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As his F-4 Phantom jet fighter raced across the skies over North Vietnam, U.S. Air Force co-pilot Ralph Galati glimpsed a surface-to-air missile (SAM) streaking menacingly toward him. Unable to evade this deadly projectile fired by enemy troops below, the Phantom shuddered from the explosive impact. It was February 16, 1972, and the Vietnam War had been raging for nearly seven years. The most controversial conflict in the history of the United States, it would eventually claim the lives of nearly 60,000 American servicemen and wound more than 300,000 additional U.S. combatants.

Ralph Galati U.S. Air Force Lieutenant prisoner of war Vietnam Hanoi Hilton

U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Ralph Galati (right) was released as a prisoner of war in March 1973, after spending 406 days in North Vietnamese captivity. (photo/courtesy Ralph Galati)

“After getting hit by the SAM, we had to eject over North Vietnam because we didn’t have enough altitude or airspace to make it to the coast or any safe haven,” recalled Galati. “So we ended up parachuting right into a North Vietnamese village, which offered no opportunity for escape or evasion. We were definitely banged up but at least we survived. It wasn’t the most graceful landing, more of a landing fall. But any landing you can walk away from is a good one.”

Captured immediately by enemy soldiers, Galati and his pilot were taken to the North Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, where they would spend the next year in the notorious prison camp euphemistically known as the “Hanoi Hilton.”

“That ejection was the beginning of my back problems that only worsened over the next 45 years,” said Galati. “The compression of an ejection is pretty severe. It’s not meant to debilitate you, but at the same time you’re sitting on a rocket that shoots you out of the cockpit. So my initial injury was compression-related and it became exacerbated by the time in captivity, due to sleeping on cement and a lack of medical care.”

During his nearly 14 months as a captive, Galati had little contact with other American servicemen, since the prison camp enforced solitary confinement. However, toward the end of the war those measures began to relax, which led to Galati meeting fellow prisoner-of-war (POW) and future U.S. Senator John McCain.

“McCain was at the Hanoi Hilton at the same time I was, but he had been captured about five years before,” related Galati. “I met John cumulatively for about 20 minutes. It was just prior to the peace agreements and they started letting the prisoners fraternize a little more with each other.”

Galati marked his 25th birthday shortly before being released in March 1973. “So I was young, in good shape and relatively resilient,” he said. “But sometimes the traumas you sustain at that age can take a little time before they really start to impact you. So although I felt some back issues off and on over the next 25 years, it has really been in the past 20 years that the problems became severe. And I point back to Vietnam as the cause of it all.”

Dramatic Difference

Like many people who have experienced debilitating back pain, Galati tried all kinds of remedies over the years, with little success. So what treatment finally made a dramatic difference? HawkGrips.

“In a lot of ways, I feel like it’s taken 45 years for me to get back into shape again, thanks to HawkGrips.” shared Galati. “I’m grateful to reach a point where I not only feel mobile but a little fluid too. So those treatments have really served me well.”

Ralph Galati U.S. Senator John McCain World Affairs Council of Philadelphia Vietnam prisoner of war

More than 40 years after meeting as prisoners of war at the “Hanoi Hilton,” Galati (right) and U.S. Senator John McCain were reunited at a World Affairs Council of Philadelphia event in November 2014. (photo/courtesy Ralph Galati)

Now 69 years old, Galati is the director of the Office of Veterans Services at Saint Joseph’s University (SJU) in Philadelphia. A Philly native, he also attended SJU as an undergraduate and was a member of the Air Force ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) program there. After graduating in 1970, Galati embarked on an Air Force career that would last until 1978.

“As a graduate of St. Joe’s and the ROTC program, I’m proud of this school’s commitment to our veterans,” he said. “The role of SJU has been significant both in establishing the Office of Veterans Services and supporting student-veterans. It’s very rewarding to be directly involved with a program like this, and I get great support from both the school and my family.”

His position as director of veterans services also led to Galati’s introduction to HawkGrips. SJU welcomes dozens of guest speakers each year to talk with student-veterans about a variety of topics, such as starting their own businesses. HawkGrips Founder and President Frank Osborne, a Saint Joseph’s graduate himself, volunteered to be one of these speakers during the 2016-17 school year.

“Frank has come to SJU twice as a panelist,” Galati related. “He has been there for us, is an SJU grad and now a friend of mine too. He also made a nice donation that will help fund our program. So he’s giving back not just to the school, but to our veterans. Frank has devoted his time, talent and treasure, and he’s made a big difference in my personal health by putting me on a path to recovery.”

