Injured vet, Colts spokesperson offers advice to OT majors

Bradie Gray

Marine Corporal Josh Bleill spoke to an audience of attentive Occupational Therapy students Wednesday night in Forum 1, wrapping up Disability Awareness Week.

The Greenfield, Indiana native told his story of war, heart-breaking trauma and overcoming adversity during a one-hour keynote speech peppered with humor to balance out the accounts of battle and injury.

When he completed his degree at Purdue University, he said he saw the affects of 9/11 and decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a marine.

“I was shipped off to boot camp at 27,” he said.

He was activated for a tour of duty in Iraq in 2006.

In October 2006, he was severely injured when his Humvee was attacked, which resulted in the amputation of both of his legs.

Bleill said he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and did not want to leave the hospital until he was given the opportunity to watch the Indianapolis Colts play the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl.

“I was in Miami in the pouring rain, I saw the Colts win the Super Bowl, and I loved every minute of it,” Bleill said.

After the Super Bowl, Bleill met the players, including Peyton Manning, and Jim Irsay when they visited the hospital to thank veterans for their service.

Irsay promised him a job.

“After 22 months in that hospital, I returned to Indiana, called the Colts and set up a job interview,” Bleill said.

Irsay kept his promise and Bleill said he accepted the job before asking what it was. He is now the community spokesperson.

“Public speaking? I hate public speaking,” he said.

He started speaking to his wife’s third grade class to prepare, and now he speaks at conferences, schools and colleges to spread his “message of hope.”

He ended his speech with questions from the audience.

He advised occupational therapy students to develop a relationship with their patients.

“I still text my physical therapists on a weekly basis,” he said.

Lori Vanderheide, a first year OT grad student, said she really appreciated that advice.

“I like how he said we should build a friendship with patients. I think it makes us realize that we can really make a difference in people with disability’s lives, and we can help them live a more fulfilling life,” she said.

Vanderheide said when she began the program, she had no idea she would be working with patients with injuries similar to Bleill’s.

“I’m more used to the idea now,” she said. “I think it makes me more excited to help those kinds of people.”

Counselor Stephanie Cunningham was a key player in bringing Bleill to campus, as well as planning the rest of Disability Awareness Week.

“A veteran who talks about his disability with a Colts connection – you can’t beat that in a speaker,” Cunningham said.

She said she had a general idea of what Bleill would talk about, but was somewhat surprised by how positive he was.

“I just, in general, enjoy hearing people talk about their experience in a way that is focused on the positive because it’s so easy to turn those things into anger and to turn that into something positive is really inspirational,” she said.

Cunningham said the audience also impressed her.

“They loved it so much more than I was even hoping they would,” Cunningham said. “I knew they would enjoy it but they have been fabulous – the best audience members ever.”