see each other progress together,” McPharlin, an occupational therapist, said Friday. “It was really cool to see how Daru was getting up in the hall and I knew eventually, or pretty soon, I would be doing the same.”