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Helping, training military familes

An Elk Grove-based foundation that formed to help military families now finds itself not only providing them support and financial assistance, but cutting-edge technology as well.

http://www.dailyherald.com/story/?id=222236

By Eileen Daday | ColumnistPublished: 7/23/2008 12:04 AMSend To:

Roy and Georgette Frank of Elk Grove Village started the Heart Of A Marine Foundation in 2005, after their son, Lance Corp. Phillip Frank, was killed near Fallujah in April 2004.

Over the last two and a half years, they have sent countless care packages to deployed military, as well as 1,000 orthopedic canes to injured veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland.

Their most recent contribution arrived at Hines VA Hospital last month: 20 computers, including five laptops, and 20 professional versions of Aphasia software, designed to promote speech, language and cognitive development to victims of stroke and head injury.

At Hines, its users are expected to be the increasing number of military personnel coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan with traumatic brain injury.

"It's a godsend," says Laura Chalcraft, a speech and language pathologist at Hines. "It's just awesome."

She points to the majority of vets she treats who have cognitive and memory attention deficits, as well as speech delays. In fact, an article in the January edition of the New England Journal of Medicine labeled traumatic brain injury as a "signature injury of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Specifically, the interactive Aphasia software gives many of the same prompts that a therapist would in working with a patient to advance independent speech, language and cognitive stimulation.

There are multiple levels of difficulty, and the computer tracks each patient's progress, allowing for an individual program to be tailored to the needs of each vet.

"The cool thing is that because it's on the computer, they can use it independently," Chalcraft says, "so that it increases their therapy and training, which leads to an increase in cognitive skills."

Only recently have the advances made through the Aphasia software been applied to returning veterans. Heart Of A Marine supporters learned of its benefits from their contacts with the Marine Corps League in New Jersey.

"We felt this was a great thing, and that the foundation should get involved with it," Roy Frank says.

Foundation members are not done yet. Later this month they plan to supply computers and more Aphasia software to the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis, before approaching veterans' officials in North Chicago, Palo Alto, Calif.; Tampa, Fla.; and Richmond, Va.

Like Hines, all are designated as Level II Polytrauma Centers, where traumatic brain injury patients are sent. Ultimately, Frank adds, they would like to implement the software in every VA trauma center in the country.

"Our prayer is that this software get in the hands of the people who really need it," Frank says.

For the Hines donation, they purchased the computers and software packages with Illinois grant money obtained from the Veterans Cash Lottery, but they will be funding the Minneapolis gift - and all out of state contributions - from the foundation.

To find out more, or make a donation, visit the Web site, at www.heartofamarine.org.