Alive Day Anniversary Three

July 20, 2010

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. 

Sam moving his left leg in therapy

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.


Faith (and love) Overrules Fact

July 29, 2008

I love to read the comments from people who read Sam’s blog—and I occasionally receive emails from readers who have been especially touched by Sam and Erin’s story.  I received one of those emails last week from a young man studying to be a doctor.

I would like to thank Jason for taking the time to email his thoughts.  I can tell that he really took a lot of time and thought into what he wrote. The letter was so insightful and touching and I’m so glad Jason allowed me to share it with you.

Dear SGT Sam Nichols, Erin Nichols, & Nichols/Neria family,

Hello my name is Jason, and I am a medical student at UCLA. I am a California native and I am Sam’s age – I also graduated from high school in 2002.

Growing up in Southern California, I was indifferent or apathetic at best towards men and women who serve in our Armed forces. I pushed myself to “study, study, study” so that I would get into a good college, and then get into medical school, and then start a career as a doctor. In high school, most of my peers – and me – almost looked down on men and women who entered the military as people who didn’t have the motivation, grades, or resources to attend college instead.

With age comes more maturity, and I have come to view our Army, Navy, Marines, etc. with more respect than I ever had before. I have come to see that Marines like Sam Nichols did not join the military to blindly serve our country, but instead to answer a higher calling of putting themselves at risk to serve and defend our nation.

I am reminded of Army 2nd Lt. Mark Daily, a 2005 UCLA graduate who was an aspiring journalist, a registered Democrat and supported politically liberal causes. Despite his early strong opposition to the Iraq war, he came to believe that his help was needed in the military to remove Saddam Hussein from power, and bring about positive changes to the Middle East and the world. Of my own previous bias against the military, Mark responded: “Consider that there are 19 year old soldiers from the Midwest who have never touched a college campus or a protest who have done more to uphold the universal legitimacy of representative government and individual rights by placing themselves between Iraqi voting lines and homicidal religious fanatics. Often times it is less about how clean your actions are and more about how pure your intentions are.” Mark wrote this the evening before he deployed to Iraq; he was killed by an I.E.D. in Mosul three months later. In case you have not seen it, his letter “Why I Joined” is a must-read for every American. If you are interested, his eloquently worded letter is available at: <>

About a month ago, I came across your blog about Sam’s experience and recovery from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). I spent several hours thoroughly reading all of the entries and links pertaining to Sam’s injury exactly one year ago on July 24, 2007.  I commend both Mr. Tony Neria and Mr. Eric Nichols for setting up a blog and posting regular updates over the last year about Sam’s recovery from TBI. I am sure this past year has been an emotionally challenging year for the Nichols and Neria family.

We learned about TBI in medical school this last spring, but it is one thing to read about TBI in a textbook or journal. I think it is an entirely another issue to realize how TBI affects people and their families who care for them. Your blog about Sam’s recovery helped bring TBI to life for me. I became interested in learning more about TBI from a medical perspective, but not forgetting what Erin said, “Faith overrules Fact.” Modern healthcare is moving forward in leaps and bounds, but Hope is what gets us through when modern medicine cannot. From what I read, most of the doctors back last July and August predicted that Sam was not going to improve at all. But one year later, Sam has improved beyond what any healthcare professional expected!

From what I can tell, the extent of Sam’s progress would not be possible without Erin. She is nothing short of a hero (I guess I should say heroine). In today’s society, with divorce rates over 50% in the civilian population, and divorce rates as high as 70% among deployed military, the sad reality is that many women might not be able to handle such an emotionally devastating blow. Erin has not only stayed by Sam’s side, but her ability to come up with different approaches and techniques to stimulate his mind is truly commendable. It is clear that Sam appreciates Erin’s unwavering presence. Imagine what is running through Sam’s mind….and all of things he wants to freely say, but his TBI is unfortunately holding him back! The photos of Sam and Erin speak a thousand words – they seem to have a love so pure and strong that even an explosion on the other side of the world can’t destroy.

The word “hero” doesn’t even come close to describing the sacrifice that Sam made, as well as the struggles he has been going through for the past year. But I also think about people who made the “ultimate sacrifice” for our country – Cpl. McRae, Cpl. Zindars, Lance Cpl. Lynch, and Doc Noble of the Kilo Battery, as well as other troops such as 2nd Lt. Mark Daily and over 4,000 people in uniform who have died in Iraq & Afghanistan.

