By MaryTherese Griffin, Army Warrior Care and Transition
ARLINGTON, Va. - You probably never realize how much you need your thumb until you can't use it. Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Simper of the Utah Army National Guard now faces that notion every day. In November 2018, while on his third deployment this time to Camp Arifjan Kuwait he sustained an injury while helping with a flood.
"Our group was assisting in filling and placing sandbags. I was operating machinery and my right hand was caught. This partially amputated my right thumb and fractured the bone. Three other fingers were caught, but suffered only lacerations from the compression," Simper said.
Due to bone exposure and risk of infection, he was flown to Germany and shortly back to the United States. "I still suffer from nerve damage in my right thumb, and being right hand dominant can make accomplishing simple tasks difficult," Simper said.
The Senior Construction Supervisor, who has a civilian career in law enforcement, was familiar with the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Carson, Colorado from fellow Soldiers he met along the way.
"I knew the WTU assisted Soldiers who had been injured and could not return to Active Duty or their civilian careers, but did not know the depth of the program. During my recovery I was given many opportunities through the adaptive reconditioning program to still live an active life style while recovering."
Simper, who says he's an avid outdoorsman, also learned there was a path to return to duty which he is now on.
"My care plan was simple at first with waiting for the wound to heal. I was given an opinion that I should be returned to duty in January, but found this problematic as I was still unable to use my hand. I requested a second opinion and was able to see an orthopedic hand surgeon at the Air Force Academy. I was diagnosed with severe neuropathy and sent directly to occupational therapy which I have been utilizing since.
His goal is to return to duty. His adaptive reconditioning has shown him how to adjust where the thumb is concerned. He tried his luck at rock climbing last month, and while he says he fell several times, he did eventually make it to the top! "I tried all of the adaptive equipment and found that even when my injury was limiting me, I could still do it. I would definitely say, don't let your injuries limit your mental outlook and willingness to try."
Simper hopes other wounded, ill and injured Soldiers will give it their best try. "My greatest bit of advice to a Soldier entering the WTU is get involved. We are all injured, but can still live our lives."