Teach Your Children Well

December 24, 2009

sam and erin_christmas_2009_caremeridian 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…
Tony

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.

Sam'sSmiles11-09 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.

Sam'sLizard-Sebastian 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….

Much love,
Eric

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Sam and Erin are Home!

May 24, 2009

National Memorial Day Concert

I received an email from one of the PBS producers of the National Memorial Day Concert requesting to use a picture of Sam and Erin  during one of their musical tributes to our wounded military.  I’m not sure at what point in the concert the picture will be shown, but here is the picture that will be used.  It was taken at the Kentfield Rehabilitation Hospital on September 20th 2008.  Please check the PBS Website for the local time the concert will be shown on your local PBS station (I checked my local KVIE listing and didn’t see it in the schedule so it may not be shown in the local Sacramento area).  Regardless of whether or not you have time to view the concert, the website has a wonderful resource section titled Discover Ways to Sam and Erin_9_20_08_KentfieldHelp the Wounded and their Families.  The web site list many of the wonderful charities who have touched our family over the last 2 years.  We tend to think of our fallen hero’s on Memorial Day, but let us not forget the many wounded troops who have served our military faithfully.  It’s estimated that there are about 320,000 soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001 who have experienced a traumatic brain injury.  Many also suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome.  Many soldiers who have been deployed numerous times have been exposed to multiple blast injuries.  I would also like to take a few minutes to remember Sam’s buddies who died when the Humvee Sam was riding in blew up.  You can view a short bio on each of them on this blog in the Fallen Heroes of Kilo tab.   I’m sure this is a difficult time for their families.

Peace and Love,
Tony

And Blessings are New Everyday:  God’s never ending blessings and mercies continue to lead Sam and Erin through their journey to Sam’s restoration and healing. I reported last time that the military insurance company had denied Sam’s application to the rehab hospital that is just 10-15 minutes from our home in the Sacramento area. Their Marine Corps liaison approached the challenge through battalion, Care Meridian Granite Bay Californiathe medical staff re-wrote the language used to describe the request, and all of Sam’s prayer army took it to prayer. I’m not exactly sure  which efforts God used in accomplishing his will for Sam and Erin, but am joyful to report that as of Thursday, May 21st, at approximately 1:00 pm; Sam is a resident of the CareMeridian Rehab Hospital in Granite Bay, Ca. [7150 Sierra Ponds Ln Granite Bay, CA 95746 (916 722-2990)] This is truly an answer to prayer, and we are extremely elated that so many more of Sam’s family and friends will be able to visit him and thereby thrusting his restoration onto a new level. I was going to say it was a blessing to be able to support Erin more on a daily basis, but she usually is instrumental in supporting us! The move was a smooth one, as Erin had secured an apartment approximately one week before the actual move, and took a weekend to move the large furniture there with the help of her sister Ali, and Sam’s brother, Donny and his wife, Brandi. Sam’s Mom, Kelley, and her husband Jose, painted accent walls, painted the bathroom, and set up her bed. Erin’s Mom, Julie, brought several boxes of stored incidentals to kitchen and bath, along with groceries to further prepare Erin’s new apartment.  Erin wanted to concentrate on Sam and his comfort in the move, which can be stressful.  Erin followed the ambulance that delivered Sam, in her fully loaded car; and Staff Sergeant Brian Judkins (Marine Corps Liaison) followed in a van with the remainder of Sam and Erin’s possessions. It was truly a team effort; and who wouldn’t want to be on that team????