They say that God works in mysterious ways. But trying to make sense of this “mystery” can be daunting and frustrating. Why was Sam saved from death when others were killed by that I.E.D? Why did Sam get injured and experience TBI when thousands upon thousands of other troops have returned home, safe and sound, with no injuries? Why do innocent children around the world die from illnesses, abuse and starvation? Why do “bad” things sometimes happen to “good” people?

There are at least 30,000 American troops who have been injured in Iraq & Afghanistan. Many have physical injuries and amputations; others have mental scars such as TBI and Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). Even with some government assistance and gifts from charities, many of these wounded veterans struggle to cope and survive. Why is it that the same country and society which these troops served, now seems to have forgotten about them in their greatest time of need?

We may never really know the answers to our “why” questions. But what I do know is that Sam is a lucky man. He suffered devastating injuries, but he is going to make it. Most importantly, he has the support and love from his family – all of you.

Thank you again to your family for posting and updating your blog. Sam and your family demonstrate that TBI, other injuries, and personal setbacks are not insurmountable. You inspire people in the medical community to understand the science behind TBI and other medical conditions, but to never forget how TBI affects the brave people and the family & loved ones who care for them. You inspire people to bring light to where there was darkness, and to have Hope in the most challenging of times.

God bless you all. You are all heroes.

UCLA School of Medicine

Sam’s Medical Status:

On Saturday my wife and I spent the day with Sam and Erin.  Besides Sam’s one year anniversary of his “Alive Day” on the 24th, he and Erin celebrate another special day on the 28th — their fifth year of marriage!  At the end of our visit, I whispered in Sam’s ear, Imported Photos 00004“remember tomorrow you need to say happy anniversary to Erin” and he said “ah-huh”.  I called Erin the next day and asked if Sam remembered and she said no—but she had reminded him about ten times during the day it was their anniversary and every time she told him, he seemed to be thrilled at the news! 

The meds they are giving Sam to relax his throat and tongue muscles which allow him to speak more easily seem to be doing the job.  When we arrived on Saturday, Erin said to Sam, “hey Sam, look who’s here”!  Sam turned and looked right at Julie and said in the clearest and strongest voice I’ve heard, “Hello Julie, how are you”?  That was pretty cool and just made me beam though out the morning.  Sometimes it’s hit and miss when visiting Sam.  If his meds are off a even a little bit, he can be very sleepy and listless.  So, it felt good to get there when he was in a talkative mood.

Imported Photos 00007In the early afternoon, Sam had physical therapy.  When the therapist and attendant were moving him into his wheel chair, he said a few words to them and both said that was the first time they had really heard him speak with some power and clarity.  Once in the PT room, they had Sam get on the “standing board” which is basically a device that allows you to stand up and support yourself with your arms and shoulders.  Sam did pretty good, but was having spasms for about the first two minutes due to his urinary tract infection.  He grunted it out though and finished his PT. 

Later in the afternoon, Sam got more tired and sleepy—but it was still wonderful to hear his gravelly voice…and as usual, it was wonderful and inspiring to see the interaction between Sam and his lovely wife Erin.  Happy anniversary you too.  God is with us—and God is watching over you.


One Year Alive Day Anniversary for Sam Nichols

July 22, 2008

We are approaching a very significant date…July 24th is Sam’s “Alive Day”. This is the day he cheated death—the anniversary of his second birthday so to speak.  Because of the incredible job our corpsmen, nurses and doctors are doing, many service men and women are experiencing their “Alive Day” instead of dying in the battlefield.

Sam has come a long way in his fight for survival.  There have been many close calls over the past year…mostly in Bethesda, but even some at the VA hospital in Palo Alto and even some seizure activity recently at Kentfield.  But—Sam is a fighter…he is a Marine…and he has Erin and his family cheering him on.  And this is something very important to all of us in the immediate family–we have YOU praying for Sam and offering your encouragement.  The neighbors, church families, buddies from ROTC at Casa Robles, brother Marines, Semper Fi Foundation, Veterans Administration employees, Wounded Warriors Project, Soldier’s Angels, Doctors and Nurses and Kentfield…and so many more who offer prayers, support and good wishes.

