Today IAVA Action (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America) released the 2008 Congressional Report Card which grades all members of the Hose of Representatives and the Senate on legislation affecting the lives of veterans and their families.
How did your representative vote on the passage of the new GI Bill? Did he or she vote to deny mandatory Traumatic Brain Injury screenings for both pre and post-deployment?
It is time to hold your representative accountable for their voting record concerning our troops in the Middle East. Are they all talk and no action? Click on the VeteranReportCard.org graphic to find out if your representative is on the “A Team” or on the “D List”.
After reading the report, why not take the time to Take Action by sending a letter to the editor of your local newspaper (the web site does most of the work for you), or by calling or emailing your congressional representative—something like, “Dear Representative, I see that you consistently vote to send our troops in to harms way, but you also continually vote against legislation to help wounded veterans. Can you please explain why I should continue to vote to keep you in office?”.
Sam’s medical status:
I know it’s been a few weeks since I was last able to update you on Sam and Erin’s plight, and for that I apologize; for many of you have told me that it helps to be kept in the loop as to their current status. Last weekend I was elevating and icing a very sore foot. I had injured it the weekend before and worked all week, pathetically limping everywhere I walked. I went to the doctor this last Monday and found out I had broken a bone in my foot and was fitted for a protective boot. It is impossible to drive with one of these things on, so my brother Ray graciously drove me down to visit Sam and Erin. When we arrived we found Erin with her right arm in a sling. She had corrective surgery to her rotator cuff approximately 9 years ago and irritated it working out. It had been giving her trouble for a few weeks, and the increased exercise sealed the deal. Just so you get the picture; Sam in his chair, Erin in her sling, and I on crutches sporting this huge fiberglass boot; well, we looked like patients in a hospital…Ha! Erin playfully teased my brother saying, “The old man is the healthiest of us all!” (See the first picture of Erin talking things over with Sam and you can see her sling).
Sam made a trip to Marin General on Thursday for a CT scan in yet a further attempt to try and identify the culprit which is causing him recurring urinary tract infections. We are not sure of the results as of this writing, but they are looking for a microscopic piece of shrapnel that may be harboring a colony of bacteria, thereby causing the infection. It can also hide in the smallest piece of tissue, like scar tissue and the like…I think the best news is that they consider him to have not been plagued by seizures this entire time. They are 99% sure that these episodes are something else and his deep lapses into sleep is just fatigue. The poor kid was awakened upon falling asleep by a respiratory therapist shoving a vacuum tube up his nose…I know they woke you to give out sleeping pills in the hospital, but that is ridiculous. Ha! I’m kidding of course…They acted in his best interest and am glad that God showed them what is really going on with that. Now maybe he’ll get some rest. The worst part of this treatment were the anti-convulsant meds. They would make him drowsy, listless, and lethargic, but still he would struggle to achieve in his therapies. Erin says it will take a month to wean him off of the drugs that were used to keep him from seizures; but we should see some results very soon…
It is probable that Sam and Erin will be returning to the Veteran’s Hospital in Palo Alto soon. This is good news…It means he is ready for the next level of therapies that will push his recovery forward. He has made great strides at Kentfield and we will be eternally grateful to the staff there. They are planning procedures that will test and ensure his swallow reflex is in perfect working order to start on oral feeding. It surprised me to learn that they start with thick foods first before thin consistencies like water; such as honey like flow of oatmeal, applesauce, and then liquids…Many days at about dinner time, Sam will suggest that they go get something to eat…or ask her to pick him up a burrito when she goes out…He’s ready to eat! Sam is also scheduled to have a surgery to correct his leg length from the severe wound he took to the shin of his right leg…being bed bound his foot begins to drop and this will aid in that correction. We have a new friend named Denise that wrote to us to tell us of the success that this surgery had on her son whom also had a TBI that he sustained in Iraq. His name is Evan. (Sam’s middle name) Can we all offer prayers for Evan this week so that God will accelerate his restoration as well as Sam’s? Thank you Denise for that kind and thoughtful gesture of support for Sam and his family…
And speaking of incredible emails; a young Marine named Dan that was one of Sam’s cannoneers on Sam’s Howitzer, of which Sam was the Section Chief, wrote to Sam’s blog a very uplifting message for Sam’s family. He stated that Sam is held in the highest regard with great respect and admiration by his men…he went on to say that Erin was one of the strongest women that he knew and thanked her for taking such good care of their beloved Chief…How classy and thoughtful….we were moved to tears…
Back on July 29th I included a letter from a young man named Jason who is a medical student from UCLS School of Medicine. Jason was in the Bay Area this past week and spent some time visiting Sam and Erin. I’d like to share with you his experience:
I was visiting Northern California last week and I spent time with Sam and Erin on Thursday and Friday afternoons. If you have been reading this blog, the Nichols & Neria family kindly posted a letter I wrote to them a few months ago. Since then, I have been learning a little more about Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and keeping up-to-date with this blog as well.
