Today was Sam’s retirement ceremony from the Marines. He is officially retired on the 31st of August 2012. There were two Marine colonels a first sergeant and a whole Marine honor guard present for this occasion. We didn’t know there was going to be so many Marines supporting Sam today, but when you think about it, the Marines have always been there for him. When I walked around the corner of the building and saw all the flags and honor guard, I actually got all choked up. Many wonderful words were spoken about Sam’s sacrifice to his country and Erin’s dedication to her husband. Please enjoy the pictures…I think they speak for themselves.
Yes! Sam is alive! In fact, yesterday was his fifth anniversary of that fatal day in Iraq in 2007 when the vehicle he was riding in was hit by a roadside bomb. Sam made the trip from Iraq to Germany where Erin and Sam’s brother Donny where waiting for him. He then was sent to the Bethesda Naval Medical Center for a few months. After he started coming out of his coma, he was sent to the Palo Alto Veterans Hospital. After about six months of rehab at the VA, Sam was sent to Kentfield Hospital in Marin County. The last few years, Sam has been residing at the Care Meridian 24 hour skilled nursing facility in Granite Bay. We have been very pleased with the care Sam has received at Care Meridian. He receives physical, occupational and vision therapy a couple of times a week. Most importantly, Sam is treated like a member of the family at this facility. Sam continues to score very high on the brain related test he is given. He still has a real hard time with short term memory issues, but long term memory is just fine.
I tend to get a little down about Sam’s progress and it makes it difficult for me to write blog post about him because I always want to put out really positive reports—for that, I apologize. I will try to be more forthcoming with my updates. I will also resist the urge to give you to much information in this single blog post because there has been a lot of very positive things going on in the life of Sam and Erin, but I will make separate updates (preview: Erin graduated from college and getting ready for graduate school, Sam’s official retirement from the Marines, Erin and Sam buying a new house!).
Sam is still making small gains in all areas of his rehabilitation and yesterday proved to be a very good day for him. As Julie and I were walking in to see him, he was sitting up on the rehab table without the assistance of the therapist. Here is what Erin said in her facebook updated:
Today is Sam’s 5th Alive Day! To commemorate the day he had an awesome physical therapy session. He sat with minimal assistance for 1:13, then 1:23. He also used his hip flexors to pick up his right leg before he kicked it out. These are both firsts. I am so proud of him.
On top of Sam’s 5th anniversary “Alive Day”, in a few days (July 27th) Sam and Erin will be celebrating their 9th anniversary of marriage! Besides going to school and training for marathons and triathlons (another blog post!), Erin can be found at the Care Meridian facility hanging out with Sam almost every day of the week. Thank you for your support and continued prays for Sam. He is a live and well and still improving every day. One final picture of the happy couple. Happy anniversary Sam and Erin. We love you!
In so many ways, the young men and women in our military who are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are our Sentinels of Freedom…just like the men and women of fighting forces who have gone before them in other wars, they all stand up for all of us and fight for freedom and democracy around the world. Without these brave warriors, there would be no General Motors, no Exxon, no Thanksgiving meals or no Fourth of July celebrations in the country we call our home, The United States of America. And because our military medical technology has become so cutting edge, many of these warriors who died on the battlefield in previous wars are now making it home—many with severe injuries. I would like to introduce you to an organization who understands that it is our responsibility as a nation to embrace these wounded veterans and assist in getting them back on the road to independence. This organization is called Sentinels of Freedom and the Sentinels of Freedom Scholarship Foundation. From their “About Us” section of their website:
We believe it’s not just the governments responsibility to help our wounded and injured troops but each individual and corporation also has to look at their own responsibility in this national issue.
Since the beginning of this nation we have had men and women, young and old willing to stand up and protect our way of life through their selfless service in our Armed Forces.
They have grown up in our communities, gone to our schools, played on our ball fields, attended our churches. When they come home broken and bent we can do more that say ” It’s the governments responsibility”.
Any educated person can draw a direct line to our quality of life and that of those who serve us in our military. Simply put, it is an undeniable fact that without them we would not have a government, corporations, communities or the freedoms we enjoy today.
The VA and Military do an outstanding job but they simply can’t do what we can to assist those who have sacrificed for us when they return home. We bridge that gap.
