Homes for our Troops

December 2, 2008

homes for our troops

Extreme Makeover Home Edition: There aren’t to many TV shows that really hit me emotionally.  The one that always does me in every time is Extreme Makeover Home Edition with Ty Pennington.  It’s just a wonderful show about people helping other deserving families in need.  The latest show I watched (probably a re-run) on CMT was about the Extreme Makeover crew helping to build an adaptive home for a soldier who lost both of his legs in Iraq.  The adaptive home was built with the help of an organization called Homes for Our Troops.   I’d like to paste in the “about us” section of their web site:

Homes for Our Troops is a non-profit, non-partisan 501 (c)(3) organization founded in 2004. This organization is strongly committed to helping those who have selflessly given to their country and have returned home with serious disabilities and injuries. We assist severely injured Servicemen and Women and their immediate families by raising donations of money, building materials and professional labor and coordinating the process of building a new home or adapting an existing home for handicapped accessibility.

*All services provided by Homes for Our Troops are at no cost to the veterans we serve.

The Homes for Our Troops web site has includes some wonderful pictures and videos of homes that were built for our severely injured troops returning from the Middle East.  I hope you’ll take a few minutes to check out their web site and see all the wonderful work this organization is accomplishing for our wounded warriors.

Sam’s medical status:

One of my very favorite sayings comes from former President Dwight D Eisenhower; “What counts is the size of the fight in the dog, not the size of the dog in the fight”. I’m not sure in what context he was
speaking…could have been Vietnam; as his was the first administration that sent advisors to the troubled, but little democracy in Southeast Asia…He knew that this tiny little country would be no match for the North with Russia’s and China’s influence. Yet he was impressed with their resolve and he deemed them worthy of America’s assistance to ensure their survival. As we know that war dragged on for decades, becoming very unpopular as we continued to sacrifice our young men and women. Sound familiar? Yeah, I’m speaking of Iraq; but that isn’t what this is about, and I don’t want to waste my precious space in print discussing something so controversial to most Americans. This is about a single Marine along with his comrades in arms that have sacrificed much for their country and it’s people.

As I visited with Sam this last Saturday, I had several hours of one on one time with him. He likes to be read to, he likes questions to test his memory and knowledge; but most of all he loves stories. No matter what I offer, whether it be reading, T.V., or just chatting, He’ll always opt for a story. I never have to make them up as he is interested in the real deal…The Old Testament is full of action heroes like Samson, David, Joshua, and the like. He likes Marine Corps history and it’s relative heroes like Chesty Puller, Samuel and William H Nichols. Most of all he loves to hear about his restoration and discharge from the hospital. He loves the idea of coming home and resuming his life. We discuss how that will look, where he will live, what he will do for a living, how many kids he will have, and other very germane subjects. One thing comes through to me over and over again, and that is His dogged determination to make that happen. I can see it in his face, his eyes, and by the enthusiasm he approaches the very thought of it. The size of the “fight” in this dog is huge. His efforts, though usually silent, are large enough to deafen a brass band. I gain strength from just being around Him and Erin. My faith is renewed in his seemingly never ending source of intestinal fortitude.

For many months I thought I was bringing Sam the Holy Spirit; but  the Lord has taken up residence there to the point of being a refueling spot for me Sam with new pic line from Marin General_11_28_08and for other visitors that come to see them. There is no other explanation for the great comfort, refreshment, and restoration that their visitors feel when being there. Of course I know the Lord is not confined to time and place, but his favor is upon Sam and Erin, and that evidence shows up to me through Sam’s incredible desire to get well. This first picture shows Sam in his bed and how he grips the side rail to move himself about. Notice the new pic line under his right arm that he had installed before leaving Marin General. He has a “trapeze” ordered which he likes to use to pull himself up and about. That is Sam’s smile for now…

Sam’s occupational therapist, Kate, made this statement on Saturday. She said he must have been so “buff’ before his accident to have so much muscle tone after 16 months. He had just done 2 sets of 15 reps of an exercise that she had him doing with his right arm. God is maintaining him so that when the time is right, he’ll be able to walk out of there. Erin’s b’day was on Saturday, (25) (I think she looks 18) Ha! She got to spend the day with her Mom and Dad, but called me to see how her baby was doing. After Sam was readied for bed by the night shift, he was looking very sleepy as we had been visiting the whole day so I thought sleep was near. I asked him if he wanted to say Happy Birthday to Erin before he nodded off. It was like someone had turned on a light switch. His eyes popped open and when he saw the cell phone come out began to adjust himself in bed with sheer
respect knuckles with Sam and Eric_11_29_08_Kentfield anticipation of his call to his sweetie. When I had Erin on the phone, I got to hear his first word of the day. He said Happy Birthday to her and it made her day. (Mine too) He tried several times to say that He loved her, but only managed to mouth the words…I was a witness to those words and they meant a great deal to Erin on her Birthday. She was feeling kind of blasé about her time in Sacramento and being away from Sam, but that short, 30 second phone call gave her peace to enjoy her time with those that care very deeply for her.

