Today was Sam’s retirement ceremony from the Marines. He is officially retired on the 31st of August 2012. There were two Marine colonels a first sergeant and a whole Marine honor guard present for this occasion. We didn’t know there was going to be so many Marines supporting Sam today, but when you think about it, the Marines have always been there for him. When I walked around the corner of the building and saw all the flags and honor guard, I actually got all choked up. Many wonderful words were spoken about Sam’s sacrifice to his country and Erin’s dedication to her husband. Please enjoy the pictures…I think they speak for themselves.
Yes! Sam is alive! In fact, yesterday was his fifth anniversary of that fatal day in Iraq in 2007 when the vehicle he was riding in was hit by a roadside bomb. Sam made the trip from Iraq to Germany where Erin and Sam’s brother Donny where waiting for him. He then was sent to the Bethesda Naval Medical Center for a few months. After he started coming out of his coma, he was sent to the Palo Alto Veterans Hospital. After about six months of rehab at the VA, Sam was sent to Kentfield Hospital in Marin County. The last few years, Sam has been residing at the Care Meridian 24 hour skilled nursing facility in Granite Bay. We have been very pleased with the care Sam has received at Care Meridian. He receives physical, occupational and vision therapy a couple of times a week. Most importantly, Sam is treated like a member of the family at this facility. Sam continues to score very high on the brain related test he is given. He still has a real hard time with short term memory issues, but long term memory is just fine.
I tend to get a little down about Sam’s progress and it makes it difficult for me to write blog post about him because I always want to put out really positive reports—for that, I apologize. I will try to be more forthcoming with my updates. I will also resist the urge to give you to much information in this single blog post because there has been a lot of very positive things going on in the life of Sam and Erin, but I will make separate updates (preview: Erin graduated from college and getting ready for graduate school, Sam’s official retirement from the Marines, Erin and Sam buying a new house!).
Sam is still making small gains in all areas of his rehabilitation and yesterday proved to be a very good day for him. As Julie and I were walking in to see him, he was sitting up on the rehab table without the assistance of the therapist. Here is what Erin said in her facebook updated:
Today is Sam’s 5th Alive Day! To commemorate the day he had an awesome physical therapy session. He sat with minimal assistance for 1:13, then 1:23. He also used his hip flexors to pick up his right leg before he kicked it out. These are both firsts. I am so proud of him.
On top of Sam’s 5th anniversary “Alive Day”, in a few days (July 27th) Sam and Erin will be celebrating their 9th anniversary of marriage! Besides going to school and training for marathons and triathlons (another blog post!), Erin can be found at the Care Meridian facility hanging out with Sam almost every day of the week. Thank you for your support and continued prays for Sam. He is a live and well and still improving every day. One final picture of the happy couple. Happy anniversary Sam and Erin. We love you!
In so many ways, the young men and women in our military who are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are our Sentinels of Freedom…just like the men and women of fighting forces who have gone before them in other wars, they all stand up for all of us and fight for freedom and democracy around the world. Without these brave warriors, there would be no General Motors, no Exxon, no Thanksgiving meals or no Fourth of July celebrations in the country we call our home, The United States of America. And because our military medical technology has become so cutting edge, many of these warriors who died on the battlefield in previous wars are now making it home—many with severe injuries. I would like to introduce you to an organization who understands that it is our responsibility as a nation to embrace these wounded veterans and assist in getting them back on the road to independence. This organization is called Sentinels of Freedom and the Sentinels of Freedom Scholarship Foundation. From their “About Us” section of their website:
We believe it’s not just the governments responsibility to help our wounded and injured troops but each individual and corporation also has to look at their own responsibility in this national issue.
Since the beginning of this nation we have had men and women, young and old willing to stand up and protect our way of life through their selfless service in our Armed Forces.
They have grown up in our communities, gone to our schools, played on our ball fields, attended our churches. When they come home broken and bent we can do more that say ” It’s the governments responsibility”.
Any educated person can draw a direct line to our quality of life and that of those who serve us in our military. Simply put, it is an undeniable fact that without them we would not have a government, corporations, communities or the freedoms we enjoy today.
The VA and Military do an outstanding job but they simply can’t do what we can to assist those who have sacrificed for us when they return home. We bridge that gap.
Erin and Sam were introduced to the Sentinels of Freedom through the Marine Commander of the Wounded Warrior Battalion West, of which Sam is still assigned. I’ve mentioned in previous blog post that we sometimes call Erin, “Dr. Erin”, because she has become so familiar with the doctor and nurse jargon that she can have a conversation with a neuropsychologist and can translate to the rest of us what they said. Since Sam’s injuries, Erin has mentioned many times how she has wanted to go into the medical field in order to help veterans like Sam. I am very proud to say that Erin is now in her second semester (junior year) in the speech pathology and audiology program at Sacramento State University. She would like to get her bachelor’s degree and also go to grad school and get her master’s in speech pathology. Erin’s schooling is being sponsored by the Sentinels of Freedom who are paying for her tuition, books and even her rent. I haven’t seen a more dedicated and motivated student—as can be seen by her 4.0 grade point average from last semester.
