Tucson veteran becomes first certified single-armed massage therapist in the country

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) –

A local veteran is overcoming obstacles to achieve his career dreams after he survived a horrific car accident.

“How you doing today ma’m?” Aaron Soetaert asked his client.

Aaron Soetaert has just become a certified massage therapist. That’s not an uncommon profession, but he’s doing it all single-handedly.

“Then I’ll kind of use my shoulder if I want deeper pressure,” Soetaert said.

On a fateful night in September 2009, just days after he returned from a deployment in Iraq, the Air Force vet got in a car crash with a drunk driver.

“The tree hit the door. The door cut my arm off and I flew into a wall. I laid there unconscious and he left me there to die.” Soetaert said.

Soetaert’s dominant arm was severed. When he awoke from a two-week coma he had to re-learn how to walk, shower and eat.

“You have to learn how to do everything again. That’s when it became challenging,” Soetaert said.

Even simple tasks like tying his shoes still give him trouble, “Aw it came undone, darn it.”

But over the years Soetaert was determined to not let this set-back, stop him. He felt compelled to try his hand at massage therapy. Although starting off he got a fair share of skepticism.

“They’d be like how can you give me pressure? But what they didn’t know is I had the most pressure in my class and I got that feedback from my teacher,” Soetaert said.

Then he realized he could actually incorporate what’s left of his right arm into the massage, also adding in a bit of humor.

“I have a residual limb here – the nub. I call him the “nubster.” So, I started using him in massages and people started telling me it felt like a velvet pillow,” Soetaert said.

Soetaert said his classmates helped pushed him to master the techniques. His said his clients gave him feedback that they can’t tell the difference.  “It feels like two hands,” one woman said.

Soetaert’s road to this point has not been easy but he hopes to make his family proud with this latest achievement.

“Understand that you’re going to fail. Pick yourself back up and keep going on,” Soetaert said.

Soetaert told Tucson News Now he is the first certified single-armed massaged therapist in the country. He also just inspired two other armed amputees to enroll in massage school.

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