Local#039;s career at VA has given her countless memories

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 23, 2003

Waterloo native Pat Wiseman, 58, received a birthday present 31 years ago that has shaped her entire life.

After returning to Lawrence County from college at Olivet University with a degree in sociology, she finished her master's degree from Marshall University and was pondering her future.

On Jan. 3, 1972, coincidentally her birthday, she received two job offers.

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Torn between choosing between a teaching job and a position with the Veterans' Administration, Wiseman chose a social work position in a new spinal cord injury program at the Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee, Wis.

"It was time for me to grow up and pursue a career. They had opened a new spinal cord injury unit," she said. "I was young, the veterans were young, we grew up together. I shared their life experiences for 22 years. The passages of their lives became intertwined with the passages of mine."

For more than two decades, Wiseman developed countless programs for spinal cord injury patients. She was involved in instituting one of the first SCI hospital-based homecare programs. She was so well-respected and had donated countless hours volunteering that an annual award is given each year in her honor.

Thirty-one years after that monumental birthday, the Paralyzed Veterans of America awarded Wiseman with the 2003 Speedy Award, the PVA's highest honor. It recognizes outstanding accomplishments in the field of paraplegia.

Founded in 1946, the PVA is the only congressionally chartered veterans' service organization focused solely on helping and representing individuals with spinal cord injury or disease. It has grown to include more than 20,000 members.

The award was presented to Wiseman during the PVA's 57th annual convention earlier this month in Memphis.

"They treated me like royalty," she said describing her trip with her sister that included a limousine ride from the airport.

"It was truly the highlight of a joyous career.

"I read a quote once that said, 'the quality of your life is measured not by the moments you breath but by the moments that leave you breathless.'

This was one such moment."

One of the most enjoyable parts of the convention was that she got to reunite with several veterans who she had not seen in years, she said.

"I do not think anyone can truly know how spinal cord injuries impact your life until you suffer such an injury," she said. "I have worked for 32 years and I learn every day how they overcome all types of adversity."

David Uchic, a spokesperson for the PVA, said that the organization is very judicious with the awards, but that it was Wiseman's innovation and dedication that truly made her stand head and shoulders above the rest.

"People like Pat are important to help those with spinal cord injuries cope as best they can and get back to a decent quality of life," he said. "She is a care giver. She gives all of herself. Frankly, these people need that."

Because of an illness in her family, Wiseman returned to the Tri-State for what she thought was only a temporary stay. Ten years later, she is happily living back at home in Lawrence County.

Currently, Wiseman is the SCI&D coordinator and social work team leader for medicine and surgery at the Huntington, W.Va., Veterans' Hospital as well as the traumatic brain injury case manager for six VA facilities located in Veterans' Integrated Service Network's District 9.

Wiseman said she would not be where she is without all of the tremendous mentors in her life, including her mother Margaret Savary. She is continually inspired by her family, including nieces Crissy and Corie and great-nephews and nieces Jesse, Brigitte and Gretchen.

As she talks about the countless rewarding experiences she has been a part of in the past three decades, the tears start to build up in her eyes.

"When you least expect it, where you least expect, someone approaches and tells you how you made a difference in their lives," she said. "It does not happen often, but when it does, it renews your passion 100 fold."