Erin and Sam were introduced to the Sentinels of Freedom through the Marine Commander of the Wounded Warrior Battalion West, of which Sam is still assigned. I’ve mentioned in previous blog post that we sometimes call Erin, “Dr. Erin”, because she has become so familiar with the doctor and nurse jargon that she can have a conversation with a neuropsychologist and can translate to the rest of us what they said. Since Sam’s injuries, Erin has mentioned many times how she has wanted to go into the medical field in order to help veterans like Sam. I am very proud to say that Erin is now in her second semester (junior year) in the speech pathology and audiology program at Sacramento State University. She would like to get her bachelor’s degree and also go to grad school and get her master’s in speech pathology. Erin’s schooling is being sponsored by the Sentinels of Freedom who are paying for her tuition, books and even her rent. I haven’t seen a more dedicated and motivated student—as can be seen by her 4.0 grade point average from last semester.
As for Sam, he is very healthy and is still making some small improvements. There was a little accident in mid January while he was in physical therapy using the standing frame. The therapist and Erin noticed Sam, who never complains of pain, was indeed making some grimaces like he was hurting while they had him in a standing position. They asked him to rate his pain, 1 to 10, and he said it was a 9 out of 10! It turns out that due to low bone density, Sam actually broke a bone in his foot. He is currently in a boot and taking vitamin D and calcium supplements. They are also taking him outside to get more sun during the day. He is working on the tilt table five days a week to help strengthen his bones and also has an appointment in eight weeks to get his foot rechecked at the Mather VA Hospital.
Other significant improvements since my last blog post—Sam’s vision has improved significantly. He is able to complete more complex vision therapy task. His concentration in all aspects of his physical, vision and occupational therapy have really improved which has led to greater strides overall in Sam’s physical and mental well being.
A good side affect of the foot breaking incident was that the drug he was taking, Vicodin, which normally can make a person drowsy, actually relaxed his muscles more and allowed him to speak much more clearly and more often. His doctor is working with prescribing him Adivan which should have the same affect as the Vicodin and allow his throat to relax, making it easier for him to speak.
Sam had his quarterly evaluation a few weeks ago. They measure strength, range of motion and muscle tone. Sam received a 5 (highest score) for strength by the physical and occupational therapist and showed an overall improvement, especially in his right arm and shoulder. His memory retention has improved, but he still has problems with short-term memory loss. Erin and Sam’s therapist work with him constantly to improve his memory retention. Sam plays UNO with the staff and other patients and his card handling is getting better. He can pick up a card from the UNO rack (usually by himself and pick the correct card for the situation. Erin bought Sam a large size computer keyboard that is color coded and he and Erin have been working on the computer lately. If you haven’t done so, you can “friend” him on facebook. He doesn’t say to much…usually short sentences, but I actually watched him myself as he typed out words on his own. Never thought I would see him doing that!
Erin sent us a video last week of Sam doing physical therapy. The big news is that he was moving his left leg on his own power from left to right as it balanced on the exercise ball. You can tell by her voice (in the video) that his physical therapist, Kerrie, was very excited about his movement. Erin later told me that they were both trying to be very calm and not show much excitement so that Sam would think that the movement was expected and normal for him.
We’re coming up pretty quickly on the third anniversary of Sam’s injury or “alive day” which is July 24th. Remember, on that day, four of Sam’s buddies lost their lives. You can read about them at this link Fallen Heroes of Kilo 3/12 …there are some very nice comments from some of the Marines and Navy corpsmen who knew our fallen heroes. You might also want to leave a comment under this blog post and wish Sam and Erin a happy anniversary. They will be married seven years on the 27th of July.
From Sam’s father Eric: Wendy and I were able to attend the current Marvel rage at our local theatre last Saturday, of Iron Man 2. What made this especially fun, is the fact we were able to go with Sam and Erin. Even with a UTI (Urinary Tract Infection), Sam sat and watched with interest; a movie with incredible special effects. He acted like He and Erin were on a first date, as He hugged Her, held Her hand, and leaned His head towards Hers. It was darling, and every bit as entertaining as the movie. As I sat and watched, I couldn’t help but think of the many analogies that Sam shares with this fictional character. Surrounded by Iron, (wheelchair) Courageous, compassionate, but above all, a belief in what he was doing was the right thing. Call me biased, but Sam goes far beyond the movie in the areas of Iron Will, Courage to meet the challenges of his daily life, and the sheer determination to accomplish all that is set before him as the right thing to do. Just as the movie and comic book before it claims; mere human strengths are not enough to meet these adversities. Unlike the pulp fiction, we know exactly where Sam’s supernatural powers come from.