Last weekend when all of the "work" was being done; Wendy and I had the most pleasant task of all, and that was to visit with Sam. He was amazing; impressing the speech pathologist when we arrived. This particular therapist hadn’t seen Sam in a month, but he was so excited, he was almost giddy. Erin had left a message written in erasable marker on a 2×3 foot white board. She wrote a reminder for him that she would be gone, when she would be back, and that if he missed her he could call her anytime he wanted. Sam was holding the board and reading it aloud to him in full context. This was not one word at a time, but several words to a phrase that we hold to be quite normal. It is truly a progression and another stride forward for Sergeant Sam..As the therapist finished his session with Sam, a nurse  asked if Sam was up for a visitor. Former Secretary of Defense, William Perry, under President Bill Clinton, (and his wife) was visiting our injured servicemen. They were gracious and sincere in their appreciation for Sam’s service and sacrifice.  After Wendy and I had explained the severity of Sam’s injuries, and how far God has brought him in the past 21 months, I asked Sam if Secretary Perry didn’t Formery Secretary of Defense William Perry's visit to Sam in Palo Alto 5_20_2009deserve a smart salute. Although Sam was in bed, he snapped a very smart salute to the unsuspecting former Secretary which of course is in the chain of command for any of our military personnel. As Mr. Perry returned the salute to Sam; you would have been hard pressed to find a dry eye in that room. (See picture).

Tony informs me that a producer of the nationally televised "Concert for Memorial Day" will use a picture of Sam and Erin during that show. It will air on PBS on Sunday, the 24th, at 8pm EST.  Erin has approved the picture and it is a very touching one of them hugging each other. Thank you Tony for your continued efforts on fielding all of the correspondence through Sam’s blog, and keeping us informed as to sequential events.  I also want to extend my appreciation to all of our servicemen and women around the world; but especially as Memorial Day approaches to remember in prayer, the families of all those that have made the ultimate sacrifice. We Love You…

Much love,
Eric


Citizen Support for our Troops

April 29, 2009

america supports you

This weekend my wife Julie and I had the pleasure of visiting Sam and Erin at the VA Polytrauma Center in Palo Alto.  They are settling in very nicely at the VA Hospital.  As Eric mentioned in a previous blog, Sam is in a very spacious room that looks out at the Fisher House where Erin is staying.  The Fisher House is also very beautifully decorated and is such a blessing to the families of the wounded troops at the VA hospital.  I’m always so humbled by the organizations who come to the VA hospital to support the troops.  When Sam was in physical therapy a group of Air Force Reservist came in just to visit with Sam for a while and to let him know they appreciate the sacrifice he has made for his country.  Outside the newly completed dayroom at the Polytrauma Center, a group of volunteers from the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church were busy updating the landscaping in the courtyard outside.  Erin went on line and applied to get a specially adapted home built for her and Sam through  Homes for Our Troops and within 15 minutes of sending her application, she received a phone call from one of the volunteers in that organization telling her they received her application and looked forward to working with her. 

Besides keeping you updated on Sam and Erin, I’ve tried to use this blog as a way of highlighting all the wonderful organizations out there who are watching out for our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans (many of them being veterans of Korea and Vietnam).  There is a Department of Defense website called America Supports You that list many different ways we can support our troops.  The website list ways to donate to support organizations, phone cards, care packages, help for the wounded, military family support, and on and on.  Please take some time to look over their website.   You may be inspired to donate or even volunteer your time to one of these worthy organizations. 

Beyond Manners & Etiquette: 
Sam and Erin smiling pretty_Palo Alto_4_25_2009 During a recent physical therapy session that Sam was involved in; another young patient with a frontal brain injury, playfully pulled the pony tail of the physical therapist that was administering Sam’s exercise. This young man was child like and meant no disrespect, but I could see the exasperation from the therapist as she gently, but firmly had to rebuke his inappropriate behavior. The young man had the presence of mind to apologize, but left rather rejected just the same. As Erin and I discussed the incident, we began to discuss Sam’s behavior around the therapists. I believe he is humbled by the amount of care that he must be given. At Wednesday’s P.T. session, they were still laughing about Tuesday’s hour of therapy. When Sam is moved from the chair to the mat or standing frame; he leans his head forward and puts his arm around the therapist (like a hug) so he can assist their muscling him into position. Tuesday as his arm came up around this tiny little Asian therapist, his hand became entangled in the short sleeve arm of her scrubs. As Sam tried to free his hand, he began to  tickle her, but since she was bearing a lot of his weight, she couldn’t do anything until he was seated. They laughingly told this story as they were preparing to move him so Sam was listening. The same little therapist was on duty, so Sam made a wide arc with his arm to ensure getting it on her back. He then gave her a little rub on her back to say thanks for all that you do. Erin says that he does that with the female therapists and for the gentlemen, he pats their back with a little more vigor. Even in this condition and state, I am so proud of the fact that he takes the time to aS&E Sitting Up Exercises_4_22_2009appreciate the people that work so diligently for him. Erin and I sat and spoke of him and his impeccable manners. He has always had them. Tony & Julie recognized it since the very first time they met Sam; complimenting him by saying he was a throwback to the 50’s. Sam and his brothers were always very much people oriented and compassionate; but since Sam reached adulthood, he blossomed into something much more. Erin uses the word chivalrous. I am not sure if it was the Marine Corps or something else that spurred that final transformation, but it must be true as so many have commented on it. Sam impressed a friend of mine the first time she had met him. He rose when she entered the room, introduced himself and Erin, and then would not sit down again until she was comfortably seated first. I would love to take credit for this remarkable behavior from all of my sons; but I just can’t in all good conscience. I believe that charisma that they all enjoy is a gift from God and a spirit of hospitality. If you are naturally well liked by all you come in contact with; then how much simpler is it to become the leader of people that we all know that Sam is?