Sam quickly tired after that, but not before offering me what Erin refers to “respect knuckles”. See the second picture as his hand meets mine. It melts my heart and I smother him with kisses before I go…Loving and gentle, but full of a fierce fight…sounds like a paradox, but it’s not….

Much love,


Caregiver Compensation for Injured Veterans

November 22, 2008

There was a recent article in the New York Times about families of disabled veterans seeking compensation for there roles as caregivers.  Because of better medical technology, many more soldiers have survived serious wounds they received in Iraq and Afghanistan.  According to the Dole-Shalala Commission, in 2007, there were over 3000 recently disabled veterans who required full-time clinical and care-management services.

As the father of a daughter who has spent the last 16 months at the bedside of her severely wounded Marine, I worry about Erin and Sam’s future.  Will Erin need to get a job in order to pay their bills? Eventually Sam will be retired from the Marines and I’m sure will be considered 100 percent disabled.  Will Erin become his full-time caregiver?  During Sam’s stay at the Palo Alto VA hospital, Erin met many wives and mothers of wounded soldiers who had to quit their jobs to be with their wounded veteran.

During the last session of Congress, veterans groups and families asked lawmakers to introduce legislation that would allow families of wounded soldiers with traumatic brain injury who complete training and certification with the VA to be paid for the caregiver services they provide.  The bill has not come up for vote yet, but because President-elect Barack Obama has endorsed many other bills that support veterans’ issues, it is possible the bill will have a greater change for passage in the next congressional session.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

Sam’s medical status:

When Sam was a small boy, much like his brothers, he had an unusually adventurous spirit and very little fear. Naturally when you have a kids that embrace life and aggressively approach sporting and play activity; there are resulting injuries. I remember once, while on vacation and immediately following lunch at a Taco Bell, Sam (maybe 6 or 7 years old) was jumping off a bench…sure enough he cracked his head and we spent the next 4 hours in the emergency room while he received a half dozen stitches. Another time (at about 5 years old) he was playing with a wooden dowel that we used as additional security for a sliding glass door; and as he jumped over it, he landed on the end of it. Although he missed all of the vital areas, again we saw the inside of the emergency room with the addition of more stitches to a nasty gash. He was more embarrassed than he was hurt, as his brothers were relentless with names like “Sam-on-a-Stick” or “Sam-cicle”…Ha! I believe that it is this same adventurous spirit that led him to enlist in the Marines, after successfully finishing one year of college. He was bound and determined to return after his tour and return to college and He and Erin had already enrolled and been accepted to the University of Nevada at Reno. At the time, Erin was interested in teaching, (now that interest has turned to speech therapy) and Sam was interested in business. This was solely to prepare himself, as his interest was to open a restaurant/bar with exotic sandwiches (He and Erin had already developed several great sandwiches by experimenting in their kitchen) and super advanced video games dealing with virtual reality. It is this kind of desire for an out of the ordinary life that make them fabulously interesting people. Although their lives may have been steered in another direction; I firmly believe that they will have many adventures ahead of them and WILL fulfill them in God’s good timing. In fact, I would state that this experience will heighten their lives as they apply lesson after lesson, and for the benefit of others. Thank you Lord; for the lessons you’ve taught us all in Sam and Erin’s lives…

Nov_12_08_Kentfield This update finds Sam once again in Marin General Hospital, in a medical unit after being admitted through an emergency procedure. His “Port” had become infected. This a line inserted in his shoulder a few months ago, that goes to the big arteries in his chest. It is for easily administering medications and from which to draw blood. Sam is what is referred to as a “hard stick”, meaning he has underground veins. We’ve seen him get stuck up to 10 times before they call for the best (most experienced) person to come and get the blood they need. More antibiotics; Ugh! In addition, he was prescribed a new anti-convulsant after being weaned off of the 4 others he was receiving. It made him temporarily groggy, but Erin reports he is becoming accustomed to it and back to his old self. I saw him twice this week and both days he seemed alert as to all that was going on around him, but chose to relax by keeping his eyes closed. One thing I’m very excited about is their determination to get to the bottom of his recurring UTI’s. He is not going back to Kentfield until that is accomplished. His next stop is the Urology department at the University of San Francisco for a consultation on a surgery to explore (by scope) to try and locate the shrapnel they believe the culprit of his recurring infections. I say it is high time, and am positive it is God’s leading that sends them there. This too will soon be past them and back on the road to recovery. As I spoke to Erin on the phone yesterday to receive the very latest news; Sam wanted to know to whom she was talking. When he found it was me, he wanted to take the phone and talk to me. He said he felt good when asked, and then gave me a resounding Oohh-Rah! He also told me something that we couldn’t make out, but it was just good to hear him use his voice and try to speak out loud. Of course he said, “I Love You, Dad” and for some reason I never have trouble making that one out. Erin said it was the most he had said out loud all day…Donny and Sam had always agreed that they would be each other’s best man at their weddings, so I was testing his memory to find out if he remembered that was approaching, and asked him who was the best man? He pointed at me…don’t ya just love this kid?

