Two-Time Purple Heart Recipient Uses Experience to Help Patients Heal

Two-Time Purple Heart Recipient Uses Experience to Help Patients Heal

Michael Larew and family
Michael Larew began his PT career elsewhere but eventually followed his wife, Kim, to Hendricks because of the supportive culture here and the ability of the couple to coordinate schedules in raising their son.

“Maybe Mel Gibson, but it must be the Mel Gibson from the original Lethal Weapon or The Patriot movies. I could go with Bruce Willis from Die Hard, as well. I wouldn’t be mad if Chris Hemsworth or Bradley Cooper took the role.”

That’s what Michael Larew, DPT, TSAC-F, at Danville Hospital, had to say when asked who should play him in a movie. It’s not the question that would ordinarily come to mind when speaking to a two-time Purple Heart recipient (there’s a third award in the works). Still, it seemed fitting to lighten the mood for a guy who began his highly esteemed service career at a small movie theater in Lebanon, Indiana.

Michael enlisted in the US Army as a junior in high school while working at that theater. Nobody in his family had served in the military or pursued post-secondary education, but the Iraq War had just kicked off, and Michael otherwise saw his future as bleak. He was part of the infantry, which means ground combat, and was first assigned to the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He later moved to the 75th Ranger Regiment, an elite special operations unit out of Fort Benning, Georgia.

“Basic training beats you up, but combat shapes you,” said Michael. “You’re constantly faced with split-second moments that could be your last. My injuries were from gunshots or explosions, and there were many of them.”

Once Michael returned with his second Purple Heart, the Army gave him two choices: a recruiter or a drill sergeant.

“Recruiters work long hours and get zero recognition, so drill sergeant it was. I did that for three years at Fort Benning and had a blast,” said Michael. “However, given all my training, I knew my job was in high demand and that I’d likely end up back in Iraq or Afghanistan. I’d had too many close calls by that time to tempt fate again.”

Michael quickly discovered that his skills didn’t translate into civilian life, so he enrolled in college without a plan. While interviewing for a jailer position in Boone County, Sheriff’s Department members suggested he pursue law enforcement instead. So, he did, first hiring on with the Lebanon Police Department and later the Crawfordsville Police Department until a friend from kindergarten was killed in the line of duty.

Michael gave his two weeks’ notice and doubled down to finish his bachelor’s degree at Marian University, taking 23 hours per semester and graduating at the top of his class.

“I knew I needed to choose a profession that would not change me. I decided on medicine because it still served my community,” said Michael. “I looked into becoming a physician’s assistant but settled on physical therapy because the graduate classes started immediately, and I had first-hand experience with injuries.”

And as they say, the rest is history.

“What I love most is watching patients change how they think and act and start appreciating their health,” said Michael. “The key to success in PT is to be motivated, understand appropriate expectations and do the work. There is no magic pill that fixes anything.”

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