How Scuba Diving Is Being Used To Heal Wounded Veterans

How one man is making the disabled capable of scuba diving

Image via SUDS Diving, Inc.

When Shawn Jones joined the Navy in 2008, he wanted to be an air rescue swimmer, jumping out of helicopters to save soldiers in choppy waters. Jones didn’t make the program—instead spending his five years of service as a crane operator, event planner, and weapons specialist—but in his retirement, he has found another way to help soldiers struggling to swim. Jones is currently developing the world’s most advanced prosthetic flipper.

Prosthetics designed specifically for water sports started appearing in the last decade, driven by veteran rehabilitation organizations like Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba (SUDS) and California Polytechnic State University’s QL+ Laboratory. It’s a unique engineering challenge: Most underwater leg prosthetics only function as fins or flippers, but not pegs, so amputees can’t walk into the water.

3D model of a Triton prototype (Image via Shawn Jones)

It’s not just a recreation accessibility problem. Organizations like SUDS, Wave Academy, and Operation Blue Pride (where Jones has volunteered for over a year) promote swimming and diving to disabled veterans as a way to treat physical injuries and mental health issues like post-traumautic stress (PTS). A recent Johns Hopkins study, in fact, showed that PTS-diagnosed veterans who participated in weekly Wave Academy sessions experienced a 28-percent decrease in symptons—including improved sleep, decreased pain, and lower anxiety.

Shawn Jones

Jones’s prototype, Triton, is the first prosthetic to double as both leg and flipper. The dual functionality is made possible by an attachment system Jones developed while studying design at Northeastern University, where he graduated this spring. Now, funded by a grant from 3D printing startup Shapeways, Jones wants to “break this into something huge.” He talked to GOOD about the design’s inspiration and future.

How did you first get involved with disabled scuba divers?

Northeastern University has a Student Veterans Organization. They had a meeting and said, if you’re interested in scuba diving for free, [Operation Blue Pride] will hook you up. I was like, well that sounds exciting. I had never gone scuba diving. I think everyone is kind of nervous about going 90 feet underwater without that much oxygen.

They taught me within four or five weeks to scuba dive, gave me certification, and then I started working with them. Last year, I actually took a handicapped scuba diving course where I learned how to be a scuba buddy for paraplegics and blind scuba divers.

What sparked the idea for Triton?

There was a guy coming through the [Operation Blue Pride] program. He was a single leg amputee. He ended up quitting after a couple weeks because he couldn’t perform as much as the rest of the guys. I thought, here’s a problem that we need to solve. This guy can’t really function in the water with his current prosthetic. Maybe with some of the skills I learned, I can create something for him. I came up with a few drawings of what I wanted to make, and I started printing mechanical components for this piece. It looked nothing like the one I actually created for my second prototype, but it was a way to get my foot in the door.

Image via SUDS Diving, Inc.

How has the design evolved? What were some challenges?

One of the first prototypes I made was going to be a straight leg [with] a flipper at the very bottom. But you can’t walk on it. After taking my capstone class, I worked with a mechanical engineer and masters student [to study] the feasibility of what I could actually do with the design. We decided it would be the best option to make it so you can walk on it. Something like a peg.

My second design was one where you attach [the flipper] to the socket, which is carbon fiber, where he puts his stump. It screws into the regular screws that already exist. It’s basically like a cane that I took from my regular walking cane. Then I added a fiberglass flipper that I created myself. That was a diaster the first couple times. The connection point that I used for the crutch and his prosthetic, I 3D printed. I only had plastic as an option. It was good and then it snapped.

How does scuba diving help wounded veterans?

Therapy [through] scuba diving has really benefited those with post-traumatic stress. I actually taught somehow how to scuba dive underwater. I was like his buddy. He was freaking out underwater. Right as he went underwater, he had to regulate his heart rate and his oxygen tank. Just by doing that, he actually calms himself down. He’s in his own environment down there. Same thing with amputees. They still have PTSD. They feel more calm underwater.

Image via SUDS Diving, Inc.

How has diving helped you personally?

I am actually getting into the medical research on how water therapy helps legs build muscle. I know from personal experience. I destroyed my back in the military and the water helped me. I went from not being able to walk after my surgery, to walking and running. It took about a year to get back to where I was. Even today, it’s still a bad pain. But swimming is my place to go. You don’t have any pressure.

via Honor Africans / Twitter

The problem with American Sign Language (ASL) is that over 500,000 people in the U.S. use it, but the country has over 330 million people.

So for those with hearing loss, the chances of coming into contact with someone who uses the language are rare. Especially outside of the deaf community.

Keep Reading Show less

Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

RELATED: Bill and Melinda Gates had a surprising answer when asked about a 70 percent tax on the wealthiest Americans

"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

RELATED: Bill Gates has five books he thinks you should read this summer.

The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.

Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

The future generations will have to live on this Earth for years to come, and, not surprisingly, they're very concerned about the fate of our planet. We've seen a rise in youth activists, such as Greta Thunberg, who are raising awareness for climate change. A recent survey indicates that those efforts are working, as more and more Americans (especially young Americans) feel concerned about climate change.

A new CBS News poll found that 70% of Americans between 18 and 29 feel climate change is a crisis or a serious problem, while 58% of Americans over the age of 65 share those beliefs. Additionally, younger generations are more likely to feel like it's their personal responsibility to address climate change, as well as think that transitioning to 100% renewable energy is viable. Overall, 25% of Americans feel that climate change is a "crisis," and 35% feel it is a "serious problem." 10% of Americans said they think climate change is a minor problem, and 16% of Americans feel it is not a problem that worries them.

The poll found that concern for the environment isn't a partisan issue – or at least when it comes to younger generations. Two-thirds of Republicans under the age of 45 feel that addressing climate change is their duty, sentiments shared by only 38% of Republicans over the age of 45.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet