I will never forget our first visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in May 2012. Vickie and I were in DC for a Joining Forces event and had some extra time - and a few extra gifts -and decided to help some wounded warriors honor their wives and moms on Mother's Day. After clearing security and entering the 58-acre, $2.8 billion base, we immediately noticed a young woman pushing a young man in a wheelchair who, in turn, was pushing a double stroller with a toddler and infant inside. Slung across the women's shoulder was a prosthetic leg with a very stylish running shoe at the end. Each corner, each crosswalk, each stop sign offered another glimpse of the magic that happens here! By the time we reached the hospital, it was clear that our hearts and our mission were forever changed.
By our 4th visit in December 2013, we were old pros and almost never had tears running down our faces when we left a warrior's room. (lie*) Most often we found that the service members wanted to talk, show us photos, show us scars (!) and were just so grateful for the opportunity to show their love and appreciation to their families. Sometimes, our escort would skip a room, either the patient was too ill or just didn't want company and it broke our hearts not to be able to help, but we understood. Our last patient that day was something we were definitely not prepared for! There in the bed was an adorable young soldier named Andi. She was as big as a minute, bound up in some traction device, and about all she could move was her mouth. Boy, did she talk - about her parachute malfunction and her 70 foot fall, her numerous broken bones and severe internal injuries. But she never complained, she didn't feel sorry for herself, she spoke only of the future and what she was going to accomplish. There wasn't a doubt in her mind - or ours. After a delightful visit, we left her with a box of gifts for her very deserving Mom.
Fast forward to December 2014. Imagine our surprise as we drove to the Warrior Cafe to set up our gift station and saw a young woman cruising the sidewalk in her wheelchair, smiling and chatting with the woman walking next to her. It was our Andi - a much improved version after 30 surgeries! She greeted us excitedly and told us that she had just that day taken 3 steps - her first since the accident. Andi would be not able to leave WRNMMC until after the holidays, but she was looking forward to her Dad coming to visit. Then WE surprised HER - we now had Gift Boxes for Dads! Talk about Full Circle!!
Another remarkable twist to the story: the beautiful and talented young Occupational Therapist on the far left is my cousin's daughter, whom I had never met before!
Though the Holidays seem far away as we relish this late summer heatwave, our seventh visit to WRNMMC is already scheduled. Your donation of $75 can help us restore a sense of dignity to our injured heroes by providing them with gifts for their loved ones. We can't imagine what stories will unfold this season, but we are certain they we will inspire us to return again and again.