Wounded Tucson veteran and dolphin have similar tale to tell

TUCSON, AZ (KOLD) - The new film, "Dolphin Tale," is based on the true story about a dolphin named Winter that lost her tail after it became caught in a crab trap.

But there's more to this story.

An important and inspiring piece of the story actually continues here in Tucson where an Iraq War veteran, like Winter, needed that little bit extra to help him heal.

Together they found it.

"It" is a special gel, called WintersGel, that made it possible for Winter to wear her prosthetic tail.

After Winter's tail had to be amputated, she was fitted with a prosthetic tail.

But it never would have worked without the special gel that protects her delicate skin.

That very same gel is now changing the lives of people too.

Meet Air Force veteran, 29-year-old Brian Kolfage, of Tucson.

"On September 11 of 2004, I was in Balad, Iraq, and I was hit by an insurgent rocket," he says.

Kolfage lost both legs and much of one arm in the attack.

He was the most severely wounded airman to survive a war.

Huge bone spurs grew from Kolfage's hip bone, and that created excruciating pain when he wore his prosthetic leg.

"It was horrible," he says.  "I was just in a lot of pain. I would just suck it up and I couldn't really do anything.  If I wanted to be mobile on my prosthetic legs, I had to wear them, just deal with the pain."

While Kolfage and Prosthetist/Orthotist Jeff White of Hanger Prosthetics worked to find something that would help, others, including Hanger Vice President Kevin Carroll, were developing the gel for the dolphin.

Actor Morgan Freeman plays the Carroll-type character in the film.

Carroll came to Tucson, and showed Kolfage the gel.

"He put it on the ground and did a headstand and was like bouncing on his head with it, and so I was like alright. I'll give it a try," Kolfage says. "I tested it out over the few days and I had no pain and so that was the cure."

Now Kolfage is a student at the University of Arizona, in the demanding architecture program.

He says the pain might have stopped him from realizing his dream of becoming an architect.

Kolfage was the first person to use the gel, and to show it could work for people, as well as dolphins.

"I really don't think about it as I'm being like the pioneer. Maybe the dolphin is more the pioneer, you know. But it's pretty cool that I can help other people," Kolfage says.

Since Kolfage was fitted with the gel, hundreds of other patients have benefited from this new technology.

"Dolphin Tale" video used in this story is courtesy of Warner Bros.

Other video of Winter is used courtesy of Hanger Prosthetics & Orthotics.

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