Sam&ErinSpeechTherapy_4_22_2009 I wanted to include a few pictures to show and remind you all of Erin’s active involvement in all of Sam’s therapy. The first pic is of Sam practicing to sit up and to strengthen his lower back and core. Erin sits or lies directly in front of his face for motivation and encouragement. I’ve spoken in the past about her "kissing therapy" which still produces more results than any other. In fact, some teachers have incorporated it into their curriculum. The next picture is of Erin, Sam, and his speech pathologist as they practice swallowing response, word and phrase generation, and the like. If you look hard, you’ll see a watch supplied by his vision therapist. A conventional watch to look at, but it also has two buttons on it that will vocally tell you the time, day of the week, date, month, and year. She was asking Sam what year it was, and instead of answering verbally, he flashed 5 fingers and then 4 more to equal ’09…they are always tickled by his ingenuity. One evening Erin sent me a text to say that after their "good-night prayer", Erin asked Sam if "he was going to be better tomorrow?" He said "Yes", and then she asked "how much better?" His response is priceless to me is he said, "All the way"….Bravo Sam and Erin; That is the kind of faith statement that is going to propel him out of that place on his own 2 good legs. Erin reports that Sam may be suffering from allergies, as he is running a low grade temperature, but NO infection. She also reports that their insurance company has denied the bid to come to Granite Bay which is only 15 minutes from our house. It has to do with the VA and certifications, etc…, but God can easily intervene if that is the best place for Sam. Will you join me in that prayer for this week and that is to have God send him wherever he will have him…

Much love,
Eric


Visitors with Love and Affection

April 9, 2009

Since that fateful day in July of ’07, Sam and Erin have had many visitors that want to bring them love, support, and comfort. There have been entertainment celebrities, 4 Star Generals, politicians, motorcycle clubs, and a host of friends, family, and well wishers. All of these incredible people have touched the Neria and Nichols’ families very much; but the visits by Sam’s "Comrades in Arms" have moved me the most.  Specifically, his USMC buddies that were there and with him on that hot day of summer in the desert of Iraq. Thresher, Henley, and Kjenstead (Sp?-forgive me) are three of the names of 6 of his buddies that came to pay him homage this last fall. Pardon me if I fail to remember the other’s names; they were all dear to my heart. This past weekend, Erin and I had the pleasure to host the young Marine that was Sam’s driver when his Humvee was hit by a formed projectile. This handsome warrior’s  name is Jarred Reeder. (he gave me permission to use his name and record my thoughts of his visit)…He was joined by his Jarred & Bernadette_4_4_2009_Palo Alto VA Hospitalgorgeous girlfriend, Bernadette; whom he jokingly claimed was there "to help drive and to keep him awake." Ha! It was obvious to me that She accompanied Jarred for emotional support, as this turned into a very moving visit. It was very enjoyable for me to hear all over again how Sam is held in high esteem by his fellow Marines. Jarred says that Sam’s name is legendary in the 11th regiment of the 2nd battalion of Marines. He had me laughing when he told of grilling new "boots"; (new men to the unit), if they know about "Nichols"? If they don’t, then they are harangued, and then educated…don’t feel sorry for the boot; it is the way of the Marine Corps. A hazing if you will, that allows bonding, acceptance, and of course educates them as to what is appropriate and a priority. I could see the sincerity in his face when Jarred told me that Sam is one of the men that he would like to emulate. This kid wasn’t blowing smoke at me because Sam was injured. He was the real deal; I’ve seen enough to recognize it when I see and hear it. When Erin was out of earshot, (Jared’s respect for Erin) he told me many details that weren’t previously relayed to me by the Marines. I won’t elaborate here, but suffice to know that ALL of Sam’s comrades are heroes and deserve much more recognition than I feel that they have received. As Jarred and Bernadette were leaving for the day; (they arrived on Friday evening, and stayed till Sunday morning to ensure ample visitation with Sam and Erin) Jarred asked for a few private moments with Sam. I understood and it allowed me to discuss Jarred with Bernadette in the hallway. I don’t know what was said between the two men, but it brought this Bible verse to mind when Jarred emerged from Sam’s room. Jesus was speaking and He said, "Greater love has no one than this, That he lay down his life for his friends". John 15:13…I think that summarizes perfectly the bonds that are exchanged by comrades at arms in general, and certainly by Sam and his friends in Kilo Battery….

