US Army veteran and Appalachian Trail hiker grateful for VA health care

584
Submitted photo
Bonita Curtner

On April 1, Army veteran, Bonita “Mother Goose” (Bonita’s trail name) Curtner began her sixth journey hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Mother Goose, as she likes to be referred to, sat down with me on June 12 during a visit to the Salem VA Medical Center to talk about her hiking experiences. Since Mother Goose’s first Appalachian Trail hike-thru in 1988, she has backpacked over 45,000 miles, including three hikes on the west coast’s Pacific Crest Trail.

“I hike somewhere every year trying to do 2,000 miles per summer and when I get into a hike, I like the way it makes my body feel.” said Curtner.

As I was listening to Mother Goose tell her story, I kept wondering what separates her from other hikers. It dawned on me that she is 69-years-old, a female US Army veteran, and has completed five hike-thrus on the Appalachian Trail. She also told me she was the “first female to “yoyo” the Appalachian Trail,” meaning she hiked from northern Georgia to Maine and then back to northern Georgia. This my friends, is what set Mother Goose apart from other hikers!

During our interview, she told me her home base VA, the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health Care System in Lake City, Fla. keeps her knees working through periodic gel injections to cushion where the knee cartilage has worn away.

“I work with the best team in Florida: Matt Holsbake in orthopedics and his assistants. When I’m traveling on my hikes, my Florida VA coordinator, Ruth Davis offers a valued service as my liaison with out-of-state VA hospitals,” said Curtner.

During her last visit to the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health Care System, Holsbake advised her she needed to have knee injections every three months for optimal effectiveness.

“I told him I was about to go back on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia and hike north until September. Referring to it taking over four months to get an appointment, Mr. Holsbake replied, ‘This won’t happen again. Where will you be in June?’” said Curtner.

Curtner told Holsbake she’d be in Virginia. He replied that if she kept him abreast of her progress on the trail, he’d help arrange for her to get the shot she needed at a nearby VA facility closest to her trail location at the time in which she was due for a knee injection.

When the time came, care coordinator Ruth Davis contacted Mandy Price, travel veteran coordinator at Salem VA Medical Center to coordinate a knee injection.

“Ms. Price had to go through several administrative steps to have the shot sent to the Salem VA Medical Center. In addition, I received regular updates via phone conversations and text messages from Ms. Price regarding her success in obtaining the needed medication. By the time I arrived to Salem VA Medical Center, we were looking forward to meeting each other,” said Curtner.

Mother Goose describes her experience with the North Florida/South Georgia Veteran Veterans Health Care System and the Salem VA Medical Center, as rewarding. Not only did she receive the needed medication in an unusual situation, she felt everyone treated her with sincere kindness and she has made some new friends.

“In a time when the VA may receive complaints and negative publicity, I would love Washington to know there are VA teams going over and beyond the call of

duty for one appreciative Army veteran long-distance hiker,” said Curtner. This, by itself, shows the type of dedication and selfless support and interest in a veteran’s wellbeing.

I asked Mother Goose if she has plans to continue hiking after this year. Her response echoed comments I’ve heard by other veterans: “I have the blood pressure of a 20-year-old and if my knees permit, be back on some trail next year which one I’m not sure, but my goal is to backpack 50,000 miles by the time I’m 80!”

Given her determination, I would imagine she will reach 50,000 miles before she turns 80 years old!

So why does she hike? “It feeds my soul and hiking is half my life!” said Curtner. Which to me, sounds like a response only a veteran would give: If it’s not challenge, why do it?

 

-Submitted by Brett Robbins, Salem VA Medical Center Public Affairs Officer