As for Sam, he is very healthy and is still making some small improvements. There was a little accident in mid January while he was in physical therapy using the standing frame. The therapist and Erin noticed Sam, who never complains of pain, was indeed making some grimaces like he was hurting while they had him in a standing position. They asked him to rate his pain, 1 to 10, and he said it was a 9 out of 10! It turns out that due to low bone density, Sam actually broke a bone in his foot. He is currently in a boot and taking vitamin D and calcium supplements. They are also taking him outside to get more sun during the day. He is working on the tilt table five days a week to help strengthen his bones and also has an appointment in eight weeks to get his foot rechecked at the Mather VA Hospital.
Other significant improvements since my last blog post—Sam’s vision has improved significantly. He is able to complete more complex vision therapy task. His concentration in all aspects of his physical, vision and occupational therapy have really improved which has led to greater strides overall in Sam’s physical and mental well being.
A good side affect of the foot breaking incident was that the drug he was taking, Vicodin, which normally can make a person drowsy, actually relaxed his muscles more and allowed him to speak much more clearly and more often. His doctor is working with prescribing him Adivan which should have the same affect as the Vicodin and allow his throat to relax, making it easier for him to speak.
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.
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.
From Sam’s father Eric: Wendy and I were able to attend the current Marvel rage at our local theatre last Saturday, of Iron Man 2. What made this especially fun, is the fact we were able to go with Sam and Erin. Even with a UTI (Urinary Tract Infection), Sam sat and watched with interest; a movie with incredible special effects. He acted like He and Erin were on a first date, as He hugged Her, held Her hand, and leaned His head towards Hers. It was darling, and every bit as entertaining as the movie. As I sat and watched, I couldn’t help but think of the many analogies that Sam shares with this fictional character. Surrounded by Iron, (wheelchair) Courageous, compassionate, but above all, a belief in what he was doing was the right thing. Call me biased, but Sam goes far beyond the movie in the areas of Iron Will, Courage to meet the challenges of his daily life, and the sheer determination to accomplish all that is set before him as the right thing to do. Just as the movie and comic book before it claims; mere human strengths are not enough to meet these adversities. Unlike the pulp fiction, we know exactly where Sam’s supernatural powers come from.
Sam is the redeemed of the Lord Jesus Christ and Disciple of the Most High God. He has faith that the Lord God is true to His Word, and is even now restored unto optimum health. Scripture says that He that believes, (on the Lord Jesus) IS healed. Not will be or can be, but IS. Simply because His manifestation of healing hasn’t been shown yet, does not mean that He doesn’t have it. God’s timing is not our own, and God knows when the right time is for Sam’s healing to be revealed to the world. We celebrate His healing now; party when Sam can join us. In the meantime, God is teaching Sam and Erin supernatural love, patience, determination, and compassion for the others with lots worse than Sam’s.
Sam continues to improve, even if it is with baby steps. Sam’s overall coordination and flexibility are accelerating with his aggressive physical therapy. Many TBI’s lose their physical prowess due to either inactivity or the lack of transmissions to the muscles. Sam hasn’t lost his; the strength on his right side is extraordinary. He enjoys flexing and showing off his arm strength when ever he sees me. When God is ready, he has the basic muscular structure already in place to rise and walk out of that chair. Sam’s wit and clever responses demonstrates for all his total presence of mind. I
asked him if he loved Erin recently, and his response was simple and brief but spoke volumes; it was, "So Much". Yesterday, I sent a text inquiring as to their day; and Sam said simply, "Prime"—to which Erin agreed. As our dear family of friends who pray for the manifestation of Sam’s healing, I ask you to not forget Erin. Her characteristics of Iron like loyalty, dedication, and simply an IRON Love for Sam continues to be as strong as Sam’s resolve for restoration. She willingly oversees his therapies, keeps him company, entertains him, and challenges him to go further. All the while working recently at a few weddings of family and friends, helping with her darling niece, Holly, and finishing college classes with A+ averages. I am thankful to God for her and as proud as any father-in-law can be…
PS: If you are a facebook user, do a search on “Support for Sgt Samuel Nichols” to find the facebook page started by a Navy Corpsman who served with Sam in Iraq.
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…rested 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 us 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 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…
When Sam was at the VA hospital in Palo Alto during a previous Christmas season, there were always Christmas Cards in a basket in the day room. The “get well” cards were from local school children “to a wounded soldier” and it was always a treat reading what they had said and looking at the pictures they drew for the wounded men and woman. Erin would take a few cards into Sam’s room and read them to him to cheer him up. It was such a good feeling knowing that there were teachers in the local area who where teaching the children about the sacrifice our service men and women make for their country.
