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The Soldier and the Squirrel introduces children to the Purple Heart

through a loving story of a friendship between a newly wounded soldier

and Rocky the squirrel with his backyard friends. This story began as a

blog during my first year in bed after my incident. With much

encouragement, it is now a book and has been placed in the

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum. Please watch the video

on the About page to learn for the Soldier & Rocky are changing children's

lives.

 

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Friday
May172013

Doors Yet to Open / Lessons from a Purple Heart

"This is how you open a door. It took me months to get it right." My friend Bryan Anderson poised his wheelchair slightly to the left of the double doors of my daughter's school. I sat on my electric scooter newly arrived from his company at Quantum Rehab. He was showing me the ins and outs of life on wheels. What happened next is still a blur. I have opened doors my entire life. But never like this. He braced himself - one prosthetic arm pressed against one door while he pulled on the other while something happened in between that I still haven't figured out. Bryan makes everything he does look effortless, but never easy. You would think he'd been doing this his whole life - the wheelchair thing. But he's only been doing it for a few years.

Bryan was serving in Iraq, 2006, when it happened. The IED blew his legs off at the thighs from under his driver's seat and took one hand while mangling the other. The liquid metal from the explosion seared the arteries in his legs, ultimately saving his life.

I guess you could say Bryan and I are friends due to fate, or because I simply could not stay in my seat after he spoke at a dinner for The Gary Sinise Foundation. I had to go over to him and introduce myself, to shake the hand of this person who was facing a challenge head-on. It was then I blurted out, "Congratulations Bryan, you did it!" He looked at me quizzically, paused and with a smirk that snuck out like a teenager at midnight, he said, "No one's ever said that to me before. Not since the incident anyway." From that moment on, he has lead the charge in my personal recovery of a spinal challenge, guiding me through mobility divices and tips along the way that somehow make one truly believe life is cool nomatter how you get through it all.

As I write this, Pandora just began to play Danny Boy. The notes invade my skin. A rush of irony. A tap from Heaven. A knowing something is right in a world that is so often wrong.

Bryan came to visit in Nashville for a week when Don was filming "Nashville". We drank beer on the porch, recorded music in a studio, visited Don on the set, he met the actors, we saw Martina McBride at The Ryman, and he rolled through Reggie's fecal deposits in the yard. And into our house. My spine had already started going downhill, like he did into Reggie's deposits. So he knew things were rocky with my spine, and felt badly for me. My friend with three limbs lost, wanted me to be free of pain.

Working with wounded veterans has prepared me for my current health situation. But it is our friendships that have carried me through it.

It was October of 2012. I had already undergone multiple back surgeries but something was still terribly wrong with my lumbar spine. Bryan came over to sit in on a writing session I had with Gary Talley. Then I bent over. To pick up a leaf that had blown in the front door. My L4-5 immediately threw up into my spinal cord. I was cooked.
He made a call to the company he represents, Quantum Rehab, and within an hour a wheelchair was at our door. And my journey on wheels began.

It took three weeks before I could get out of bed to travel back home to Los Angeles. November 9th I had an artificial disc replacement. Within days of the surgery I instinctively felt something was wrong. It's been six months now and my pain levels have been through the roof. Each surgical site a festering nest of irritated bees who want their honey back. This combined with several other diagnosis of my spine leads inevitably to writers' block upon filling out medical forms.
My left leg has decided it's taking time off. We just don't know for how long. Irreparably damaged sciatic nerve. It needs a clapper.

Our field trip to the school at an end, we started home, uphill. Bryan grabbed hold of the back of my seat, and the tides had turned. I was pulling him up the hill, leading the way. Up the sidewalk. Past children who looked, and talked about it later. Taking the world in stride, in unison, I laughed out loud that as slightly bent adults we should be having such fun. Then he said from the top of my headwind, "I've always said, why walk when you can roll!"

Electro Spine Stimulator surgery is next. After that it really doesn't matter to me how I walk. As long as my doctors can manage the pain, I can manage my life. Because I have learned from the best, that have been through the worst, that anything is possible. Even with one limb left and so many doors ahead yet to open.

 

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