Who is Dr. Ken Lee? That question has a lot of different answers.
Some people know him as the emcee of the National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) Kids Day, which he has done for the past five years. A few others know him as the first-year medical director for the NVWG. Others know him as top medical officer for the Wisconsin National Guard. And still others know him as the Milwaukee VA Spinal Cord Injury Center director.
Many don’t know, however, that Lee was once a veteran patient himself. The affable immigrant from South Korea was critically wounded by a suicide bomber in Baghdad, Iraq, while he was in command of Company B of the 118th Medical Battalion. He was in rehab for months about nine years ago. His body is still wounded. His spirit is recovering. He intimately knows and understands the issues experienced by the athletes at the NVWG.
Lee has been a physician at the Games since 1997, missing just two years since that time. He said he’s enjoying his role as medical director of the NVWG this year and that his team in Tampa is just one piece of a large organization.
“The medical aspect begins early on,” Lee said. “All the athletes need to be cleared by their own physicians. If there is a question, then it’s something I can examine.”
At the 33rd Games in Tampa, the staff has seven physicians from all over the country, who are “all strong in sports medicine,” Lee said. In addition, about 100 nurses come from James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital or otherwise from the VA system in the Tampa area. Lee is quick to point out, however, that regular VA services are not affected at all by the NVWG. “The nurses work in shifts and they have colleagues covering for them at their home hospitals,” he said.
Medical staff are present at all events, and Lee said everyone wearing the red medical shirt is capable of providing medical services. In addition, the staff holds full clinic hours within the Tampa Convention Center from 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. After that, an overnight call schedule is in effect so that those with medical needs can receive attention at any time during their stay in Tampa.
Lee noted that every participant has baseline medical issues, and this is important to remember. Unlike pro or Olympic athletes who are in peak physical condition, the athletes of the NVWG all have known medical concerns. Those conditions can be exacerbated for a variety of reasons at the NVWG: overexertion, the summer heat, altered diet, being off their regular schedule, etc.
“Travel isn’t easy for these folks,” he said. “Their room is not their home. Their bed is different. Their food is different. It can cause problems.”
No matter what the issue—a sports injury or an ongoing medical condition—Lee and his staff are there to assist and make the event as smooth as possible for all the athletes.
But how did a medical doctor land the job as emcee for Kids Day? “About five years ago the person who was supposed to emcee didn’t show up,” Lee said. “I was on duty at the event so they asked if I would do it. I’ve done it ever since.”
Learn more about the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Tampa
Tim W. Jackson is a freelance writer and editor in Asheville, N.C.