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How The Sharks Help The Military

by Tony Khing / San Jose Sharks
San Jose Sharks hockey is a great source of entertainment. Fans are treated to 60 minutes of every possible human emotion. The games are a perfect opportunity for people to unwind, forget about the travails of daily life and to just have fun.

But for some, attending Sharks games can be very therapeutic. Just ask the staff from the Palo Alto VA Hospital’s fitness/wellness clinic.

The staff at the Palo Alto VA Hospital's fitness/wellness clinic are big Sharks fans.
They often use Sharks tickets in treating their patients.
This group of seven “lives and dies on the plight of the Sharks on a daily basis,” said a person closely associated with the clinic. He said the life guards and the therapists wear Sharks jerseys and apparel “almost every day.” In addition, there are days when the staff has “heated” conversations about the Sharks with their boss, who happens to be a Detroit Red Wings fan.

More than once, the therapists have used tickets donated to them to take their patients to games. These patients are veterans who’ve suffered various maladies such as brain and spinal cord injuries and PTSD (post-traumatic stress syndrome) while defending the United States in numerous war situations, including those in Afghanistan and Iran..

While attending games provides them with some pleasure, watching Joe Thornton and his teammates provides other benefits.

“I use tickets in my treatment for community re-integration purposes,” said Kayla Forster, a recreation therapist.

A few years ago, Forster was working on a trauma unit and received seven tickets to a game. Two staff members and five patients went to the game. Forster and the others “loved it.”

“I was able to have my patients look at the games and tell me stuff about the teams that were playing,” Forster said. “I used the tickets for their treatment and healing process as far as cognitive rehab goes.”

“It’s absolutely invaluable,” said Sherri Heim, lead recreation therapist. “One of the advantages of having recreation therapy in a hospital setting is that recreational therapists are able to practice leisure pursuits before patients go home. If people don’t practice and feel confident in leisure pursuits, they’re most likely not to do it when they go home.”

Heim said that even doing things most people take for granted, such as walking to a seat or using a public restroom or getting something to eat, are part of the rehabilitation process.

“Donations like athletic event tickets enable us to put their rehab into practice,” Heim added. “We call it community re-entry.”

“In a sense, it’s a reward for them,” Forster said. “You’re learning and healing and at the same time, you’re going to enjoy this awesome game and this awesome opportunity that you may have never had. No one wants to be in a hospital.”

Heim, Forster and their staff are also very passionate about the Sharks, which makes their jobs easier when they bring patients to games.

“I live very close to HP Pavilion,” Heim said. “My husband is able to get tickets from work. I try to bring the staff down. It’s a great time. It’s exciting. It’s a great game.” Heim also said she’s become more of a fan since two of the therapy assistants, Paul Barron and Eric Sevian (who’s from Norway) have started going to games.

Forster’s father is from Ontario. “He watched hockey all the time,” she said. “It’s so much fun to watch.”

Besides being big Sharks fans, the staff is equally as passionate about the veterans they work with. “Our veterans are a special population of people that serve our country and have paid multiple dues and still continue to do so,” Forster said.

And that’s why they’ll do whatever they can to help their patients, especially in asking Sharks ticket holders to donate their unused tickets to the Palo Alto VA Hospital.

“If the tickets are going to waste, what better person to give these tickets to than our veterans, who are fighting for our freedom on a daily basis?” Forster said. “Whether they’re on active duty or from past wars, they’re a part of our past history and have played a role in how we live the way we do in this country.”

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