Josh Wege shows his artificial leg to a patient who is...

Josh Wege shows his artificial leg to a patient who is also an amputee at the St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson on Friday. Wege and veterans Jeffrey Hackett, standing left, and Brian Gentilotti, right, visited the hospital's rehabilitation unit. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

On Oct. 4, 2009, while deployed in Afghanistan, Josh Wege lost both of his legs below the knees to an improvised explosive device. 

"I [was] trying to fight back just to be able to see my family one more time, Wege, a retired Marine, said. "I thought at any moment, I was gonna die because I knew what happened to me."

Almost 15 years later, Wege, 34 and medically retired as a Marine lance corporal, was at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson on Friday as a member of the USA Patriots softball team. He and two other members of the team, all three of them veterans with amputations, shared their example of inspiration with patients they met who face similar challenges.

The team members told of their experiences with rehabilitation, and their knowledge of prosthetics, as they visited patients in the hospital's physical rehabilitation program. 

"It's very emotional and motivative," patient Claudia Gonzalez said of the USA Patriots' visit. "Just hearing them, seeing them, how they move with their prosthetics, it's just incredible." 

Gonzalez, 50, of Kings Park, is recovering from a recent amputation of part of her right leg below the knee. 

After an infection led to the amputation, Gonzalez was comforted talking to the team members and felt that the amputation had been the best route for her. 

Speaking of the veterans' visit, she said, "this is just giving me the assurance that this was the best option, that I'm gonna eventually get to the point where they are."

Gonzalez, who had surgery June 4, is quickly recovering. She is expected to go home next week from the hospital, which treats roughly 1,300 physically impaired patients annually.

In 2011, Wege and a group of veterans created the USA Patriots, also known as America’s Amputee Softball Team. It's a nonprofit organization that started as a softball camp — a way to reconnect with other veterans and become a unit again. After becoming a travel team, the USA Patriots began focusing on working with children and giving back to communities across the United States.

The Patriots also host a kids camp that works to teach amputee children the game of softball, and to instill in the children a sense of pride in themselves. The organization visits hospitals, schools, and corporate offices, and educates people about the abilities of being an amputee.

Wege, getting the chance to meet Gonzalez, hoped that his ability to function, and to play softball with his two prosthetics, uplifts her spirits. 

"If I can give her a little bit of hope in the beginning of her therapy, that can go a long way," Wege said. "I am a snapshot of her possibly three years from now; she's definitely got the attitude for it [and] she's ready to get her life back."


 


 

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