Mother Applies Skills to Help Son,
Other Wounded Troops

By Donna Miles

Army Capt. James Watt, an occupational therapist at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, worked with Debby Schick to create a center where wounded troops can train in day-to-day activities they’ll perform in their homes.

Photo by Donna Miles / DoD Photo

FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas — Debby Schick arrived here at Brooke Army Medical Center sad and afraid of what lay ahead. Her son, Marine Cpl. Jacob Schick, had been medevaced here after his Humvee hit an anti-tank mine in Iraq, severing his right leg just below the knee.

With a long recuperation ahead for him, Debby left her Dallas home and put her career as an interior decorator on hold to be by her son’s side as he began the long process of treatments and therapy.

What she didn’t expect was that she’d get the opportunity to put her professional skills to use to make life just a little bit nicer for her son and other servicemembers being treated here for wounds received in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Working side by side with the medical center staff, Schick volunteered her services to transform the center’s assisted daily living center from a cold, institutional office into a homey environment where wounded troops can practice the skills they’ll need when they leave the hospital.

Army Capt. James Watt, an occupational therapist at the hospital, described the new center as "a lifelike obstacle course" where patients can learn to do the day-to-day activities they’ll perform in their homes.

There’s a bedroom area, with a carpet patients must negotiate across, a fully stocked kitchen with a washer and dryer and dining area and a living room — all decorated in a style that looks fresh out of a designer magazine.

Schick said she wanted the new area to feel welcoming to patients, many learning to do chores that have become far more challenging with wounds and, in some cases, prostheses. She chose warm, soothing colors, modern furnishings and art and lots of mirrors that not only make the space look larger, but also give patients an opportunity to watch their movements.

"We wanted the best possible environment for the young men and women who had been injured — something they would enjoy being in," she said. "Now it’s a great place for them to interface with each other as they recover and build their confidence."

"It’s hard to believe that this was nothing more than a glorified break room," Watts said as he surveyed the area. "Now it feels like home. It’s a place where patients can temporarily step out of the hospital experience and work on the skills they’ll need so they can go home and be independent."

Schick said she’s hopeful the new center will bring recovering troops comfort and a temporary escape from the institutional hospital environment as they prepare to return to their homes. "Hopefully this will bring the patients a lot of joy," she said.

She called the project "a way to give back" for the "five-star treatment" she said her son is receiving at Brooke while helping her work through her own emotions. "It’s been a lot of fun, and it’s been very therapeutic for me," she said.