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,


Welcome Home a Hero

July 14, 2008

This evening I went to the Sacramento airport to pick up a friend of mine who had been visiting friends on the east coast for a week.  She was so happy to see me and I know she appreciated seeing a friendly face and getting a warm hug.

I ran across a video of a group of people who go out to the Dallas-Ft Worth airport every time our military troops come home from Iraq or Afghanistan.  Many of these volunteers are veterans of the wars in Vietnam and Korea and remember putting their life on the line for their country and then coming home feeling like no one really cared about the sacrifice they made.

Please enjoy the video of the Welcome Home a Hero Program.  There is a very similar program out of Bangor Maine called The Maine Troop Greeters.  When Sam returned from Iraq on his first deployment, I remember him telling us how touched he was by the welcome home he received in Bangor as he and his buddies got off the plan.  I know some of the Maine Troop greeters, to this day, read this blog to keep up on Sam’s progress.

Sam’s medical status (from Sam’s father Eric):

Good Morning All!

It seems that when I spend time with Erin & Sam; we do an inordinate amount of laughing and carrying on…They each have an incredible gift of humor and what’s more they play off each other like they were professionals…Erin will set Sam up for a great delivery, knowing that he will come through with impeccable timing; and vice versa. Neither of them hog the punch lines nor are upset if the humor is lost on it’s intended audience…(meaning they don’t try to explain it; if you don’t get it, you don’t get it) It’s good natured, (no malice intended) but has been on occasion a little strange…

Sam tickling Erin That intro brings me to the picture. Sam is in his chair, me on his left and Erin is kneeling on his right. Yeah, you guessed it; we were praying. When we are done Sam begins to very sweetly and softly stroke Erin’s cheek with his fore finger. I see it and can’t help but state, “You love her don’t you Sam”…Erin looks up with adoring eyes and to break the moment, Sam sticks his finger in Erin’s nose. Funny in itself, but as she laughs, she asks him what are you going to do now? Without hesitation he mockingly wipes his finger on the yoke of her shirt. Erin and I roar…Sam does not crack a smile, not even a little one. (Donny, affectionately calls him “Deadpan Sam”) Maybe a twinkle in his eye, but you can just tell that the little stinker just let us both know that his humor is intact and he’s not afraid to use it.

You’ve heard the old adage that “laughter is the best medicine”. There have been many scientific studies done, books written, and tests
performed to try and prove that saying; and with many positive results…relieving stress, better communication, and easier to cope with everyday problems…But, did you know it is scriptural? Proverbs 15:30 (NIV) says, “A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones.” We as a family, have always related to one another with cheerfulness and humor; so much so that it would have to be said when the conversation had to become serious. I am thinking that this has contributed greatly to how we handle the news of Sam’s progress. With God in the picture it has become even easier. I no longer say Sam WILL be restored…I say, Sam IS restored. Jesus said it, I believe it, so it is a done deal. Nothing can separate us from his love so I know that nothing can separate us from his promises either.

I’m still a little unsure of the status of Sam and the seizures. I know they are watching him closely (monitoring his vitals) and reducing the anti-convulsants they were giving him. (4 different ones at one time)…His Doctor and the consulting neurologist agreed that he was overmedicated…Wow, do ya think? His Doctor has ordered weekly comparative EEG’s to track and see, if any, the increase or decrease in the seizure level, and try to regulate his meds. I get the feeling they are a little stumped and reacting to trial and error. When God intervenes, that confusion of the wise sometimes happens. They are doing the best they can for Sam and love him very much, and we appreciate that.

Once again, I’d like to send my appreciation to all who read these updates and Sam’s blog; and to the many who so faithfully respond with comments to encourage and uplift Sam and Erin and their families…(It truly makes my day) I always feel that I can count on anyone in my address book and to the many readers of the blog around the world; for a prayer for Sam and Erin. A brief remembrance to the Most High, that we are all thankful for Sam’s healing and are patiently waiting on him to accelerate his promises. I hope that doesn’t sound too demanding of God; and my answer is simply this: He wouldn’t have said it if he didn’t mean it; so I stand on his word, not mine…

Much love,

Weekend with Erin

June 2, 2008

This weekend Erin came up to Sacramento for the baby shower of one of her (our) closest friends.  In the photo, Erin is standing next to her younger sister Allison, 20, who prepared and coordinated much of the shower.  It was so nice to have Erin spend the weekend with us.  She has such a bubbly and infectious personality—you can not help feeling better when she is around.