Much Love,

The Highs and Lows of TBI

July 7, 2008

Sam’s Medical Status (from Eric his father): I have much to tell you all as it was a very busy week for Sam and  Erin…a week with record highs and events that could be construed as challenging if we didn’t know the outcome of this journey in advance…I don’t have to be psychic nor even able to tell the future. Unlike a conventional war where the battles are fought to determine the outcome of the war; Our sam_july 08_kentfieldwar is already won, and now the battles are easier when we know how they will play to our favor. In John 15:7-8, Jesus said, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” Well, we’ve chosen to remain in Christ and keep Jesus’ words in us and have claimed Sam’s healing and total restoration on that basis. It’s done in heaven and will be on earth as well. No circumstance will change that belief as we clamp on to that truth and never let go.

The most exciting news came about midweek when Erin called to share that Sam had moved his left side for the first time in almost a year. Oh my goodness! This is huge! What incredible news…we couldn’t have been more jazzed if we were told he got up and ran down the halls!!!!He told Erin a month ago that he hated his left arm because he was unable to move it…He gets that arm and leg worked out practically daily by his physical therapists. He has one in particular; a quiet and diminutive lady, (only in stature) that cares a great deal for Sam. Erin has overheard her through her mask, praying in the name of Jesus for Sam while she stretches him out. This week she said, “Sam, stretch out your left arm. His arm jerked by the shoulder, his hand moved and he moved his fingers…Praise God!

Another day Sam was observing “shift change” at the hospital…a radiologist was frustrated because she had to get an x-ray before she left and couldn’t find anyone to help her with Sam. It was slightly chaotic and Sam said to Erin, “I’m having fun.” This is just like Sam’s often dry and subtle humor. He is also favoring an expression of “just a little bit”…like are you in pain Sam? He makes about an inch between his thumb and forefinger and says, “Just a little bit”…Ha! On Friday, 4th of July, he asked Erin if it was Friday or Saturday? He was confused because of the irregularity in his therapy schedule…Erin explained it was a holiday and she asked him if he knew which holiday it was…he answered, “Any day you’re here is a holiday”…He was also visited by his buddies from his old unit, Kilo Battery….5 of America’s very finest young Marines had made a special trip up to the bay area just to visit their good friend…Their genuine interest in Sam’s welfare is obvious as they ask questions, inquire about Erin, make jokes, and tell great things about their beloved SGT Nichols…I’m always so impressed when I am around these guys for their professionalism, their camaraderie, and their brotherhood. These are the kind of young men that makes me feel comfortable about America’s future.

By Sunday, he had a large seizure and was unresponsive…he took a little trip by ambulance (flashing red lights and all) to the Marin General Hospital emergency room. The biggest fear from the seizures is the lack of oxygen and the interruption of breathing, so they installed an airway and sedated him heavily…It was shades of Bethesda at a worse time for him, so it very understandably took a toll on Erin…I arrived early this morning and found him in ICU under very close and attentive care. Erin arrived soon after and filled me in on many details of the two Sam_7_2_08_Kentfielddays. He looked comfortable and at peace, although he had a twitch in his left side; eye and mouth (this indicates some seizure activity on a small scale)…Erin and I stood next to him and as I laid my hands on him she rested her cheek on his right hand and we prayed…She began to weep, but I noticed it wasn’t tears of fear or anxiety, but of relief and joy. We thanked God for yet again sparing Sam and protecting his work in progress. We ended our prayer by rededicating his total care to the Jehovah Raphae, (The Lord who is our healer)…At the end of our prayer Erin said something to him and he answered her even though his eyes were still closed. We asked him several more questions and he answered quite well. Erin asked if she could spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on their approaching anniversary. He answered hundreds. (he’s no dummy! Ha!) She asked how many hundreds and he said 5; 1 on him and 4 on her…she thought that was fair…Ha! She wanted to know if she could get him a gold bracelet with his initials on it and he said emphatically NO! We laughed…By late afternoon, Erin reported that he was breathing fine on his own and they removed the airway…He was awake, alert, and they were even talking of sending him back to Kentfield by tomorrow.

We rejoice in the good times and we rejoice in the times of challenge because we sure of one thing…God’s promises to heal Sam…those don’t change even if his condition or circumstance may change, “just a little bit” to quote one tough Marine….the picture is of Sam raising one eyebrow; a feat not easy even for a person with no injuries….

Much love,