On the anniversary of Sam’s “Alive Day” I just wanted to say thank you to all who have been reading this blog for the past year.  It humbles me so much that you take the time to keep up with Sam and Erin’s love story.  Sometimes I get so frustrated that Sam is still on a feeding tube and still has so far to go…but then I realize that he is with us…he IS getting stronger every day…and God has chosen to use Sam in a very special way to teach us what is really important in life.  I thank you for your prayers and the encouraging comments you leave when we post updates.  Your prayers and good wishes keep us going and keep us strong.

heros of kilo battery_KIA_7_24_2007
I would also like you to please click on the “Heroes of Kilo” tab at the top of the blog.  These are the young men who died in the IED attack that wounded Sam.  For the families of Corporal James McRae, Corporal Matthew Zindars, Lance Corporal Robert Lunch, Corpsman Daniel Noble, we continue to pray for your strength as I know this must be a very difficult time for you.  Your son’s names are on the “Hero Bracelet” that I and most of my family and many friends wear on our wrist every day.

Sam’s medical status from his father Eric:

Sam is feeling much better as he “detoxes” from nearly toxic levels of anti-convulsant drugs given him during his recent episode with seizures. The problem, I believe, exists with more than one Doctor prescribing medications to immediately resolve Sam’s symptoms in order to literally save him from a perceived life threatening situation. Am I holding them up to blame? Absolutely not! Instead, I bless them and pray for more of God’s wisdom to be upon them and their decisions. Sam’s primary care rehabilitative Doctor is Deborah Daugherty. A dynamic woman with over 25 years experience in treating traumatic brain injuries who is most recently completing a chapter on Neuropharmacology for a medical textbook. She is nationally known and Sam couldn’t be in better hands. She is attractive, (think Tina Fey from 30 Rock) has a tremendous bedside manner, (Erin relates that she delivers much hope) and I didn’t know this until Friday: that her husband’s name is Sam and her daughter’s name is Erin…no wonder my Sam and Erin are so special to her…She and Erin have a great relationship as I witnessed them betting on a Starbucks “Mocha” recently for something that related to Sam’s care. Erin related another spill-over miracle to me on Friday that happened to the man in the room next to Sam…Erin said that Dr Daughterty had to tell a family that there was little hope for a man who looked to be about 60 or so, that was just unresponsive to many medical attempts. Erin said that the Doc is so full of positive hope that he must have been in very bad shape. Within a few days of her talking to the family, his brain wave monitor began to show life, he woke from his coma; and as Erin and I went to lunch, we observed this gentleman watching T.V…. Wow! Thank you Lord…your mercies know no limits…Can you imagine the sheer joy Dr Daughterty had when she was able to call his family with the news?

Sam and Erin 7_18_2008_Kentfield One of the worst resulting symptoms from a TBI is muscle tone…No, it doesn’t mean the same as to a healthy person. When you hear it, it sounds positive; something that all would aspire to have, like being in shape. This tone is the tightening of his muscles to where he can’t control or move them. This is why his right side is weak, his left side immobile up until recently, and he has trouble speaking…Erin and Dr Daugherty theorize that the valium related drugs are relaxing him (and the tone) enough to overcome some of this challenge. This includes his jaw, tongue, and facial muscles. We believe this is why he becomes so chatty when he takes these drugs. The picture is of Erin massaging his jaw muscles in an effort to relieve some of that tension and encourage the use of his speech centers.

Erin continues to impress me with the different things she comes up  Sam_on_Harmonica_7_18_2008with to stimulate and encourage Sam’s recovery. The second picture is her assisting Sam with exercises on the harmonica. This simple, but yet complex task of blowing the instrument benefits his muscles, tongue control, strengthening of his airway, and audio coordination. He’ll be banging out the blues in no time at all…She also regularly has him fill in Mad-libs as I’ve reported in past updates. This last week, by use of his alphabet board, he spelled out the words “ghastly” and “papoose” in response to one of Erin’s mad-lib challenges. Not exactly common words that one might think of when playing a game, but then again; Sam is far from ordinary.

