UNIVERSITY OF SAN DIEGO / Spring 2010
[devotion]
Heroic Measures
Army nurse aims to reduce amputations among soldiers
by Carol Cujec

Photo by Fred Greaves
W

hen Shelly Burdette-Taylor returned to USD after being on duty (she’s a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves), she would sometimes bring her target paper riddled with bullet holes for show and tell.

“You’d better watch out — I’m weapons qualified,” she joked with her professors. And yes, as a nurse, she understands the irony of this. “I’m supposed to be the one patching holes, not the one making the holes,” she laughs.

Taylor’s devotion for nursing and for soldiers is merging during her doctoral research at USD’s Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science. Traveling to places like Walter Reed in Maryland and the Army Wounded Warrior office in Virginia, she interviews soldiers who have suffered a traumatic limb loss for her study examining quality of life and post-traumatic stress disorder. Fearful of being labeled with PTSD, many soldiers do not receive treatment for it, she says. That’s a stigma she is trying to combat.

Taylor’s thesis topic came to her after meeting a young Marine at the Naval Medical Center who had lost both lower legs in Iraq. “I realized I had to change my focus for my dissertation to traumatic limb loss for acting in the line of duty,” she explains. “As an Army nurse, I felt I needed to give back by focusing on soldier needs.”

Decades of experience prepared her for this research: she has spent 30 years as a wound care nurse, 20 years as a nurse and instructor in the Army and 10 years specializing in foot care and working with amputees. She also founded her own education company, TayLorD Health, which helps nurses become board-certified in foot care. “We amputate over 100,000 limbs a year in this country,” says Taylor. “I decided if I got a thousand nurses board-certified in foot care, maybe I could make a dent in that number.” To further this goal, she is writing the first foot and nail care textbook for nurses.

Taylor’s passion for healing overflows into her community service. She volunteers for the San Diego Adaptive Sports Foundation and rides in the 3-Day Southern California Bike Ride with Wounded Warriors. As a parish nurse, she travels annually with her church to Honduras to conduct a medical brigade clinic.

“Last year I recruited a physician friend of mine, and we did the first medical brigade in San Pedro Sula in the inner-city part, which is like a plywood-tin-cardboard village,” she says. “Two hundred and fifty-two families registered, with about 2,000 children that have never seen a physician, or a dentist for that matter.”

Taylor hopes to graduate in 2010, but describes her dissertation research as just a “crumb” of what she hopes to accomplish to enhance the care of wounded soldiers.

“Every one of them is a hero,” she says. “They’ve lost a limb taking care of someone or doing a mission. And many of them would go right back to doing it tomorrow if they could.”