MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Everyday Marines injure themselves in a variety of ways, from overexertion during a physical training session to stepping on a curb the wrong way walking into the Marine Corps Exchange. Sometimes, those injuries are severe and require surgery and long stints on light duty. However, sometimes the injury can be handled with a specific and direct regiment of treatment and exercise. That is where the two Sports Medicine and Reconditioning Team clinics located on Camp Lejeune and Camp Geiger come into play.
“We come into play when someone has a mild to moderate injury, one that, given proper treatment, can be virtually pain free and healed within a couple of weeks,” said Lt.
Cmdr. Walter Bew, assistant director for muscular and skeletal services. “We work alongside the surgeons and the physical therapists to return Marines to the field as soon as possible.”
The two SMART centers have proven to be wildly popular with both the injured Marines, and their commands, which are seeing recovery times cut drastically. In the previous system, injured Marines were either referred to the rehab clinics, which could take upwards of a month, or were sent to the physical therapy clinics, which are designed for more serious injuries and post-surgery treatment.
“What we really have here is a blend of civilian sports medicine and our military rehabilitation clinic,” said Bew. “We have special training in sports medicine, which allows us to initiate treatment and diagnose injuries. We are really a one-stop shop. You can get enrolled here and rehabbed in one day.”
The history of the SMART center begins four years ago, when treatment for routine, yet painful injuries such as rolled ankles and strained shoulders were taking too long. The SMART center is the bridge between injury diagnosis and treatment.
In the old system, a doctor would diagnose an injury and prescribe a referral to another specialist for treatment. These referrals could take upwards of a month to complete, resulting in Marines on light duty waiting for up to 30 days for an appointment. With the SMART centers, a doctor can diagnose and refer an injured Marine to the local clinic where they will be seen within three days. Another change is the reduced dependence on orthopedist’s, which specialize in the surgery and treatment of severe injuries such as broken bones and torn ligaments.
“We act as the intermediary between a general doctor and an orthopedic surgeon,” said Lt. Cmdr. Keith Stuessi, department head of sports medicine. “We free up the surgeons to spend more time on those with serious injuries, while we work on getting those with more manageable injuries back as quickly as possible.”
Getting Marines healthy and back into the fight as quickly as possible has been a priority for the hospital ever since the Global War on Terrorism began more than three years ago.
“The SMART Centers are critical to restoring the physical fitness of Marines and Sailors so they can perform their mission,” said Navy Capt. Richard C. Welton, commanding officer of Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune. “Data shows that Marines and Sailors who have early access to the services provided in the SMART Center return to duty sooner, have fewer surgeries, and fewer separations from the military.”
Since the SMART center opened more than three years ago, approximately 88,000 patients have been treated. And with an estimated 20 patients each day, the centers are keeping quite busy. However, even with the high number of patients, the center continues their ‘everyone who needs to be seen, gets seen’ policy.
“With us helping to take the pressure off the orthopedic surgeons, Marines are getting necessary surgeries quicker,” said Bew. “Getting the Marines back to work is what we do. If a Marine comes in here and needs to get treatment, they will get it. If they don’t have an appointment, it’s on a first come first served basis. But, no matter how many people we have in a day, we will see them all. We want to get these Marines back behind the trigger as quickly as possible”
The clinic is an offshoot of the civilian idea of sports medicine, according to Stuessi. It’s an offshoot of the idea that Marines are ‘Warrior-Athletes.’ The technicians and doctors who work at the clinic are all specially trained to treat and diagnose sports-related injuries common to training Marines.
“Our training is based on civilian sports medicine practices,” said Stuessi. “That civilian training fits our needs like a glove. In the civilian world, a sports medicine trainer deals with basketball and football injuries like sprained ankles and twisted knees. The activities we do here, martial arts and long hikes produce the exact same injuries.”
It’s this training and the constant battle between maintaining physical readiness and keeping Marines healthy that keeps the SMART center filled with more than 1,100 patient visits a month.
“Marines have the hardest job in the world,” said Bew. “It’s our privilege to help them get healthy.”