About three months ago I contacted the local elementary school that Erin attended and asked if any of the teachers might like to sponsor Sam and Erin and send get well cards to Sam (Sam is also from Citrus Heights). I received a very courteous and apologetic reply from the school passing on my request. The reason was basically that the “war” in the Middle East is controversial and it might upset some students or some parents may object to their children’s participation. [It is not my intention at all to point the finger and any individual or institution so I won’t be mentioning any names…I understand this situation could happen anywhere in our country…sadly].
When I was a young child in elementary school, we would always start out the day by standing next to our desk, put our right hand over our heart, face the flag and recite the pledge of allegiance. I truly believe this was part of the foundation for the love I have for our country.
I Pledge Allegiance to the flag
of the United States of America
and to the Republic for which it stands,
one Nation under God, Indivisible,
with Liberty and Justice for All.
I wonder if the “Pledge” is still being recited in our elementary schools today? And if so, are the children being taught what it means? [see Red Skelton’s monologue for review] “with Liberty” — do they know what those two words represent? Do they understand that men and women of our military fought and died for our right to say those words? Sadly, I think not.
A few weeks ago, I told the above story to a lady who’s daughter goes to another elementary school our town. In fact, I wrote a blog about her daughter and a club at their school called the Barrett Battalion. We were all visiting Sam at CareMeridian and this family had come to support Sam and hear myself, my wife and a few friends play Christmas carols for the patients and their families. A few days ago, we had a small get-together at my parents house and this family was invited. Towards the end of the evening, the mother pulled out a gift bag and presented it to Erin and me. It was a beautiful binder with about 120 Christmas letters to Sam written by students from Carriage Elementary and John Barrett Middle School. Many of the children expressed their appreciation for the sacrifice Sam has made for our country and wished him a speedy recovery. What an incredible Christmas gift for Sam and Erin…and what an incredible gift these children have been given by their teachers—the gift of respect and honor for their country and those who have sacrificed their lives and health to keep it strong.
Merry Christmas to all…
Good Morning to All,
It has been a tremendous holiday season with many miracles unfolding around us. Even in the face of diminishing resources, (the county in which I live and work is nearly broke, and from which we derive most of our funding to feed the homeless). My job has seemed to double in scope. Greater need + less resources = miracles of God’s provision. Our annual turkey drive netted us more than double what it did last year; FEMA has come thru with some awesome donations of highly useable foods, and a federally funded program has enabled us to pay young people to gain work experience in our kitchens. Although we should expect the miraculous from God, we often don’t and then act surprised when it happens. The Sam Nichols story is proof that prayer changes circumstances. Prayers offered for Sam from the Nichols and Neria families, our extended families across the country, and a host of friends from around the world that believe in his total restoration; continue to drive his progress in a positive direction.
Erin loves the attached picture. She says that when he attempts to smile, is the only time you can tell the brain injury by merely his appearance. His smile is lopsided and just makes him all the cuter. Sam has had quite a month which includes getting to eat ice cream, the rediscovery of some emotions he hasn’t displayed since the injury, and the introduction of some new and experimental drugs by a new Doctor. His physical therapist is smart and often rewards his hard work with some tastes of ice cream. He thoroughly enjoys this time and it is often the social aspect of the moment that makes it special for him. Although everyone agrees that the new display of emotions is a positive step in the right direction; the behavior is hard to imagine from him as he has been so placid up until now. When Erin brings comfort to another patient, (a young man with a brain injury) by adjusting his pillows in his wheel chair; Sam doesn’t like it. He becomes agitated and surly. When Erin asks what is bothering him, he just replies that he doesn’t like the guy. Ha! Of course he denies that he may be jealous of Erin giving another some attention, and then the next day it is all forgotten and peace has returned. I understand that this type of behavior is to be expected from recovering brain injury patients, but Erin and I can’t help but see the humor in it. It just underlines the man in Superman Sam….Erin is very excited to get to try some treatments for Sam that may or may not be beneficial. He has had some positive reactions in the past to some brain stimulants, so it may be in God’s plan to have these be a part of his recovery. The one thing I always notice is that until he becomes accustomed to the new drug; it totally wipes him out and he gets sleepy. Rest is a good thing as his body does what God intended at creation to help heal itself.
Someone had caught a baby lizard just outside the home where Sam resides and given it to him to observe and hold. He named it Sebastian and when Erin asked him what he wanted to do with it, he replied to keep it in a box. Erin foresaw that pandemonium would ensue from a lizard loose in the rehab home and talked him to letting it go in the garden. He reluctantly agreed. It put me in mind that Sam was the one when small wanted creatures around the house. We had snakes in an aquarium, lizards and bugs in terrariums, crawdads, goldfish, and dogs…It was good training then and I believe has value now.
As Christmas approaches tomorrow, I ask simply that you all remember the reason for the season, and that’s Jesus. It is because he came into this world to reconcile man to God, and restore our blessings that we can boldly stand on God’s statement of fact that by his stripes, Sam is healed. Not will be, but IS! Not some future hope, but now. Faith is evidence of things not yet seen, so just because we haven’t seen it yet doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have it. Rejoice with us in the knowledge that Sam is healed this Christmas….