Thursday is the one year anniversary of the event that changed so many lives; in my family, friends, and people I’ve never even had the pleasure to meet. Erin’s Aunt Joy said it best; She will celebrate “Sam’s Life” on that day as will I; and I ask that all of you do the same. Remember God’s incredible goodness to Him and Erin over this past year; meeting every challenge with grace and mercy…And as we celebrate Sam’s life, let us remember to ask God to be with the families and friends of Sam’s “Brothers in Arms” that perished that day, giving them peace and comfort that can only come from him…

Sam IS restored…

Much love,

Memorial Day Honors

May 27, 2008

unknown confederate soldier_cemetery_columbus_ms

Last summer I went to Columbus Mississippi for the wedding of my niece. My sister, who is married to an Air Force pilot instructor took us to the old part of the town of Columbus and showed us the cemetery where Union and Confederate soldiers are buried. Hopefully you can read the tombstone in this picture, but if not, it just says “Unknown Confederate Soldier”.

There were hundreds of grave markings like this one in the cemetery—some with names of soldiers and many without. Visiting this graveyard really made me pause and think about the history of our country and the many brave men (and women) who have given their lives for the freedoms we take for granted. Regardless of whether or not these soldiers were Confederate or Union, they believed in what they were fighting for. They believed in their leaders and they believed in their country.

Today our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines are still dying in Afghanistan and Iraq. They also believe in their country. They served their country with honor and should be held in the highest regard. To the men and women of our armed services who have given the ultimate sacrifice for their country—Vietnam, Korea, WWII, WWI and so on, I salute you. You are the cornerstone by which this country was built. You are the eagle, the statue of liberty, the twin towers—you are the reason I look at the flag and get tears in my eyes…You are the stars and stripes that bind our country together.

I would like to pay special tribute to the fallen heroes of Kilo Battery—Corporal James H. McRae, Corporal Matthew R. Zindars, Lance Corporal Robert A. Lynch and Hospitalman Daniel S. Noble. We honor you for the ultimate sacrifice you gave to your country.

Sam’s medical status:

From Sam’s Father Eric:

SAM IS BACK!!!! Just as Erin had predicted, there were medications involved that had conflicting results; leaving Sam rather listless last week. The battle between Seratonin and Dopamine if my memory serves me correctly. I just love it that Erin knows all of the scientific names of most or all of the drugs being used to help stimulate the natural production of chemicals in Sam’s brain…Erin called it last week and Sam’s primary physician (Dr Dougherty) confirmed it on Friday of last week. At any rate, he is feeling much better and is getting back to his steady and sure progression towards wellness.

We spent a few hours yesterday listening to Sam’s own voice
complete and fill in blanks of many different items that Erin had collected. Everything from a “Starwars Rap” to television and movie dialogues. Erin reports that she is beginning to see Sam’s own personality coming through in not only what he says, but how he says it. Little catch phrases that are unique to them and have special meanings just to them. Comments on places and events they have visited, expressions from their almost 10 year history together, (pretty good for them only being 23 & 24) and most of all, terms and phrases of endearment…There isn’t a visit that goes by that I don’t hear an “I Love You” from each of them to each other…We all know God’s love
transcends all understanding; so I can only assume he has given these two a large dose of his own love to share with each other and those around them…

Sam_May_26_KentfieldIt is so good to see Erin in both an attempt to refresh Sam and give
him tasks to complete; offer him a wash cloth and ask him to wash his
face…he vigorously washes his face all over and hands it back to her. She then asks him to check his hair and see if it needs to be cut. He checks the length and flashes her the number 4 with four fingers. We don’t understand and ask if it means 4 times per month, or in 4 days. It is Brandi [Sam’s brother Donny’s fiancee] who suggests later that maybe it is the #4 attachment of the clipper that will be used in the haircut…He is sharper than the rest of us…Ha! It is an incredible visit and I leave so happy…Please note the better look he has about him and note he is waving goodbye to me as I am leaving…It is sooo hard to say goodbye and leave…

It’s been 10 months since that fateful day in Iraq and the 1 year mark
looms…One thing I wanted you all to know that reside in my address book is how much I appreciate Tony & Julie Neria. (That is Erin’s parents)…When this horrible incident first happened, they were devastated like the rest of us…their only thought was what they could do to help and take some pressure off Sam’s Mother and I. Tony, being the gifted computer techie that he is; originated the blog that is still going strong to this day…this media of information has been an effective tool in getting lots of news about Sam to those interested, and around the world. Sam’s Marines were following it in Iraq…Tony started it to keep the questions and endless phone calls to us at a minimum, and back then it was soooo appreciated. It truly is and has been a labor of love, and the Nichols family has appreciated it so much. It’s no wonder Erin is such a dynamo with incredible character and dedication; she comes by it naturally…Tony is the Worship and Music Director at his church; and He and Julie play practically all of the known instruments…They have been blessed by God to be a blessing to others…

Until next time, much love….

Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 500

April 14, 2008

vietnam veterans of america chapter 500 emblem My wife gets a newsletter every month from the Vietnam Veterans of America Sacramento Valley – Chapter 500.  I mentioned in one of my first blogs that my wife is a military bugler and occasionally plays taps at military funerals.  She has also played on a few occasions at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in downtown Sacramento for the annual “Reading of the Names” on Memorial Day. 

This organization has been very good to my family.  In December of last year, my wife and I were invited to their annual Christmas party.  At that time, the President of the VVA chapter, Ted Adams and the Executive Director, Mary Lou McNeill presented my wife and me with a check to help cover travel cost to visit Sam and Erin.  They also have a section in their newsletter and in their web site with updates on Sam’s medical progress. 

vietnam campaign ribbon I’ve always been so impressed with the people involved in the Sacramento VAA Chapter 500.  Both my wife and I were very humbled by their generosity and by their long term commitment to supporting ALL veterans of our military.  In their newsletter, there is a motto that really says it all:

Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.

Sam’s medical status:  Sam is settling back in at Kentfield Rehabilitation Hospital.  He is starting to mouth words like he did before getting so sick.  He’s also going to be getting a larger dose of bromocriptine, so hopefully he will be progressing quickly in his speech therapy this week.  For the most part, Erin can say a word and he will repeat it. 

Sam's haircut at Kentfield_4_10_08 Even though Sam wasn’t up to par last week, He did well in physical therapy.  On Thursday he was able to sit at the edge of the therapy bench for 23 seconds without support from anyone.  He was also up in his wheel chair from around 9:00 am until 3:00 pm.  Both his trunk and neck strength continue to improve.

Either this week or the next, Sam will be getting a Baclofen Pump.  This device will hopefully help with the spasticity issues in his right leg.  Right now, when he tries to move his leg, it stiffens up.  The other benefit to the pump is that it stores and releases prescribed amounts of medicine at a steady level without the patient feeling the roller coaster effect that is common with taking medicine orally. 

With the Baclofen Pump and Sam being taken off Claritin, (it was thought that he had allergies, but but they now think it was GERD) he will be off all medicine that has any type of sedating effect. 

A few words from Sam’s father Eric who visited them on Thursday:

I’m writing this morning about Erin as I had the pleasure of visiting with them on Thursday and got to watch Erin take care of Sam in person…She gave him a military type haircut which seems simple in itself…(I remember it only taking about 90 seconds back when) Ha! Erin spent at least 30 minutes on Sam’s haircut and not just because she is inexperienced. She is a self admitted perfectionist and challenges herself to do the best job possible. As she cuts, she consults with Sam and asks what he wants and likes even down to how close the clipper head will cut. She is careful to blend it just so that it fades perfectly from one length to another. She takes into consideration the shape of his head and how it will look in 3 days…After she is finished she meticulously cleans all the bits of hair from his head, neck, and back of which there is very little as she has draped him in a hospital gown and towel…She cleans and oils the clipper for the next time…Finally she uses a Neutrogena after shave moisturizing product that soothes the freshly hewn and closely cut parts…Next Sam gets a manicure of sorts to keep any sharp edges from scratching himself. After his grooming he is refreshed, relaxed, and looks great! He feels better too and is ready for speech therapy…He doesn’t say anything to Gayle, his speech therapist, but reads several words and shows he is thinking clearly by answering some deductive reasoning questions…After some encouragement from Erin and I, he answers a question I put to him…”Who loves ya Sam?” He clearly answers, “Dad!”…My day is made and I leave promising to return on Sunday for his next set of words…Erin and I get some very subtle but definite smiles from him this day….

“Keeping the Faith”

Treating our Severely Injured Troops Closer to Home

April 8, 2008

ABC Newsman Bob Woodruff says U.S troops should have the same care he received, and at facilities closer to their families. Mr Woodruff has literally walked in Sam’s shoes. While reporting in Iraq two years ago, he suffered traumatic brain injury after being hit by a road side bomb. He spent a few months at the Bethesda National Naval Medical Center and then was transferred to a hospital closer to his home in New York.

