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.


An Embrace from the Faithful One

February 8, 2010

From Tony, Erin’s Father:  I’ve been going to the gym every morning and working out with Erin all this week.  Hopefully we can keep this up.  It also affords me an opportunity to get the scoop on the latest with Sam.  Erin told me that yesterday Sam and quite a break-through in his physical therapy.  He was laying on his left side on the therapy table and his therapist asked him to turn over.  He was able to move his upper body so that he was facing the ceiling—but what he was able to do for the first time, was to move his right leg up and then straighten his whole body so that he was totally facing the ceiling.  That wasn’t the only thing that he did—while laying down on the table and his knees up (with his feet flat on the table), he was able to move his right leg down to the right touching the mat and then back up to touch his left knee.  He had done this a few times in the past—only one time and they he couldn’t do any more, but this time, he did it seven times in a row…arm on wheelchair1_9_2010rested a few minutes and then did it three more times.  As he was doing it, the therapist said, “I think he’s having a break-through”. 

Speaking of Sam’s right side, Erin and the therapist have been working on his right arm which has been improving lately.  The photo shows him pushing his wheel chair with his left are, but they have been noticing some movement in his right arm as he tries to use both hands to propel him along.  Very small improvement, but none-the-less, a significant  improvement on his right side. 

For those of who of you who are using facebook, there is a “group” called “Support for Sgt Samuel Nichols”.  Just search for this group in facebook and join.  Erin and I will start adding quickie updates on this facebook page.  The group page was started by Patrick Couhie who happens to be the Navy Corpsman who first brought medical add to Sam right after the roadside bomb hit their convoy.  I’m sure Patrick’s quick actions are the reason Sam is with Holly meeting Sam for the firs time1-14-2010us today.  I hope to start adding more frequent updates in this blog too…I tend to wait until I have almost too much information and then life happens and I put off updates for weeks at a time!  I will try to do better. 

Speaking of life happening, Erin’s sister, Allison had a baby on January 4th (Holly Quinn).  She was 6 pounds 10 ounces.  Allison brought Holly to see Sam about a week after she was born.  After holding Holly for about a half hour, Erin asked Sam, “what do you think of Holly?”.  And Sam, or course, had the perfect response.  He said, “I love her!”. 

From Sam’s Father Eric:
Good Morning All,

Isn’t it incredible that after 2 1/2 years since Sam’s injury, that the
interest in His recovery and progress hasn’t waned in the least? What is it about Sam’s particular case that makes He and Erin so special and the object of everyone’s prayers and good wishes? Have you asked yourself why you await word in the form of an update or new submission to his blog? The answer is simple really, and probably doesn’t escape most of you; but it was a real encouragement to me to glean this from a conference I recently attended. That is, "Faith is what sticks after you’ve had an embrace from the Faithful One". That couldn’t be more true for all of you. God selected each and everyone of you to pray for Sam and Erin, and in so doing laid on your hearts the faith by which to accomplish just that. Yes, their love is a classic story and of great human interest as well; but human interest stories come and go. Only what is done by God remains, and what he does is usually accomplished through people. Scripture is full of those examples, so we continue to stand together for Sam’s total restoration. His healing is already here; just ask God to show it to you….

We’ve had some very special friends from a sister church in Redding, Ca., (Bethel) come and pray for Sam and Erin. It is a 3 hour drive one way, and then they spent 4.5 hours praying with us, and then 3 hours back home. All of this on top of working that day and having to be back at work the next day. What an inspiring time that was too. They not only came here under the direction of the Holy Spirit for Sam, but for the rest of us as well. My faith soared as EricNSamPraying_2_6_2010 I observed a young couple on fire for the Lord, aggressively pray for Sam’s release. Their mentor, quietly praying in the background, and all 3 of them displaying the love of Jesus and the early apostles. We are truly thankful to them for their obedience and faithfulness to God’s directions. Also some ladies from our church choir, including my sister Jan and sister-in-law Debbie, came to sing some worship songs to Sam. It was wonderful to see Sam mouthing the words to "Jesus Loves Me"…The picture of Sam and I was taken during one of those prayer sessions; but what made it so special to me was while I was praying, Sam reached up and held the side of my face and neck. This melts my heart about as much when he says "I love you, Dad".

