U.S. Marine Corporal Yuriy Zmysly met his wife-to-be Aimee on October 6, 2004, right after he returned from his first deployment to Afghanistan. Aimee was just beginning her freshman year of college and it was love at first sight. They were engaged on January 23, 2005, just two days after Aimee’s birthday. He gave her a ring box, but it was empty. When she looked up, he was holding the ring and asked her to marry him.
They never got to have their dream wedding, though.
Just short of one year after the engagement and five months after returning home from his second deployment (to Iraq), U.S. Marine Corporal Yuriy Zmysly suffered a stroke resulting from complications related to an emergency appendectomy. He fell into a coma for three months. Aimee was told he would never awaken and that he would be in a vegetative state for the rest of his life.
“We went through hell together and made it out the other side,” Aimee said. “Yuriy was injured in January 2006 and almost died about three times, but that wasn’t all that happened that year. He lost his mom to suicide, his dad died in a car wreck in Russia and his family dog died. To say that was a bad year is an understatement—the fact that we even survived that year is amazing.”
Yuriy did awaken from the coma, however—the first sign of which was him flinching when the lights were turned on in his room—and began his long road to recovery. One year after the stroke, on December 20, 2006, Aimee and Yuriy were married in a courthouse ceremony.
“The thing I admire most about Yuriy is his determination and his love for his family,” Aimee said. “Yuriy is severely injured; it’s been seven years, now, but he has never once given up on his recovery. He works so hard for the abilities he has lost. He has an amazing sense of humor and a positive attitude. We have a three-month old baby, Adelina, and watching him become a father is just amazing.”
Amazing, but not easy: Yuriy can't walk by himself due to balance issues and coordination loss. He suffers from vision and speech impairment, but he can head nod and speak with a communication device.
“Even with a disability Yuriy is the same person I first met,” Aimee continues. “Life is harder now, but at least we have each other and we can enjoy life more than ever, because we know how close we were to not having him here with us. We learned that just because you’re disabled doesn't mean your life is over. We’ve traveled to Colorado, Yuriy has gone skiing in a sit-ski, he’s gone white-water rafting, he’s been adaptive water skiing, he goes horseback riding and he rides an adaptive bike.”
“The Semper FI Fund has done so much for us, words cannot express how thankful we are,” Aimee says. “They bought us a brand new minivan with a ramp to make it easier to get to his therapies and appointments, it has changed our life. They helped us with a down payment on our house that gave us our independence back and made our life easier. They bought a chair glide for our house so Yuriy can access the basement. They continue to offer support and supplies to make Yuriy's life easier.”
“Yuriy always wanted to have a house and a wife and kids,” Aimee told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2010. “[Having a house] is like a dream is coming true, even though he’s not in the position he thought he would be. It makes us happy that people care enough to help us. Yuriy can feel like the hero that he is.”