The military currently treats our wounded warriors with traumatic brain injury in only one of four military hospitals dispersed throughout the United States. While staying at the Palo Alto VA Polytrama center, Erin met families from all over the western United States—Oregon, Washington, Colorado and even Alaska.

Bob Woodruff and his wife Lee, recently spoke at a fundraiser for the Drake Center, a rehabilitative hospital in Cincinnati. One of their main points was that our military personal with TBI need to be sent to private facilities closer to their family. It has been a long and hard struggle for both the Nichols and Neria family having to drive back and forth to Palo Alto and now Kentfield on a weekly basis. Although there have been some wonderful military charities that has helped us with travel expenses, the military doesn’t provide anything to the families of our wounded troops. The least they can do is send our wounded to facilities closer to their home.

To read the full story about the Woodruff’s visit to the Drake Center, click here…

Sam’s medical status: Yesterday Sam was transported back to the Kentfield Rehabilitation hospital from Marin General Hospital. Erin said he seemed a little apprehensive and nervous when he arrived back. After a few of the nurses came in to say hi, he started to recognize them and felt much better.

Because everything he’s gone through in the past week, Sam has taken a few steps backwards. Erin said he kept telling her he was bored at Marin General and she thinks that was making him more lethargic. He’s going to be put back on an increasing regime of bromocriptine which was stimulating his speaking before last week. Erin expects after a full week of therapy and his new drug, he’ll be back to improving. Remember, before he got sick he was really starting to hit another level of consciousness.

The doctors at Marin General did find something very interesting. Occasionally it has been thought that Sam has had pneumonia because of a mass that has been seen in the lower left lobe of his lung. The doctors at Marin General determined that this was actually a part of his spleen (it was removed in Germany due to his injuries). The actual cause of his fever this past week was mostly due to a urinary tract infection which is now under control. He still has pseudomonas which is a bacteria that can cause urinary tract infections and/or systemic infections—but it is under control.

Sam_bethesda_ICUBernadine's visit to Sam and Erin at Marin General II 4_4_08

Now for an explanation of the pictures—I didn’t share any pictures of Sam for the first 6 months that I’ve maintained this blog. I just didn’t feel comfortable because I knew the pictures were so bad. The picture above on the left was taken after Sam came out of ICU at the Bethesda National Naval Medical Center in August of last year. As you can see, he was pretty bad off at the time. I remember when I first came in to see him, I had to leave the room occasionally because I got so emotional seeing him with all the tubes and wires hanging from him. The picture on the right was taken on Friday by my friend Bernadine. Sam was still not feeling too good, but he was still impressive. I’ll let Bernadine (who I consider my big sister) tell the story of her visit:

Kelley and I took off for the bay area yesterday around 9 so we could stop in Marin County to see Erin & Sam…….I got there while she was in the bathroom, and I was so happy to see Sam so alert, and went in and ran up to his bed and gave him a kiss telling him who it was and he seemed visibly aware I was there for sure! Then Erin came in and she got him to say my name!! very cool!!

He cracks me up the way he does his blowing [see the FLICKR photo to the right], she said he does that to piss her off, ha……..but she also thinks it comes from all the practice of blowing to learn speech! She asked him all sorts of questions to which he signed yes or no…Dr. Erin filled me in on a lot and told me she is going back to school to study Physical Therapy………….she is truly amazing [she hopes to go to Stanford].

I know its hard on Tony, as it was on my mom and dad, to realized the life you thought your daughter would have is not quite as expected [Bernadine has TWO special needs daughters!]. But I also truly believe Erin has accepted this cross in her life with so much love and grace, she will walk along with our Lord all the way, and she will be okay. It was so great to see the progress Sam HAS made…

Yes—Bernadine made me cry when I read that. Bernadine was on her way to Redwood City with her daughter Kelley, 18, for an appointment at Kaiser. Kelley is going to be having brain surgery soon to help relieve the seizures she has been having for much of her life. Keep Bernadine and Kelley in your prayers.

