Name: Philip Swinford
Branch of Service: Army
Years Served: 1984-2012
Question & Answer
QL+ Challenge: QL+ engineering students from Virginia Tech are working on the Enhanced Walker Challenge. Standard walkers tend to be too narrow and too shallow for Philip to balance himself. He can use a standard platform walker but even those have issues with fore/aft stability. Philip attends physical therapy where he has been using a walker designed for use with an exoskeleton system. The walker is both deeper and wider than standard walkers and it has worked well for him. Unfortunately, he cannot purchase it—only medical facilities can.
Why did you join the Army? I had several relatives that had served including my brother who was serving in the United States Air Force. Further, I had a general interest in military history and the leadership laboratory of small groups faced with seemingly overwhelming odds.
What was your job in the military? Infantry Officer
How were you injured? I had a mountain biking accident in 2015 causing a fracture at my C2 vertebrae and incomplete tetraplegia below that level. This includes partial paralysis of all my major muscles and my diaphragm which compromises my breathing. The VA determined that the injury was related to TBI’s I received while on active duty (the TBI’s affected my decision making, response time, adrenaline and competitive requirements).
After your injury/disability, what was the most significant hurdle you overcame? It should be noted that the statistics for C2 injuries are along these lines: 80% die at the scene of the accident, an additional 5% die in the first year, and a significant portion die in the second year. Initially, I suffered from ICU psychosis and was on a ventilator. After being transferred to the VA I suffered numerous bouts of pneumonia and a number of infections. I don’t remember much about the first 3 to 4 months of my recovery. After this period, I began to be able to move various parts of my body—starting with my feet—but remained on the vent. The next several months had me doing daily physical therapy and occupational therapy all while on a ventilator. This included “walking” while dragging the ventilator behind me. After 8 months my doctor recommended the installation of a diaphragmatic pacer system (DPS), the first one to be installed under the supervision of the VA. After 2 more months of enduring bouts of pneumonia, the VA finally got the DPS settings right and I was weaned off the ventilator. Shortly after I went home. My return home brought about new challenges, but I think the biggest hurdle that I overcame was simply living through my injury and going home off of the ventilator.
What do you do for fun/hobbies? Go to therapy, go to the gym/work with a personal trainer at home, listen to audible, listen to music, go out Jeeping with friends, watch tv, spend time on accessible and not so accessible trails, mess with my dog, and play real-time strategy games.
What motivates you? I want to remain as healthy as possible so when a “cure” becomes available I am a viable candidate and that I remain as functional as possible for my family and friends.
How will the QL+ device the students are creating, improve your quality of life? It may allow me to ambulate inside my house with minimum assistance and perhaps build that capability to eventually be able to ambulate outside of my house.
What has it been like so far, working with QL+ students and participating in the program? It’s been great! I enjoy working with dedicated, excited minds to solve a problem.
Do you have any words of wisdom for our QL+ Students? Never stop learning. You learn more from your failures than you do from your successes.
If you were writing a book about yourself, what would be the title? The Accidental Virginian
The goal of our Challenger Salute is to honor the service and sacrifice our Challengers made for our country. We are very grateful that they have agreed to participate in our program. Their participation is helping us to “build” better students. They are providing our students with real-world experience and arming them with the tools they need to succeed once they graduate.
The goal of our Challenger Salute is to honor the service and sacrifice our Challengers made for our country. We are very grateful that they have agreed to participate in our program. They are providing our students with real-world experience and arming them with the tools they need to succeed once they graduate.