NORFOLK

Five naval aviators assigned to Naval Air Station Oceana visited the Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters Oct. 17 during the grand opening of the newly-renovated rehab unit.

The renovated unit at Virginia’s only inpatient pediatric rehabilitation center was designed and decorated with the theme of the United States Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels. With nurse station “hangars,” runway markers in the hallways and wall graphics of the Blue Angels in flight formations, it motivates the patients to walk and wheel themselves to new heights.

“Children here have been through a major illness or a major injury and have had a lot of setbacks, so they need a lot of inspiration with rehabilitation lasting several weeks, if not several months, in the hospital,” said Rianna Leazer, medical director of the inpatient pediatric rehabilitation unit. “Locally, the Blue Angels and the Navy mean a lot to us, so we thought it would be the best theme for the unit.”

One of the newest pieces of technology in the rehabilitation unit, the “ZeroG” system developed by Aretech, will hold and support patients from a device that glides across a track the length of a therapy gym ceiling, allowing patients to practice walking, going up stairs, sitting, and standing without fear of falling.

Capt. Robert Holmes, executive officer of Naval Air Station Oceana; Lt. Cmdr. Matt Suyderhoud, Dam Neck Annex joint terminal air controller and former Blue Angel pilot; Lt. Cmdr. Patrick Johnson, Dam Neck Annex officer-in-charge; Lt. Christy Talisse, military staff integration officer; and Lt. David Gorski, assistant air operations officer, took the time to tour the renovated facility and interact with some of the patients.

“When I was on the Blue Angels, we did a lot of hospital visits,” said Suyderhoud, who served with the Blue Angels in 2015 and 2016. “We really felt the true mission of the Blue Angels was to inspire, and we found it very inspirational for us personally to go to children’s hospitals and meet kids who were fighting more difficult battles than any of us in uniform have ever faced.”

Suyderhoud said, outside of recruiting and showcasing the skills of naval aviators, the team’s personal mission was to give inspiration to those who needed it most.

“We felt we were giving that inspiration back to the children and showing what could happen when you focus on your dreams and your goals,” said Suyderhoud. “Meeting the kids here today could put a smile on anyone’s face.”

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