Sam is the redeemed of the Lord Jesus Christ and Disciple of the Most High God. He has faith that the Lord God is true to His Word, and is even now restored unto optimum health. Scripture says that He that believes, (on the Lord Jesus) IS healed. Not will be or can be, but IS. Simply because His manifestation of healing hasn’t been shown yet, does not mean that He doesn’t have it. God’s timing is not our own, and God knows when the right time is for Sam’s healing to be revealed to the world. We celebrate His healing now; party when Sam can join us. In the meantime, God is teaching Sam and Erin supernatural love, patience, determination, and compassion for the others with lots worse than Sam’s.
Sam continues to improve, even if it is with baby steps. Sam’s overall coordination and flexibility are accelerating with his aggressive physical therapy. Many TBI’s lose their physical prowess due to either inactivity or the lack of transmissions to the muscles. Sam hasn’t lost his; the strength on his right side is extraordinary. He enjoys flexing and showing off his arm strength when ever he sees me. When God is ready, he has the basic muscular structure already in place to rise and walk out of that chair. Sam’s wit and clever responses demonstrates for all his total presence of mind. I
asked him if he loved Erin recently, and his response was simple and brief but spoke volumes; it was, "So Much". Yesterday, I sent a text inquiring as to their day; and Sam said simply, "Prime"—to which Erin agreed. As our dear family of friends who pray for the manifestation of Sam’s healing, I ask you to not forget Erin. Her characteristics of Iron like loyalty, dedication, and simply an IRON Love for Sam continues to be as strong as Sam’s resolve for restoration. She willingly oversees his therapies, keeps him company, entertains him, and challenges him to go further. All the while working recently at a few weddings of family and friends, helping with her darling niece, Holly, and finishing college classes with A+ averages. I am thankful to God for her and as proud as any father-in-law can be…
PS: If you are a facebook user, do a search on “Support for Sgt Samuel Nichols” to find the facebook page started by a Navy Corpsman who served with Sam in Iraq.
In past blog post, I’ve written about the wonderful work of the Maine Troop Greeters out of Bangor Maine who greet all of our troops as the leave or return from the conflicts in the Middle East. I just recently learned about a group closer to my home in the Sacramento area who are doing similar work. They are called the Defenders of Freedom. Their main main goals are to send support to our troops, organize care packages to mail abroad, provide resources and volunteer opportunities, and be supportive for all the troops and veterans around the world! Here is the information from their “about us” section of their website:
Defenders of Freedom in California is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in Dallas, Texas with the purpose of raising money to support our troops who are currently deployed around the world.
Defenders of Freedom in California supports our troops in these ways:
We wish to invite mothers, fathers, friends and family members who have loved ones in the armed services to join our efforts as we support the men and women who serve our country.
If you would like to join us, please contact us.
Please visit the Defenders of Freedom website if you would like to receive more information about joining their organization or donating to their cause.
Sam has been taking a drug called chlonipin which was prescribed to help with his right hand and fingers that constantly shake. This is fairly common with brain injuries. The cholnipin did work, but it was just making Sam to sleepy to the point where his vision therapist was ready to give up on him. You really can’t do much vision therapy when the patient has his eyes closed most of the time! About three weeks ago, they started slowly taking Sam off the cholnipin and he has really started to perk up again. Most notably, his speech has improved quite a bit and he is even starting to add some inflection into his voice when he speaks. The vision therapist has been jumping for joy because Sam is now able to really participate in his therapy and make improvements. The decision was made by Sam’s doctor to do his vision therapy on site at the CareMaridian facility which enables the therapist to be more creative with the exercises they can use to improve Sam’s eyes. They are also combining his physical therapy at the same time, which also enables both the physical therapist and vision therapist to work together putting Sam into various positions in the standing frame or on the therapy mat.
There have been a couple of new patients at Sam’s CareMeridian facility in the past month. Both are young men about Sam’s age. Interesting, that when Erin talks to the other male patients (Sam’s room mate in particular), Sam gets very territorial. He doesn’t say anything…but…lets just say that the roommate gets some interesting salutes from Sam when he gets to close to Erin.
Sam and Erin wanted to say thank you to the students at Park Elementary School in Alhambra. On Valentine’s Day, Sam received a box full of valentines day cards for the students. He and Erin shared them with the other patients and displayed the cards in the main living room area for all to enjoy.