In Praise of VA Health Care

March 9, 2008

The Palo Alto Polytrauma Center Wing 7D: During the past six months Sam has been a patient in wing 7D of the Veterans Administration Polytrauma Center in Palo Alto California. This facility is a part of the VA Palo Alto Health Care System (VAPAHCS). Since Sam was first wounded in Iraq, I’ve been on the Internet researching subjects related to Sam’s injuries. I’ve also read many stories about the VA Health Care system—most of them being negative.

I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you a different VA Health Care story. This is the story of Sam—a wounded Marine slowly coming out of a coma. He was at the National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) in Bethesda Maryland for two months after his initial injuries and then flown to Palo Alto to continue his recovery. All the while, his loving wife (my daughter has been by his side).

When Sam and Erin first arrived at the VA hospital in Palo Alto, Erin was so upset. She had become so comfortable at the NNMC…she had her cozy room at the Navy Lodge just down the street from the hospital. She had a host of Marines assigned to the hospital who were willing and ready to help her and Sam in any way possible. She was comfortable with the doctors, the nurses and therapist who were all caring and professional.

SamUpright_Palo Alto VA_2_20_08_taken by EricBut an interesting thing happened after a few days in Palo Alto—as Erin got more comfortable with her surroundings she noticed something. The doctors and nurse and therapist at the VA hospital, although not all military, were also caring and professional.

There has been so many horror stories about military and VA hospitals and their lack of cleanliness, old equipment, facilities in disrepair and a lack of motivation by the staff. That was not Erin and Sam’s experience. And I can say from many visits to the VA hospital over the past six months, that has not been my experience either.

The Palo Alto VA hospital is spacious and clean. The staff is friendly and attentive not only to Sam but also to Erin and their visitors. From the doctors assigned to Sam, to the nurses and therapist, the social workers, even the people who clean Sam’s room—they have all been wonderful. Erin feels like these people have become part of her family.

During a time of tragedy and trial for Sam and Erin, the good people of the VA Polytrauma Center wing 7D in Palo Alto have been a source of strength and hope. As Erin’s father, I want to publicly thank them for the work they do for all our wounded warriors. I have been able to sleep soundly at night knowing Sam was so well cared for and Erin was so happy with the treatment he was receiving.


The week before Sam was transferred to Kentfield (I’ll speak more of that below), the hospital staff in wing 7D got together and took a picture with Sam (while Erin was out to lunch). They then framed the picture and all of them wrote a note to Sam and Erin. The framed picture was presented to Erin the day before her and Sam left for Kentfield. It was a very tearful goodbye…

To give you an example of the loving and nurturing environment Sam and Erin were in, I’d like to share with you what one of the staff wrote…This gentleman was one of Sam’s nurses:

Sam and Erin,
My favorite two people—You won my heart. I pray daily for Sam’s recovery and it has been a great pleasure and honor to be able to take care of Sam. I love you both and only pray for my boy to keep improving daily. God has his plan…never lose faith. There is always light at the end of the tunnel. I’ll miss you both…with love—

The Next Chapter: On Wednesday March 6th, 2008 Sam was moved to the Kentfield Rehabilitation Hospital which is about 20 minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. This is a private hospital and has a very different feel to it compared to the VA hospital in Palo Alto.

The rooms at Kentfield are very small and there are two people to a room, so it is pretty cramped for visitors. This will take some getting used to since Sam had a single “large” room in Palo Alto.

Sam’s new doctor took a look at a brain scan that was taken at the VA hospital in Palo Alto in February and she was very happy with what she saw. She feels they can really make some positive progress with Sam.

Please pray for Sam and Erin. We Sam_Erin_Kentfield_3_8_08believe God has put them in Kentfield for a reason and there will be some wonderful progress made at this hospital…but as with the move from Bethesda to Palo Alto, change is difficult. Erin has said that Sam is comfortable being in Kentfield but it is a little more difficult of a transition for Erin. She had a pretty rough weekend, but had lots of support from Sam’s father who visited on Saturday morning. Myself and my wife were there on Saturday afternoon and Erin’s sister, Allison, spent the whole weekend with her.

The picture above of Sam and Erin was taken by Sam’s father, Eric on Saturday. I received it in an email with an explanatory note from Eric:

Erin had been sitting next to him and talking to us all when
she scooted up beside him and laid her head on his shoulder. He wrapped his arm around her and hugged her tightly. Without a prompt, he lowered his head to kiss the top of her head. It was precious…