Sam & Kelly_3_19_2009 You hear from Tony and I often, but not often from the Mom’s associated with Sam’s recovery. I am speaking of Sam’s Mom, Kelley; and Erin’s Mom, Julie. These two ladies are on the forefront of prayer, visitation, and support; but are a little on Juliethe shy side when it comes to writing anything for Sam’s blog. Both write  beautifully and from the heart, but are satisfied with letting Tony and I record our observations of God’s miraculous work in Sam’s recovery. Please know that they are always there, willing to do whatever it takes for Sam and Erin, and offer Sam and Erin much love and support in all they do.

Sam’s room in Palo Alto is affectionately referred to as the "Penthouse", as it is big enough to handle 4 beds, a wheel in shower in the bathroom, and a sofa and recliner. He has no roommate at the moment, but it is a welcome relief for visiting as the rooms at Kentfield were quite small. Speaking of which, Sam had his first full shower at Palo Alto. It is amazing how clean Erin and the CNA’s kept him at Kentfield without the full showering facilities. Erin couldn’t stop stroking his soft hair after his shower. Sam is once again invigorated by the daily therapies at Palo Alto. A rigorous physical, occupational, and speech therapy is performed, along with a massage afterwards. Erin, as Sam’s spouse also gets to take advantage of the massages, and has reported improvement in her shoulder injury from them. As the meds he was getting at Kentfield are reduced and eventually eliminated, he was going through some sleepy times, as some of them were stimulants. The busy schedule seems to keep him awake and alert, and I see that as great progress.

As Easter approaches, I am focusing on the "Resurrection Spirit" that raised Jesus from the dead. It is the same Spirit that raised Sam from brain death, and continues to push and lead him forward to full recovery. As I remember to thank God for Jesus’ miracle, I’ll remember to thank him for Sam’s as well….

Much love and Happy Easter,
Eric


A Celebrity Send Off

March 25, 2009

Sam posing Kentfield parking lot_3_23_09 Sam and Erin are moved into their new homes in Palo Alto. Sam in the Polytrauma Unit at the VA hospital complex, and Erin, once again, at the Fisher House, just a stone’s throw from Sam’s room. (I’ll include their address) I was able to attend a small gathering in a conference room at the Kentfield Rehabilitation Hospital where Sam and Erin have been in residence for the last year. It was a small and rather impromptu party to graduate Sam from their rehab program, and to send them off with much love and good wishes. No less than 3 doctors were in attendance (including Sam’s personal physicians), several of the nursing and technical therapies staff, and even many of the hospital administration staff came to pay their honor and respect to Sam and Erin. Their demonstration of love for Sam and Erin was moving, to the point where Wendy (my girlfriend) had to rise and leave the room to keep from blubbering. A doctor had taken many photographs of the staff and facility, and had the employees write a memento to Sam and Erin by their pictures. Sam and Erin have come a long way in the past year, and although I give all praise and glory to God for that progress; I do thank him for the wonderful people he used at Kentfield to accomplish his will for Sam and Erin.