Some might think Sam has plateaued in his progress forward. This is not so, but maybe have to see the daily details of all that he does or is able to do. Erin continues to make him her full time job and is responsible for all of his immediate care. She asks the right questions when appropriate, and gives good reports every time I see her. Her spirits are high and defeat isn’t in her vocabulary. She approaches everyday with new enthusiasm and it is infectious of all those around her. She edifies the other patient’s families and answers many of their questions. She attends class a few nights per week as she studies sign language for an eventual career in speech therapy. We love her and try to support her in all that she does. Her sister’s new baby has made her a doting Aunt, and that too is precious…

Much Love,

DoD must provide official Tri-Care coverage for Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapy

August 20, 2008

The issue of Tri-Care coverage for cognitive rehab therapy is so incredibly important for the long term care and recovery of our wounded warriors.  I’d like to share with you a letter to Robert M. Gates, Secretary, U.S. Department of Defense from some United States congressmen and woman who understand the importance of long term care for our wounded warriors.  Our military men and women honor our country and our government by putting their lives on the line without questioning the politics or motivation behind such orders.  Some of them pay the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives.  Others will spend the rest of their lives trying to recover from the injuries they sustained from the sacrifice they made for their country.  As the letter below states, 320,000 troops (and counting) returning from OEF and OIF have experienced some form of traumatic brain injury (TBI).  We as a nation, MUST provide the best possible care and give these men and woman the best possible chance for recovery possible.  NO EXCUSES!

United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

August 4, 2008

The Honorable Robert M. Gates
Secretary, U.S. Department of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000

Dear Secretary Gates:

A recent study conducted by the RAND Corporation found that 320,000 troops, or 19 percent of all service members, returning from Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom may have experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI) during deployment.

We are concerned that at a time when TBI is recognized as the signature wound of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, one of the most widely accepted and critical rehabilitative treatments for this injury, known as cognitive rehabilitation therapy, is excluded by the military’s TRICARE health insurance program.

Cognitive rehabilitation is a proven regime of medical and therapeutic services designed to improve brain functioning.  Service members who sustain brain injuries frequently have difficulties in attention, concentration, memory, problem-solving, and decision-making that impede their ability to function in everyday activities.  Timely treatment of cognitive dysfunction is vital to the recovery process, as it impacts personal safety, functional independence, productive living, psychological health and social interaction.  Therefore, we urge you to provide official TRICARE coverage for cognitive rehabilitation as an instrumental therapy in the recovery process of America’s wounded warriors.

While the Department of Defense and Veterans Administration have made recent strides to improve our institutional capacity to treat TBI at military and VA hospitals, often the best care for this complex injury is available only from private providers at outside care facilities.  Given the rate of TBI among returning service personnel, we must redouble efforts to remove access barriers to proven therapies.  The Department of Defense Task Force on Mental Health last year issued a recommendation that TRICARE access standards be changed to consider basic mental health care in the same category as primary medical care.  Embracing this recommendation is central to any successful, time-sensitive strategy to treat the invisible wounds of war.  This is particularly true for our most gravely wounded combat veterans.  According to figures provided by your office, 19,922 service members were medically retired with serious injuries in 2007 alone.  We believe these soldiers should be able to access cognitive rehabilitation services at outside care facilities.

We understand that TRICARE authorities have cited a lack of evidence attesting to the efficacy of cognitive rehabilitation as a justification for not covering this treatment.  This assessment contradicts the clear clinical consensus of the American medical community, which recognizes the instrumental role that these therapies play in minimizing disability and maximizing recovery of function in patients with a TBI.  Access to cognitive rehabilitation is a basic element of the continuum of care for brain injury patients.  The National Institutes of Health, the National Academy of Neuropsychology, the Brain Injury Association of America, and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association validate cognitive rehabilitation as a proven, not an experimental, treatment for TBI.  Numerous public and private insurers currently provide coverage for cognitive rehabilitation in recognition of its proven therapeutic value in treating severe brain injuries.  As of 2006, fourteen states included cognitive rehabilitation under the Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services Waivers.

Individuals who have incurred a traumatic brain injury while serving their country deserve nothing less than the appropriate level of care based on currently accepted and widely utilized treatment modalities.  As in every area of modern medicine, the research and evidence base for treatment of brain injuries continues to evolve.  Service members with a TBI need appropriate and timely treatment options to address cognitive impairments, and best practices must be based on the available body of knowledge at the current time.  While further research in this area is ongoing and appropriate, our military healthcare system should err on the side of providing proven treatment given the serious lifelong consequences of an untreated or under-treated brain injury.

The national media have reported many anecdotal cases of individuals who attest to the vital role that cognitive rehabilitation plays in facilitating meaningful recovery from brain injury. One such example is ABC News journalist Bob Woodruff, who was injured by a roadside bomb in January 2006 while reporting from Iraq.  His remarkable recovery from a severe TBI has been widely cited as a powerful example of the great innovations of our military healthcare system.  Mr. Woodruff has repeatedly emphasized that his cognitive rehabilitation therapy was a vital part of his healing process.  Yet the treatment made available to Mr. Woodruff may be denied to U.S. military personnel who are similarly afflicted.

