Good morning to all!
Our fundraising efforts for the month of October went well considering the level of crowds we saw at the markets we hit but this month we’d like to do better. Here is why we have chosen this month’s recipients:
During the summer of 2007, my husband Paul was deployed with the US Coast Guard. He was climbing the mast of his 210 foot ship to conduct some routine electrical work when a faulty latch on the 30 lb metal hatch he had opened to crawl through gave way. As the ship bobbed along the waves the hatch came crashing back down cracking his skull open and crushing his hand.
The months that followed brought night terrors, anxiety and depression all of which Paul tried in vain to suppress. He was a military man and military men sucked it up and moved on. It’s all in my head, he kept telling himself, but as the months stretched in years more and more problems began to arise. His hearing and eyesight began to fail him as did his memory and concentration. He suffered from terrible headaches on a daily basis and debilitating migraines 4 or 5 times a year. Paul kept losing his balance and falling down resulting in two shoulder surgeries. He would suddenly fly into fits of rage from one minute to the next in a way that would make Mr. Hyde step back and say “Whoa, dude, take it easy!” Trips to medical personnel on my insistence turned up nothing and Paul kept insisting it was all in his head which of course was what the Coast Guard kept telling him. Then one day after an event at the local Burger King where Paul threw a burger at the cashier because he’d gotten the order wrong and told an elderly customer to drop dead followed by roughly collaring one of our dogs for barking too much I put my foot down. The man I married was a funny, intelligent, easy going guy and the maniac I saw before me wasn’t him. I uttered a sentence I never thought in my life I would ever say. “You go get help right now or I’m leaving you!”
Another round of doctors, specialists and in-depth testing both physical and psychological turned up 3 different diagnoses including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). When the hatch hit Paul in the head the brain was jostled in such a way that it damaged core pieces in the front of the brain which resulted in all the issues we were seeing. He underwent therapy with multiple doctors and treatment centers but the folks up in Maine where we had been stationed could go no further. His issues were beyond their level of expertise and even working together they admitted they did not have the knowledge to help him. “This is as far as you’ll go, you’ll just have to live with it.” He was told.
Paul always thrived on his high intelligence level and the fact he couldn’t operate on all cylinders wasn’t helping. He wanted to be able to do more, push the envelope, but he had no one to help him and fell into an even deeper depression. The man I loved was slipping away and it was only a matter of time before he became a statistic. I searched all over the country for TBI specialists who were willing to take his case and help him but kept being told no. His condition was too old, they only helped patients with recent injuries. Finally, a clinic in Colorado put me in touch with the specialists at what used to be Walter Reed. Unfortunately they too had their hands full with recent soldiers returning from the war in the Gulf but they pointed us in the direction of the James Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa, FL.
Paul and his service dog, Rosie, went inpatient at the hospital for three weeks where he was given 6 more diagnoses for a total of 9 separate issues that were responsible for the physical, mental and emotional problems we’d been seeing. During his last week at the hospital the Fisher House Foundation invited me to stay within the local area so that I could spend time with him and help him adjust back into normal life outside the hospital.
Fisher House Foundation build and donate homes to the military and Department of Veterans Affairs which enable family members to be close to a loved one during the hospitalization for a combat injury, illness or disease absolutely free! These homes are located near a medical center or hospital and consists of between 8 and 21 suites with private bedrooms and baths, a common kitchen, laundry facilities, spacious dining room and an inviting living room with a library and toys for children. Fisher House Foundation also operates the Hero Miles Program which uses donated frequent flyer miles to bring family members to the bedside of injured service members as well as the Hotels for Heroes program using donated hotel points to allow family members to stay at hotels near medical centers without charge. At the time of Paul’s hospitalization, the Fisher House associated with the hospital was full so I was put up at the beautiful Embassy Suites for free 🙂 The Foundation also manages a grant program that supports other military charities and scholarship funds for military children, spouses and children of fallen and disabled veterans and during the recent government shutdown when Washington dropped the ball on paying out death benefits to families and flying the bodies of fallen soldiers home to be buried, The Fisher House Foundation stepped up to foot the bill!
Before he left the hospital and we situated to our new home in the Tampa Bay area, Paul was contacted by a group we’d never heard of called the Wounded Warrior Project.
The Wounded Warrior Project serves veterans and service members who incurred a physical or mental injury, illness, or wound while serving in the military on or after September 11, 2001 and their families with a holistic approach to nurture the mind and body, and encourage economic empowerment and engagement. This includes interactive programs, outdoor rehabilitative retreats, peer support, and professional services, adaptive sports, health, nutrition, and recreational activities, higher education programs, information technology training, and employment assistance, the Policy & Government affairs program and a Benefits Service program that provides access to government benefits and details on all WWP programs and community resources. It is WWP’s mission to give warriors “the tools to maintain healthy, meaningful relationships with family and friends, and pursue life goals without the barriers or stigmas associated with mental health issues.” During the recent government shutdown, WWP also stepped up and announced they would be sending checks to the 40,000+ warriors in their program to assist in paying bills and surviving if veteran benefits ceased.
They asked him about his interests and what hoped to accomplish in the near future. As is common with people in his condition, Paul wasn’t interested in anything and hadn’t considered anything that involved leaving the house except to buy a new video game to play in a dark room 16 hours a day. With the help of his team at James Haley and WWP, I was able to get Paul to start trying new experiences and within the year he was swimming with dolphins, going to games, sky diving and cycling. He was actually becoming gung ho about leaving the house for Wounded Warrior events and even more importantly, he was developing bonds with his fellow wounded soldiers and sailors. Seeing the change that comes over these men and women is just phenomenal! When everyone first arrive, they’re strangers. They’re standoffish, hanging back and watching everything silently, cautiously but by the end of the event they’re bosom buddies! You could swear they knew each other all their lives. What really stayed with me was the nearly 180 degree change in Paul’s manner and demeanor during these events and since becoming involved with WWP. There are times when it’s almost like my husband has returned to me completely and it’s all thanks to the Wounded Warrior Project. Now Paul is talking about returning to college to get a PhD in Psychology and becoming a Peer Mentor among other things. Not only is he less hesitant to venture outside but he wants to help others just like him!
The Wounded Warrior Project also has wellness opportunities to help the oft neglected caregiver/spouse with retreats and monthly events that not only give us a moment to breathe and relax but allows us to bond with others dealing with the stress and tough days that come with the lives we now lead while reminding us that we are not alone. And so for all of these reasons, in honor of Veterans Day, for the entire month of November all proceeds from our Patriot Fudge will benefit The Fisher House Foundation and the Wounded Warrior Project! 🙂