From Tony, Erin’s Father: I’ve been going to the gym every morning and working out with Erin all this week. Hopefully we can keep this up. It also affords me an opportunity to get the scoop on the latest with Sam. Erin told me that yesterday Sam and quite a break-through in his physical therapy. He was laying on his left side on the therapy table and his therapist asked him to turn over. He was able to move his upper body so that he was facing the ceiling—but what he was able to do for the first time, was to move his right leg up and then straighten his whole body so that he was totally facing the ceiling. That wasn’t the only thing that he did—while laying down on the table and his knees up (with his feet flat on the table), he was able to move his right leg down to the right touching the mat and then back up to touch his left knee. He had done this a few times in the past—only one time and they he couldn’t do any more, but this time, he did it seven times in a row…rested a few minutes and then did it three more times. As he was doing it, the therapist said, “I think he’s having a break-through”.
Speaking of Sam’s right side, Erin and the therapist have been working on his right arm which has been improving lately. The photo shows him pushing his wheel chair with his left are, but they have been noticing some movement in his right arm as he tries to use both hands to propel him along. Very small improvement, but none-the-less, a significant improvement on his right side.
For those of who of you who are using facebook, there is a “group” called “Support for Sgt Samuel Nichols”. Just search for this group in facebook and join. Erin and I will start adding quickie updates on this facebook page. The group page was started by Patrick Couhie who happens to be the Navy Corpsman who first brought medical add to Sam right after the roadside bomb hit their convoy. I’m sure Patrick’s quick actions are the reason Sam is with us today. I hope to start adding more frequent updates in this blog too…I tend to wait until I have almost too much information and then life happens and I put off updates for weeks at a time! I will try to do better.
Speaking of life happening, Erin’s sister, Allison had a baby on January 4th (Holly Quinn). She was 6 pounds 10 ounces. Allison brought Holly to see Sam about a week after she was born. After holding Holly for about a half hour, Erin asked Sam, “what do you think of Holly?”. And Sam, or course, had the perfect response. He said, “I love her!”.
From Sam’s Father Eric:
Good Morning All,
Isn’t it incredible that after 2 1/2 years since Sam’s injury, that the
interest in His recovery and progress hasn’t waned in the least? What is it about Sam’s particular case that makes He and Erin so special and the object of everyone’s prayers and good wishes? Have you asked yourself why you await word in the form of an update or new submission to his blog? The answer is simple really, and probably doesn’t escape most of you; but it was a real encouragement to me to glean this from a conference I recently attended. That is, "Faith is what sticks after you’ve had an embrace from the Faithful One". That couldn’t be more true for all of you. God selected each and everyone of you to pray for Sam and Erin, and in so doing laid on your hearts the faith by which to accomplish just that. Yes, their love is a classic story and of great human interest as well; but human interest stories come and go. Only what is done by God remains, and what he does is usually accomplished through people. Scripture is full of those examples, so we continue to stand together for Sam’s total restoration. His healing is already here; just ask God to show it to you….
We’ve had some very special friends from a sister church in Redding, Ca., (Bethel) come and pray for Sam and Erin. It is a 3 hour drive one way, and then they spent 4.5 hours praying with us, and then 3 hours back home. All of this on top of working that day and having to be back at work the next day. What an inspiring time that was too. They not only came here under the direction of the Holy Spirit for Sam, but for the rest of us as well. My faith soared as I observed a young couple on fire for the Lord, aggressively pray for Sam’s release. Their mentor, quietly praying in the background, and all 3 of them displaying the love of Jesus and the early apostles. We are truly thankful to them for their obedience and faithfulness to God’s directions. Also some ladies from our church choir, including my sister Jan and sister-in-law Debbie, came to sing some worship songs to Sam. It was wonderful to see Sam mouthing the words to "Jesus Loves Me"…The picture of Sam and I was taken during one of those prayer sessions; but what made it so special to me was while I was praying, Sam reached up and held the side of my face and neck. This melts my heart about as much when he says "I love you, Dad".
Some might think Sam has plateaued in his progress forward. This is not so, but maybe have to see the daily details of all that he does or is able to do. Erin continues to make him her full time job and is responsible for all of his immediate care. She asks the right questions when appropriate, and gives good reports every time I see her. Her spirits are high and defeat isn’t in her vocabulary. She approaches everyday with new enthusiasm and it is infectious of all those around her. She edifies the other patient’s families and answers many of their questions. She attends class a few nights per week as she studies sign language for an eventual career in speech therapy. We love her and try to support her in all that she does. Her sister’s new baby has made her a doting Aunt, and that too is precious…