But reading about Sam and Erin on a blog (as wonderful as it is) does not compare to actually meeting them in person.
I arrived at Kentfield on Thursday to find Erin spending time with Sam. I was able to watch as therapists engaged Sam in a regular regiment of physical therapy to strengthen his muscles. I was also able to meet Sam’s rehabilitative physician, Dr. Doherty, who has had many years of experience of treating brain injury patients. All the while, Erin seemed as well versed about Sam’s medical treatment as the staff at Kentfield. Erin passed off her expertise as “on the job training,” but I wanted to ask Erin, “Are you sure you’re not in medical school?”
On Thursday, Sam was transported to Marin General Hospital for diagnostic testing & imaging related to his recurrent urinary tract infections (UTI). Sam has small pieces of shrapnel (from the IED blast) inside his body; if those are impinging on his urinary tract, they can cause recurrent UTIs, which in turn makes it more difficult to address Sam’s other symptoms.
My favorite part of my visit was simply spending time with Sam and Erin. For about an hour, Sam, Erin and I spent time sitting outside in the cool breeze. Erin recounted tales from the past, and shared stories about how Sam & Erin met, to humorous stories about Sam during his time in high school & the Marines. And the whole time, I know that Sam understood everything we said. When Erin asked Sam, “Between us, who is the more social, outgoing one?”, Sam immediately lifted his arm and pointed at himself.
As I left Kentfield on Friday, I departed with a strengthened sense of appreciation and respect for the physicians, physical therapists, nurses, etc. who work with people like Sam. At the same time, I couldn’t stop thinking about Sam – and thousands of other people like him, who have suffer a traumatic injury such as a TBI. I wanted to see Sam back the way Erin described him, before his injury from the IED. I wondered, is that possible?
When picking up my mail upon my return home that day, I received a magazine from Casa Colina rehabilitation center, a facility similar to Kentfield which services the Southern California area. On the cover was Brett Graham, who was left nearly brain-dead from a TBI in 2000, caused by a skiing accident when he was 19 years old. However, with intense rehab, he was able to make improvements beyond what anyone had expected. Several years later, he was able to go back to college to get a degree. Now eight years later after his accident, he is married and has a 2 year old daughter. Reading that article about Brett gave me increased faith and hope about Sam’s recovery.
Nobody knows why sometimes bad things happen to good people. Like why Sam was injured by the IED blast, and why Sam and Erin are experiencing what they are going through. But when considering Sam, it’s important not to forget that there are thousands of American families who have lost their loved their ones in this current Iraq/Afghanistan war, and they would give the world to see their loved one just one more time, no matter how extensively injured they may have been.
Metaphorically speaking, we all experience “IED blasts” in our life – unexpected challenges, crises, etc. And it is impossible to know the eventual outcome. But with hope and faith – faith in God, faith in others, and faith in ourselves – we can work to rise against the insurmountable, and achieve the unexpected. Sam and Erin are an inspiration to the rest of us.
Medical student, UCLA School of Medicine.