I am still surprised by the favor that Sam and Erin enjoy wherever they go. Yes, they are an uncommon pair. Sam, a genuine war hero in every sense of the word; and Erin, an “uncommon hero” of immense magnitude for her dedication and love for Sam. This became more clear to me as I drove to work one morning. I leave for work at about 6 am every morning, and it is still very dark at that time. Many mornings I speak to Wendy over the phone, discussing our plans for the day, challenges we are facing, and of course to pray for things we are led to. This particular morning I was driving into a full Moon, and couldn’t help but comment to her of it’s silver color and intense glow of shimmering light. Remembering my 5th grade science, I commented that the Moon has no light of it’s own and is merely a reflector of the Sun’s power and light. Once I said that, this Bible verse popped into my head, which my brother had quoted to me, just a few days before. “But to you who fear my name, The Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in his wings…” Malachi 4: v 2…This is a reference to Jesus, and He, like the Sun, is the center of all life as we know it. Scripture says that we will have no need for the sun or moon in eternity, as God’s glory will provide that light and warmth. Anyway, I believe that Sam and Erin reflect the Sun’s (Son’s) light and that is why they continue to have such favor wherever they go. Sam with his dogged determination, cooperative spirit, and true desire to be restored, fuels Erin’s love and dedication, steadfast faithfulness, and humble but assertive attitude for Sam’s recovery. These are Godly traits, and you just can’t help but love the people that display them.

Mario Cart_Kentfield_3_23_09 Sam is such a stinker…where he gets that I’ll never know. (tee hee)…He loves to tease Erin and always has. When she would have to pee, he would gently press on her lower abdomen; just to annoy her. Last Friday as she was telling him that she would be right back from the restroom, that little mischievousness came forth and he raised his hand to gently press on her belly. Erin knew immediately what he was doing and burst into laughter as we all did when we were let into the joke. It is a break through when he does something from memory, even if it is something less than acceptable and nice…Ha! As I’ve reported before, Sam is doing better and better in navigating his electric wheelchair. It takes the coordination of a video gamer, and the focus and concentration of an athlete. I witnessed him drive it around the hospital, (with his co-pilot, Erin at his side) with only a few bumps and crashes. (See picture) The day was beautiful and as we sat outside and talked, I asked Sam to throw me a pose. This next shot was what he came up with.

Erin reports that She and Sam could be in Granite Bay (only about 15 minutes from us) in just a few months time, depending on his progress at the VA. They told her that Sam would only be at Kentfield for a few months and that turned into a year. The more he progresses, the longer the stay. It is a win/win scenario for Sam and for us. As he goes to Palo Alto, I wonder whose life will be touched by God using Sam and Erin this time? Have no worries, concerns, or anxieties, for Sam and Erin. They are in God’s hands, and He is calling the shots. They will be fine, PLEASE continue to remember them in your prayers…they are working!

Much love,
Eric

Before I forget, Sam’s new address is:

SGT Sam Nichols, USMC
Palo Alto Polytrama Center
3801 Miranda Ave 7D room 115
Palo Alto Ca. 94304-1290

I wanted to give a special thank you to the doctors and staff at Kentfield Rehabilitation Hospital in Marin.  I will write more about Erin and Sam’s experience at Kentfield in another blog entry, but I just wanted to quickly mention that the Nichols and Neria families are so grateful for the care you have shown Sam and Erin.  Kentfield Rehabilitation Hospital is a wonderful place with an outstanding group of doctors and staff.

Peace and love to all,

Tony


March is Brain Injury Awareness Month

March 10, 2009

brain injury awareness month From the brainline.org website:  It’s March. That means it’s Brain Injury Awareness Month — a yearly effort to raise awareness about the progress and benefits of brain research. To help you make the most of the events this month, BrainLine has created a comprehensive list of what’s happening across the country. On it you will find everything from the goings on at the Congressional Brain Injury Awareness Fair on Capitol Hill to the Walk and Roll-a-thon in North Carolina.