Congress recently enacted a historic GI bill to honor our responsibility to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who return home seeking an education and a better future for their families. We have no less of a responsibility to maximize the potential of our wounded warriors returning from battle nursing the wounds of war. Given the prevalence of TBI among returning service personnel, it is difficult to comprehend why the military’s managed healthcare plan does not cover the very therapies that give our soldiers the best opportunities to recover and live full and productive lives.  We are committed to appropriating the necessary funding to ensure that injured service members receive the world-class healthcare they deserve.

Therefore, we urge the Department of Defense to provide official TRICARE coverage of cognitive rehabilitation therapies, so that all returning service personnel can benefit from the best brain injury care this country has to offer.

Thank you for your continued service.


Evan Bayh, United States Senator
Barack Obama, United States Senator
Hillary Rodham Clinton, United States Senator
Ken Salazar, United States Senator
Edward M. Kennedy, United States Senator
Joe Lieberman, United States Senator
Jeff Bingaman, United States Senator
John F. Kerry, United States Senator
Blanche L. Lincoln, United States Senator
Claire McCaskill, United States Senator
Cc:  Brigadier General Loree Sutton, Major General Elder Granger

Sam’s medical status: I just said hi to Sam over the phone a few  minutes ago–and of course, he said hi back to me!  He continues his steady improvement in talking and Imported Photos 00008continues his cognitive recovery.  Erin said that even though he has days when he’s feeling listless, when Sam gets into therapy, he really works hard to improve his previous days results.  Erin asked him yesterday why he tries so hard in therapy even when he’s not feeling well and he told her, “cuz I love you so much”.  The picture is Sam “going solo” in his motorized wheel chair in the halls of Kentfield Rehabilitation Hospital.  I believe he no longer needs to use the mask as of this week.  All the little micro-organisms that he brought back from Iraq should be out of his system.

Sam is still having seizure issues.  He had one this morning for 20 minutes and a few days ago he had one for 2 hours! According to Erin the seizures are “atypical”.  Normally after a seizure, the patient is very tired and sleepy.  After Sam’s seizures, he is actually wide awake and talkative.  His doctor is coordinating with an Epilepsy specialist from USF to set up a 72 hour EEG study for Sam.

Update! (my internet access has been down a few days!):  Erin said Sam will be going to the University of San Francisco Hospital tomorrow 8/21/08 and will be there for 3 or 4 days so his brain activity can be monitored closely.  Erin will be driving every day to San Francisco to be with Sam during his stay at USF from Kentfield.

100,000 Blog Hits: There is a “BLOG STATS” counter on the right side of this web blog that keeps a running count of how many times this site has been accessed since I started it in August of last year.  The count is now up to 103,988.  I know many of you receive email notifications with the latest blog entry (there are over 100), and don’t go directly to the blog—so that means there are many more than 100,000 hits.  Regardless, I wanted to thank you for your continued interest and prayers for Sam and Erin.  Your support and occasional comments (that Erin continues to read to Sam) really do touch all of Nichols and Neria family.  We don’t feel like we are going at this alone—you’re prayers and good wishes will continue to strengthen our faith, commitment and resolve.  But most of all, you are honoring a young man who had decided at a very young age, that he loves this country so much, he would give up his own life to defend it.  If that isn’t Christ like behavior, I don’t know what is!

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….

Bob Woodruff Video of being in a coma in Bethesda

March 3, 2008

Bob Woodruff Family Fund:  This is an interesting video of the ABC news anchor, Bob Woodruff talking about being in a coma for 36 days after he was hit by an IED in Iraq.  The video is about 5 minutes long.  Don’t miss the last minute of the video where he talks about what he believes brought him out of the coma.  I think you will see why Sam has come along as far as he has.

You can read more about Bob Woodruff and the Bob Woodruff Family Fund that was established to raise awareness of the war’s signature injuries, TBI and PTSD by clicking here.

Erin’s Heroes:  I was perusing Erin’s MySpace web page the other day and came across the section: “Erin’s Interest”.  I wanted to share with all of you the “Hero’s” section, which of course, brought a tear to her father’s eye:

erin's heros from her myspace page

Sam’s medical status:  Sam’s liver count has improved to a point where he can be transported to Kentfield Rehabilitation Hospital.  This move should occur this Wednesday baring any unforeseen circumstances.  As I mentioned before, Sam will be at Kentfield for at least eight weeks, and afterwards, may be sent back to the VA hospital in Palo Alto or possibly the VA hospital in Livermore, Ca. 

Erin is pretty excited about the move to Kentfield but will be very sad to leave the wonderful people at the Palo Alto VA hospital behind.  She feels like they are a part of her family and (and I’m sure Sam) will miss the daily interaction with the therapist, nurses and doctors. 

