Tuesday, September 21, 2010

September 2010

It is with much joy, pride, and sentiment that I sit down to write for one last time about my brother’s recent triumphs, one year after he was injured in combat. I know that so many of you have been following this website so faithfully, and I am beyond humbled by that. I had absolutely no idea that this story would gather such interest from so many people, and I am so thankful that we were able to share this part of our lives – all our ups and downs - with the people who have held us up through this challenging year. Dan, our mother, and I wouldn’t be where we are today without all the love and support we’ve received from you, in all the different ways that you have given it to us.

And although it’s been a year now, Dan is still not finished with surgery. I think his OR record is up in the thirties now - just a few more to go and then he will be kissing that place goodbye! And I will be saying farewell to the waiting room couch and all my favorite vending machine snacks. Last week he had operation #1 in a series of steps to fix the internal damage he suffered from the blast. His surgeon was very pleased with the results, so we are hopeful that when all is said and done around November, the Inner Dan will be as good as new. Fingers crossed everybody - the next few months might get a little rough.

But enough of that.....

Feast your eyes on this!

Now if that isn’t the coolest thing you’ve ever seen, I don’t know what is. It started with a really fast walk, and progressed to a run-walk tied to a harness, then to a lap around the gym without the harness, then to 400 meters around a high school track, and now this weekend he is running the Navy Five Miler in Washington D.C. This is the product of months of blood, sweat, tears, intense physical therapy, self-discipline and determination, and thousands upon thousands of calories burned and consumed a day (yep folks, one year later, still eating everything in sight). Meticulous skin and wound care is a huge part of his daily routine now. It is a constant battle to protect his legs from getting beaten to shreds inside their prosthetic sockets, but he loves running so much that it’s a battle he’s willing to fight.

And as for me, I stay behind the scenes these days. I am still living in Bethesda in our apartment with Dan, and I continue to help him out with little day-to-day things as a sister/roommate, but he is basically as independent as ever before. Although I’m already a Registered Nurse, I have recently gone back to school to become certified as a Wound/Ostomy RN. If I can use what I have seen with my brother to help the other Dan’s of the World with their colostomies and various wounds from combat, then I can’t imagine any better line of work.

One last thing about the other Dan’s of the World….there are a lot of them out there. The numbers of injured men and women at Walter Reed and other military hospitals are astonishing right now. We need to turn every single story into the same kind of success story that we have seen with Dan. And sadly not everybody has the resources and support that we have been so fortunate to have. If anybody is still looking for an additional way to give back to these men and women, there are organizations out there that are fighting every day to give them what they deserve. Please visit www.phoenixpatriotfoundation.org , a project born this year out of a desire to make things right.

And although this is the last post on his website, this won’t be the last time you’ll see him. It doesn’t even have to be said how bright his future is, and how much we are going to continue to be inspired by his story. Dan has no solid plans for the future quite yet – he is just going one day at a time – but I know that wherever he ends up taking himself and the rest of his life will make these triumphs of the past year seem like just a small fraction of what he’s capable of.

On behalf of my family – thank you.


Monday, September 6, 2010

Dan on TV

Watch Dan do the coin toss for Navy at today's game vs. Maryland.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Monday, March 8, 2010


I am proud and excited to report that Dan is back to his original height and walking all over the place, with bending knees and all! No more stubbies, no more peg-leg walking. He is doing SUCH an amazing job at getting this C-leg thing down - when he walks, he actually makes prosthetic legs seem like real ones. He's been up on them for about two weeks now, and is blowing everyone at Walter Reed away with his progress. And how deserving - today is the 6-month anniversary of stepping on that pressure plate in Afghanistan.

When I last wrote on here (last month - my apologies once again, just know that no news is generally good news!), Dan was about to go into surgery. He came out of it fine, but it was a very tough one to recover fully and quickly from. They had to cut a piece of his large intestine out, and sew the remaining ends back together. He was discharged home five days later, eating and tolerating food very well, but with an abdominal incision the size of Kansas that the doctors left open. They do this often in GI surgery, to avoid suturing up a potential infection under the skin. The day after discharge from Walter Reed, Washington DC became hell. HELL! Snowed in for five days with an open abdomen - it wasn't fun and it was downright scary as hell but we pulled through. We had one day of reprieve, where I was able to luge my car down the road to the hospital to get much-needed medical supplies for Dan, and then boom! More snow. Trapped inside our apartment for another three days. I can look back on it all and laugh now, but it wasn't funny at the time. The only thing that was funny was how badly I shamed my brother in Scrabble. Needless to say, once all the snow let up, we were both practically sprinting out the door to get back to human life at Walter Reed. And I am also happy to report that a little over a month later, that huge incision is almost all the way closed!

Soon after all this happened, the C-legs came from Austria. And they are cool. Since they are legs with knees powered by a computer, they are pretty complex. A person couldn't just put them on and start walking. They require a lot of instruction by both the prosthetist and the physical therapist who are working with Dan. They also have to be adjusted by way of a bluetooth chip and a laptop (I'm serious) to get the knees just right for Dan's body weight. It was actually pretty funny - he stood up in them for the first time, got the feel for the way his actual legs fit in the sockets, and a basic understanding of the mechanism of the knee, and just started walking. Between parallel bars, of course - but still he picked up on it very quickly, like he'd been doing it for years. For the first few days of walking training, he stayed between the parallel bars just for the extra support while he got a very thorough understanding of how the knees work and feel. He then moved outside the parallel bars to an indoor track, strapped to a harness in case he fell, and walking with two canes. His physical therapist is incredible - he has such immense knowledge of prosthetic rehab, he is challeging and motivating, and is overall just a great fit for Dan. At this point Dan is walking, without the harness, wherever he feels like going! And as I said before, he is walking very well. The other day he learned how to go up and down stairs, and today he learned how to go up and down inclines. He knows how to stand up from a chair, and even stand up from the ground if he falls. The training center at Walter Reed is so great, but it's not the real world, and in the real world there are stairs and ramps and grass and any subtle changes in the level of the ground can send him biting the dust. So a major goal of physical therapy is to teach him how tackle all these issues that might come up. And let me tell you, somebody getting up from the ground on double prosthetics is a sight to see. NOT as easy as you would think!

And what we have come to learn all too well over all these months, is that it's always a rollercoaster of ups and downs. There are still surgeries in Dan's future, and they are not going to be easy ones unfortunately. His urethra is still severed, part of his colon is not there, and he's got crazy bone growth on the end of his left leg that makes putting that leg in a socket pretty painful. All three of these issues are going to require surgical intervention, and at this point, we're not sure when these are all going to happen. We're starting to get the ball rolling on the urethra and GI reconstruction - doing exploratory procedures and tests to figure out a game plan. If you asked him, I know my brother would tell you that losing his legs has been nothing compared to the struggles he's faced with these internal injuries. It's so easy to put on prosthetics and show the world how you've triumphed over amputations - but this internal stuff is far more devastating and something that he basically just has to deal with inwardly. I'm in awe every day of his strength.

And one more thing before I have to call it a night....to all of you, all over this country, who have donated your prayers, your money, your time, your words of encouragement, and your hope to our family...thank you so much. Each one of you is loved forever for this. The past six months have taught us, more than anything, how incredible we all are as human beings.

God bless you all!