Navy Corpsman’s ‘New Normal’: Part 1

By Steve Van Der Werff, U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery public affairs

Gilley on his motorcycle “Marion”.

Editor’s Note: Before 1990 people with disabilities could be discriminated against without legal consequences. That isn’t the case today. Today we honor the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act when our country committed itself to abolishing judgement against people undermined by injury or disease, clearing the way for people with disabilities to be allowed the same opportunities to form families, become parents and raise their children without interference based on outdated labels and incorrect expectations about their capacity to fully function as members of society. Today we also take pause to focus on Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Shane Gilley, a disabled Sailor assigned to Navy Operational Support Center Minneapolis, who continuously displays his resiliency and recently represented ‘Team Navy’ at the 2016 Department of Defense Wounded Warrior Games.

Many of us take for granted our physical ability to live what we presume to be a ‘normal life’ – walking upright, having full use of our hands and arms, traveling across the globe, excelling at work or school – completely mobile and without pain.

However, that isn’t the case for more than 60 million across the nation. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 19 percent of the U.S. population had a disability in 2010, with more than half of them reporting a severe disability.

In Afghanistan with Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), preparing to patrol a village.

Before becoming disabled, 18-year Navy veteran Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Shane Gilley, from Minnetonka, Minnesota, categorized himself as having a ‘normal life’, a physically fit independent duty corpsman, who spent 14 out of 18 years with the Fleet Marine Force, ready to deploy and do what he was trained to do – take care of Sailors and Marines on the battlefield and off.

That was before his ‘new normal’ – being incapacitated. On a fateful day in April 2015, the avid motorcycle enthusiast, while riding his motorcycle, slammed into a car in front of him when the driver unexpectedly slammed on their brakes.

“If it wasn’t for my helmet I wouldn’t be here to tell my story,” said Gilley.

Fast forward – Gilley is severely injured. He requires five plates and twenty-two screws to fix a tibial plateau fracture that affects his knee joint, stability and motion. From April to July 2015 he lay still in a hospital bed,which challenged his willpower.

For Gilley becoming a patient was hard to swallow. After the accident occurred, while lying on the pavement, he was fully aware of the damage long before the ambulance arrived. At the hospital he was all too familiar with the tests and scans being ordered. “I knew what they were for, being told things like – hopefully, maybe or we don’t know right now made me want to scream because I have used those words of comfort myself.”

Today Gilley lives in constant pain. Things he took for granted like walking, standing up and just standing, now cause him a great deal of hurt and discomfort.

“Nothing is more annoying than just getting out bed in the morning and falling down because I forgot my knee is weak. My kids are great because they are constantly harassing me by saying ‘hurry up old man’ and then slowing down so I can catch up to them,” Gilley said. “I will never fully recover from this.  There are going to be more surgeries down the road and maybe even the possibility of an above the knee amputation.”

For now Gilley receives physical therapy twice a week while continuing to regain his strength. His injuries don’t stop him from doing what he wants to do most of the time. However, maybe at a slower pace and with some modified rules and equipment in place.

“A lot of people would say I’m intense because I’ve seen and lost a lot through my career,” Gilley said. “But just because my body and my mind might be a little broken it doesn’t mean that my spirit to live my ‘new normal’ doesn’t mean my life is ruined.”

Stay tuned to find out more about Gilley’s early life, Navy career and how a phone call from Navy Safe Harbor led to his involvement in adaptive sports and proudly representing “Team Navy” during the 2016 DoD Warrior Games.