Erin is going to be staying in an apartment in San Anselmo which is about a ten minute drive from the hospital in Kentfield.  It will be about the same size as the room she has at the Fisher House at the hospital in Palo Alto.  The apartment is furnished and overlooks a beautiful grove of trees.  Erin visited the apartment on Thursday and feels she will be very comfortable there.

As I was talking to Erin this morning, I heard lots of chatter going on in the background.  Erin told me Sam was doing his punching therapy.  His right shoulder has gotten much stronger lately and he was punching a padded target that the physical therapist was holding up.  Erin said he’s been working on his jab and right cross!

When I was in church this past weekend listening to the 2nd reading from Ephesians 5:8-14, I got chills when I heard the following verses:

Awake, O sleeper,
arise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light!

Pray with us for a safe and “healing” trip for Sam to Kentfield.

Celebrating Christmas in the VA Polytrauma Unit

December 14, 2007

Christmas will look a little different this year:  We are so grateful that our daughter is staying at the Fisher House on the grounds of the Palo Alto VA hospital where she feels like she has a little home away from home.  We are thankful that Sam and Erin are relatively close to us.  We are thankful that Erin is so confident in the staff at the polytrauma center—the nurses, therapist and doctors, even the janitors at the VA hospital are so wonderful, caring and friendly. 

This Christmas is going to look a little different for our family’s home in Citrus Heights.  We won’t have a Christmas tree or any decorations or even any presents—but none of that is really important to us right now.   We will be celebrating Christmas together as a family—sitting around Sam’s bed in the polytrauma ward of the VA hospital.  We’ll have the room decorated nicely.  I’m bringing my guitar and we’ll sing Christmas carols together.  We have so much to be thankful for—the charitable organizations that have reached out to us to make this day happen, the wonderful staff at the VA hospital, and mostly importantly, the gift of seeing Sam make little improvements every day. 

Article in  There is a very nice article in Military.Com about Erin and Sam and their battle with Sam’s TBI.  The article was written by Kristin Henderson who is a journalist, author and wife of Navy chaplain who served with the Marines in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Kristin has also been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered and Fresh Air, NBC’s Weekend Today, and C-SPAN’s Book TV and After Words

VA Announces $4.7 Million to Help Caregivers:  On December 6th, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced they will provide $4.7 million for caregiver assistance pilot programs.  The programs are designed to “expand and improve health care education and provide needed training and resources for caregivers who assist disabled and aging veterans in their homes”.  The acting VA Secretary Gordon H. Mansfield said in response to the announcement:

“At VA, we’re committed to looking after caregivers who dedicate their own time and well-being to take care of loved ones who are veterans.”

There are eight different pilot programs starting at various VA hospitals across the country.  The services focus on providing caregivers assistance with transportation, respite care, case management, assistance with personal care, social and emotional support and other services.  For a more detailed listing of the pilot projects being implemented by the VA, click here.

Sam’s medical status:  Yesterday Sam was taken to Nuclear Medicine for a bone scan on his backside.  They want to ensure he doesn’t have any infection in his bones that could be affecting the healing that should be taking place in his backside.  He isn’t healing as quickly has the doctors would like to see.  So far, all results are negative.  It did take a lot out of Sam since he had to leave the polytrauma unit and be taken to the main hospital for the scan.  Erin said it took a lot out of him because he was gone for most of the afternoon. 

Much of Sam’s signing has been at the prompting of Erin or his therapists, but Erin has noticed that lately, he has been initiating more signing on his own.  He has been signing “I love you” more often when Erin does things for him, like make adjustments to his pillows, shave him, etc. 

Another area of improvement —When Sam arrived at the VA hospital, it was very difficult or almost impossible to get him to open his mouth.  Lately he has been opening his mouth and even using his tongue a little.  In fact, just recently he was sticking out his tongue which he has never done.  He’s also making more sounds with his vocal chords, mostly “agh” type sounds.  Erin asked him if he was trying to speak and he signed that he was.  While I was talking to my wife this morning who is staying with Sam and Erin for a few days, I heard Sam using the whistle that one of the Docs from Kilo brought him to help with his speech therapy.  When he got it a few weeks ago, he wasn’t able to make a sound, but I heard him over the phone just whistling away with it today.

Sam has been in the gym every day for about 30 minutes.  He’s been using the arm-bike, but due to the lack of full movement in his left arm, he’s not able to do much with it.   He has been using the leg peddles though, and Erin said he was on it for 15 minutes yesterday.  Much of the actual cycling is done by a motor on the machine, but Sam is also using his own power to some degree.  Erin also noted that Sam is able to check the timer on the bike as it counts up to the 15 minute mark.