I can honestly say that the two girls in this picture are my (and my erin and allison at amand's baby shower_5_31_08wife’s) greatest creation.  As you have read in this blog, Erin is a very loving and faithful wife.  But her sister, Allison, is just as amazing a young lady as her big sister.  It was so fun and amazing to watch these two girls work so hard and have so much fun preparing a baby shower for one of their closest friends. 

On Friday Erin will be flying to Dallas-Fort Worth for the Brain Injury of America Care Givers Conference.  Erin and four other military wives of wounded military personal with brain injury are being given an all expenses paid trip to this conference by the people at the Wounded Warriors Project.  The special guest speaker at the conference will be Lee Woodruff who is the wife of news correspondent Bob Woodruff who was hit by an IED and sustained traumatic brain injury in Iraq while covering the war.  The family(s) will coordinate having someone stay with Sam on the days Erin is in Dallas.

As usual, Sam’s parents were at Kentfield on Saturday and Sunday hanging out with him.  I’ll let Eric give you an update on Sam’s recovery:

Hello All,

Erin got to help put on an awesome baby shower for a close, childhood friend; and as she described the food they had prepared; it made me wish I had been invited. Ha! It truly sounded wonderful…

I got to spend yesterday with Sam and Kelley spent today with him. I arrived as they were getting him into his wheelchair for a session of physical therapy. He was dressed in blue shorts, a navy blue USMC T-shirt and wearing tennis shoes. He looked like he was about to play some hoops, or a game or two of racquetball…

I accompanied them to the gym and they put Sam in the standing frame…He is 6 feet tall and holding his own around 176.5 pounds…at one point in his coma he weighed 160, down from 185 before the incident. He still has a lot of muscle in his upper arms and shoulders…As he stood there, he held his head erect and neck and shoulders back as if he were at attention. It was impressive to the physical therapist who hadn’t worked with Sam in a while, as she only works weekends. Her name is Jennifer (the physical therapist) and was asking Sam to perform some exercises in a very pointed and determined voice. Although I thought Sam seemed a little groggy and didn’t think he would respond; he slowly and very smartly raised his hand and gave her a mock salute as if to say, Yes, Ma’am! Jennifer and Ramsey (technician) and I just roared with laughter; as did Erin when I told her about it. It was so cute to see his sense of humor peek through the proverbial prison he finds himself temporarily in…

Sam_5_30_08_Kentfield After the session, we wanted to enjoy the sunshine and we went out to the deck and kind of dodged the direct sun and chased the shade for a few hours…We prayed together; and the only words I heard him say my entire visit were; “I believe in Jesus” and a prayer of “Jesus, heal me!” It still made my day…As we sat on the deck and we sat close enough to talk face to face; Sam several times laid his right arm on my forearm and patted my shoulder a few times…He was just trying to connect and let me know he has presence of mind and that he loves me…after  about 3 hours in the wheelchair; he is ready to return to his room and stretch out in his bed…there is a Rocky marathon on and when I ask him if he likes Rocky he says yes, (1 finger) and shows me a fist…maybe to let me know he is fighting…His male nurse today makes his bed with clean linen, pillows, and refreshes him with a wet wipe on his forehead, cheeks and nose…he looks comfortable and at peace…we watch the movie and I notice he is getting drowsy so I turn the sound down just a bit and quietly back out of the room. All they way home I thank God for his mercies of saving Sam on the battlefield, healing Sam from hospital to hospital, and most importantly, for what he has yet to do in Sam & Erin’s lives….

Much love till next time,

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.

Marine Holding Strong at Marin General Hospital

April 3, 2008

Because of Sam’s recent trip to Marin General Hospital, I’m sort of out of sync with my weekly updates so I wanted to get everyone up to date on Sam’s status.

He is still at Marin General Hospital and will probably be there at least a few more days. When he arrived at the hospital, he was put on IV feeding because of all the issues he was having— Sepsis and pancreatitis being the major issues. Yesterday he was put back on his normal feeding tube (goes directly into his stomach).

Before Sam got so sick, he was really starting to respond to the bromocriptine which has been known to stimulate speaking in patients coming out of a coma. But because of all the drugs they have been giving him lately, he has been feeling pretty sluggish. The good news is that he has been getting stronger and stronger every day and Erin hopes he will be back to his usual self soon.

the best therapy in the world_3_28_08_Sam at Marin General Hospital with Sepsis Yesterday Sam was given a scan of his white blood cells (I’m probably not saying this correctly as I was scribbling notes as I spoke to Dr. Erin) and the “markers” will be used to determine if there is anything else going on in Sam’s body that they didn’t catch the first time. If all goes well, he should be back at Kentfield by Friday.

Hopefully I will have another update on either Sunday or Monday morning. The picture in this post was taken by Sam’s father. He titled it (in the FLICKR strip) “The best therapy in the world”.

Sam is holding strong. Thank you for your prayers!

Update on Sam at Marin General Hospital

March 27, 2008

marin general hospital I was finally able to get a complete update from Erin a few minutes ago. She said Sam is doing much better and looks really good. He has a central line and they are pumping him full of antibiotics.

Sam has Sepsis which I’ve been told can be very serious. However the doctors at the hospital say he will be fine. The infectious disease doctor said Sam has lots of microorganisms in his blood stream that are causing the fever. He said Sam is lucky to be a “strong” 23 years old so that his body can fight the infection.

They plan to keep Sam at the Marin General Hospital for about a week to make sure they take care of all the issues related to the sepsis. Erin said they have an amazing staff and a very comfortable room. The staff is very attentive and they are even ordering speech, physical and occupational therapy for him while he is at this hospital!

I asked Erin how Sam’s speaking was coming along and she said he’s continuing to improve. She said lately he has been waving his arm around and sort of mouthing lots of words. He’s been rehearsing his “I’ve got a dream” speech as Erin described it. As we were getting off the phone, we told Erin to tell Sam that we loved him and he said back to Erin, “I love them too”.

I’ve been receiving lots of emails from people saying they are praying for Sam…and I’ve been passing them on to Erin. I just set her up with an Internet broadband card so she can get Internet access from anywhere in the Marin County area and check her email or look at the comments left in the blog.

Thank you for your prayers!!!

News Coverage Wanes as Iraq War Goes into 5th Year

March 24, 2008

news coverage_IAVA Yesterday there was a significant amount of coverage in the news about war casualties in Iraq reaching the 4,000 mark. But after five years of war, Americans are getting weary with Iraq. There is only a very small percentage of Americans who are truly affected by the war. With the elections coming up, the mortgage melt down, the latest on Lindsay and Brittany—there isn’t a lot of time to cover things like war casualties, PTSD and TBI. It’s so depressing, isn’t it?

According to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), only 3% of the news in February was dedicated to the war. An even more troubling statistic; only one in three Americans know how many American troops have died in Iraq! According to the Pew Research Center, press coverage of the war is at its lowest point since the war began. I’ll bet more people know who got voted off American idol last week!

Please take a minute now to sign an open letter to the media (sponsored by the IAVA) and demand that major networks increase their coverage of the Iraq war. Our troops are still in danger every hour of the day in Iraq. They are still fighting for their country. We must continue to keep them in our thoughts and prayers. We must not let our news media and our government allow the American public to detach themselves from the men and women who are dying for our country. We must also not allow the American public to forget that, yes, 4000 troops have now died in Iraq—-but many more wounded troops are returning with devastating injuries. It is our responsibility as voters and Americans to ensure these men and women who have served their country so bravely, will be given the best medical care possible.

Sam_physical therapy_3_22_08_kentfield Sam’s medical status: This picture to the right is of Sam during physical therapy at Kentfield. His right arm continues to get stronger. You can see in this “action shot” that he is punching up to meet Erin’s hand.

Last weekend Sam was put on the drug bromocriptine. According to Sam’s doctor, this drug has had success in stimulating the speech recovery of brain injury patients. They are starting him on a very small dosage and moving him up to around 12 milligrams per day depending on Sam’s reaction. On Tuesday Erin called and said that Sam was starting to mouth words much better and she was able to read his lips more easily. After his speech therapy on Tuesday Erin asked him how his therapy went and without any prompting, he spelled out for her (via the alphabet board) board “all right”.

The news kept getting better and better as the week went by: On Friday (Good Friday) Erin called her mother and asked her if she wanted to say hi to Sam. She put the phone up to Sam’s ear and said hi to him, and the most exciting thing happened—he said “hello” back to her! Yes—clear and fairly strong! Erin was just giggling with excitement!

Yesterday Erin came up to have Easter dinner with us here in Citrus Heights (Sacramento area) and right before we started to eat our dinner, Sam’s mother called (she was with Sam at Kentfield). She said he was doing great and very active. As she was leaving the room to go back home, she sneezed and again very clearly, heard Sam say “bless you”.

It was a truly “blessed” Easter for the Nichol’s and Neria families. Thank you for your prayers.