Also, take a look at our Calendar, where you can always find monthly listings of events, conferences, and other goings-on in the TBI community. You can also submit your calendar items to us at info@BrainLine.org.

 Sam’s medical status: 

Sam and Erin have had a tremendous few weeks since Tony and I last updated you all. One afternoon as Erin was clipping Sam’s toenails, which she always finishes with a nice lotion rub; Sam was trying to follow her movement, but the telescoping television kept getting in his line of sight. He pushed it one way, then the other. He said and I quote to get it right, "I love, how you show me how much you love me". On the day I was there, Erin washed his hair in his chair and I was impressed how good a job she did with very little excess water. When she finished, she draped the towel over Sam’s head with the Sam dries his hair_3_4_09_Kentfield instruction to dry his hair. I thought he would quickly pull the towel free from his head; but he just started drying it with a lot of rubbing action. (see pic) Sam was moving his fingers up Erin’s torso and she asked him what he was doing, and he answered, "I’m taking my fingers for a walk". This last week he gave Erin a "wet willie"; a junior high school trick just meant to annoy. Their social worker is a girl named Debbie, and Erin had Sam make a card for her for her birthday. When they saw her in the hall, without prompting, Sam gave her the card and said, "Happy Birthday". With tears in her eyes, she asked Sam’s permission to put it on her wall, to which he responded, "Frame it". In (2) 1/2 hour sessions of speech therapy, Sam said 195 words and phrases. (Yeah, they count them) This is the most he has done, beating his former record by 70+ words. These included open ended questions (other than yes or no answers), multiple choice, and phrase answers. One of the most darling memory exercises that Erin has him do is to number her kisses to him. She’ll say what number is this?; get a kiss and then he’ll retort 8 or 9 or 14. It’s working. Sam is also getting good at propelling himself with his very strong right arm. He knows how to reach back far on the wheel and give himself a long stroke to move himself forward, which he does if Erin stops to chat with others and he wants to go. He tried it one day while Erin was pushing, so She had to pull over and give him some instruction in wheelchair safety. She asked him, "How many fingers do you have"? He shows her 5, and then She asks, "How many would you like to keep"? which he also answers 5. Ha!

The most exciting things this past week involve Sam walking on a  treadmill. It’s called a "lite gate" and uses a harness, much like the standing frame. It enables him to walk, but he must use his own power to get his legs moving. His drop foot has impeded this so far but SmoochTime_3_4_2009_Kentfieldthe physical therapist is enthused as Erin and I are. They will continue to work on it with a boot to keep his feet straight thereby allowing him to walk under his own power. This IS exciting. Erin also told me tonight that Sam motorized his chair from the cafeteria to the gym without assistance. This involves several turns and much control, so again another first. Mike was impressed, Erin was so proud she was moved to tears, and I am as always in awe of the way that God continues to push him forward. There is a distinct possibility that Sam and Erin will return to the VA in Palo Alto soon. This is also good news as he isn’t going to have to go to San Francisco to get his infections ironed out.

Much love,
Eric

More Sam Updates as of March 11thEric’s update was from the 4th of March.  I wanted to give you a little more information on Sam’s move back to the Palo Alto VA Hospital.  On Monday of this week,  representatives from the Palo Alto VA Hospital came and did an evaluation on Sam.  They put him through a series of test to ensure he would benefit from additional speech, physical and occupational therapy at their location.  They were very impressed with how quickly he responded to their questions and his ability to speak in complex sentences.  As Eric said, Sam has been doing very well with his speech therapy and seems to be going to the next level of awareness just at the right time.  After the evaluation, Sam was accepted back into the program at the Palo Alto VA.  Erin called her mother this morning and said their move date will be March 23rd.  Sam is scheduled to have surgery on his left calf muscle to lengthen it (due to the drop foot).  He will also have his esophagus dilated which will help him to begin drinking and eating again…I’m assuming it will also help with his speech.  Erin put Sam on the phone to talk to Julie (Erin’s mother) and they had a nice little conversation.  When Erin got back on the phone she said to Julie, “that was awesome, he was carrying on a conversation with you!”…Things are looking up.  Thank you for your prayers! 

Peace to all,
Tony


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,
Eric