Veteran still breaking ground after 30 years of research
Ken Pitetti, a professor of physical therapy at Wichita State University, has dedicated his career to enhancing the lives of people with disabilities — a career that, he supposes, began as a platoon leader of the 101st Airborne, when he lost part of his right leg in the jungles of Vietnam.
The post-Vietnam War era was a hard time in America for veterans such as Pitetti.
"This country spat on us, literally and figuratively, after the war," Pitetti said, lamenting the poor treatment of veterans — able and disabled alike.
In 1983, while working on his doctoral dissertation at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, his prosthetic leg began to deteriorate. Pitetti went to the prosthetic clinic at the VA Medical Center in Dallas to see about getting a replacement. It just so happened that he had his text books with him.
Frank Gottschalk, attending physician of the prosthetic clinic, noticed his biochemistry book and started and talking with him about the frequency with which disabled veterans were showing up at hospitals with signs of heart disease and early onset diabetes. Gottschalk offered Pitetti the chance to helm a research study on the subject on the spot, which led to the two of them co-authoring a study on aerobic training improving fitness in lower extremity amputees.
That study began a prolific career of research and study covering a spectrum of physical and mental disabilities, from the effects of treadmill training on children with cerebral palsy to a study of physical fitness and activity in children with Down Syndrome.
An impressive work ethic
Pitetti's body of work, as well as his work ethic, continue to impress and inspire his Wichita State colleagues, including Dr. Cam Wilson, chair of the department of Physical Therapy.
"He is an amazing individual," she said, "If you looked up master teacher in the dictionary, there ought to be a picture of Ken's face."
Some of Pitetti's current research, in keeping with much of the rest of his career, is involved in developing a manual to evaluate the balance and coordination of children and adolescents with intellectual disabilities.
In addition to his work at Wichita State, Pitetti also works with the Association of Retarded Citizens of Sedgwick County's Youth Education Summer Socialization Program (YESS.) YESS is a 9-week summer education and recreation program designed to help students retain information learned in school and to improve social and communicative skills.
Prime of his career
Pitetti's work has helped more than just students in Sedgwick County — his work, and the work of his colleagues, has provided indispensable to the field.
"Twenty years ago we had no insight into the physical capabilities of children and adolescents with intellectual disabilities," he said. "Since then, volumes have been written and published, and much is known about the truly amazing capacities of these young people."
At 66, Pitetti's career has shown no signs of slowing down — having co-authored nearly 40 research studies since 2002 alone with no plans of calling it quits any time soon.
"I feel in the prime of my career right now," Pitetti said. "I'm getting paid to do what I love, so why stop?"
He wasn't always so sure though. Pitetti had contemplated retirement in the past, and talked it over with friends and family, but jokingly attributes Kansas State head football coach Bill Snyder as his inspiration to stay on.
"He's 74 years old and he just signed on for five more years," Pitetti said, laughing.