Posted on May 7, 2016
As both a mother of three and a caregiver to her husband of four years, Summer Simmons lives a life that is anything but routine.
“My husband is paraplegic, our youngest son is autistic, our oldest daughter has schizoaffective disorder and borderline personality disorder and all of our kids as well as myself live with PTSD, so there is no typical day. I am a full-time mom, a full-time nurse, a-full time therapist, a full-time chef, a full-time teacher as two of my kids are schooled at home and a part-time massage therapist. I would love a boring day, but I don’t get many of those.”
Summer’s husband, Steve—“this strong, compassionate, loyal man who respected me, loved my kids as if they were his own, and genuinely loved me in a way that no one ever had before”—was exposed to extremely high levels of radiation when the Fukushima nuclear reactors melted down during Operation Tomodachi, a disaster relief effort in the wake of the devastating 2011 earthquake in Japan.
“Steve started experiencing symptoms of radiation illness in late November 2011, right after he proposed to me,” Summer explains. “They were very mild at first. He thought he had the flu—until he blacked out while driving to work in December 2011.”
Steve was hospitalized for the first time in January 2012 and twice more by March 2012. Doctors couldn’t figure out what was causing him to become so ill so quickly as he became weaker and weaker and eventually lost the ability to walk.
“By the end of March, even though we had been planning on a winter wedding, Steve needed more help than I could give him without being his wife,” Summer continues. “We decided, after talking to my kids and his family, that we would be married a week later. I borrowed a wedding dress, we had his whites taken in to accommodate his new 115-pound frame, we found a Navy chaplain and we were married on April 7, 2012. It was the last day that Steve walked without assistance.”
By May, Steve was so weak that he was using a wheelchair. By August, he was diagnosed with a progressive ascending muscle failure, and by November he was given his first permanent wheelchair.
Summer first learned about the Semper Fi Fund when she was having what she calls “a particularly bad day” at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
“I was sitting outside on a bench crying and praying for help when Janine sat beside me and told me, ‘I don’t know you, but I can help you.’ She was an answer to my prayer. We had spent so much on gas getting back and forth to the hospital that we couldn’t afford food, and once she and I talked, she arranged a grant for $1,500 that covered food, utilities and peace of mind. The grants continued for several months, and Janine and I are still friends three years later. She is still an answer to prayers.”
“Since that first grant, the Semper Fi Fund has provided assistance with rent, adaptive sporting equipment and has helped Steve join Team Semper Fi. The Semper Fi Fund lifts you up. They give you a hand up, not a hand out.”
As Mother’s Day 2016 approaches, Steve is representing Team USA in the Invictus Games, an international Paralympic-style multi-sport event, created by Prince Harry. He’s competing in cycling and track. “Our children are watching their father and his example of perseverance and courage,” Summer says. “He is their hero.”
While Summer is undoubtedly looking forward to celebrating Mother’s Day with her family, the road to motherhood was a particularly difficult one for her.
“My goal has been to handle adversity in life with grace and to teach my children to do the same,” she adds. “I think I have succeeded.”