Daily Debilitation

When Osborne first served as a panelist, Galati was struggling mightily with back pain. “On a daily basis it would take me a good 5-10 minutes just to get out of bed in the morning,” the Vietnam vet recalled. “I couldn’t get to a standing position or even roll over without pain. So it would take me a while to ensure that when I got out of bed, I felt steady and wouldn’t fall down.”

Ralph Galati Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney Magis Award

On July 4, 2017, Galati was honored by Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney (right) with the prestigious Magis Award in recognition of his work to assist veterans in the Philadelphia area. (photo/courtesy Ralph Galati)

At the time he met Osborne, Galati was trying his third mattress in a year. “Because I thought maybe part of the problem was my bed,” he related. “But it became obvious that I was the problem, and I just hadn’t been able to find the right treatment. I tried just about everything though, including myofascial release, chiropractic, acupuncture, regular physical therapy, and personal training. All those things gave me a little relief but I wasn’t fixed.”

Not only was it difficult to get up in the morning, but during the day Galati felt significant discomfort from sitting or standing for long periods.

“I had problems up and down my spine, emanating to my waist and hips, with cysts on both hip bones,” he said. “I’d buy different shoes to try and ease the pain and I consistently felt uncomfortable when trying to drive. In addition, the problems would just shift from one part of my body to another because of my efforts to compensate. So there was just no relief, and when I met Frank I was probably at my worst because I couldn’t stand up straight or walk very well.”

Osborne noticed Galati’s discomfort and began asking about his symptoms. He then recommended treatment with HawkGrips and suggested a physical therapist named Dr. Jason Heyduk, DPT, who worked at a nearby NovaCare location in Swarthmore, PA.

“Coincidentally, I happened to know Jason already,” Galati shared. “I had received treatment from him years ago for plantar fasciitis and my wife had gone to him for therapy before too. Jason is a straight-shooter who knows what he’s doing and has a good sense of humor. The clinic where he works is right up the street and we had been really pleased with his service over the years. Fortunately, he also turned out to be the PT who Frank recommended.”

Transformative Treatment

In October 2016, Galati began HawkGrips Therapy with Dr. Heyduk, which lasted about eight weeks and included approximately 15 treatments.

“Ralph presented with chronic pain, stiffness and loss of range of motion of his lumbar and thoracic spine,” explained Dr. Heyduk. “He was frustrated that his pain had started to affect his daily activities and quality of life, as well as by the lack of progress he had made with traditional and alternative care. But after a few treatments with HawkGrips, Ralph started to feel much better. We were successful in breaking down scar tissue and improving fascial restrictions, which led to dramatically improved range of motion and overall function.”

Ralph Galati Select Medical NovaCare physical therapist Jason Heyduk DPT debilitating back condition HawkGrips treatment

NovaCare Physical Therapist Dr. Jason Heyduk (left) helped Galati overcome a debilitating back condition thanks to HawkGrips treatment. (photo/courtesy Select Medical)

Galati’s HawkGrips therapy was combined with traditional core stabilization and stretching. Although the HawkGrips segment of each session would typically last only about 10 minutes, Galati soon learned that even this short duration could produce stunning results.

“By the third or fourth session, I started to notice a significant reduction in pain and see that getting out of bed in a normal way again was possible,” he shared. “I felt such a difference when I woke up in the morning. My wife and colleagues quickly noticed a change in me, and once I saw the results I wanted to keep getting the treatment for as long and often as I needed to. The back stiffness used to be so prevalent, but after just a few weeks of HawkGrips I was walking briskly.”

Dr. Heyduk added that he has seen such impressive results with many patients thanks to HawkGrips treatment. “I’m a huge believer in the utilization of HawkGrips for soft tissue restrictions,” he related. “I’ve practiced instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization [IASTM] for more than five years and witnessed significant progress in acute, subacute and chronic patients. Our clinics believe in delivering an exceptional patient experience, and HawkGrips help us achieve that.”

For his part, Galati is only too happy to spread the word about the dramatic impact HawkGrips have made on his life. “The things I can do now are so gratifying,” he concluded. “HawkGrips got closer to the root cause of my pain than anything else I tried before. My issues now are modest by comparison, and I can address them more holistically. I’m ambulatory, pain-free and have even started doing yoga, which would have been impossible without HawkGrips. And if any problems do crop up again, I’m confident they can be quickly remediated with just a couple treatments. HawkGrips have really helped lead me toward great health, and I no longer feel my age.”

Brian W. Ferrie is the editorial & multimedia director for HawkGrips and can be reached at bferrie@hawkgrips.com.

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