Captain Don Meador: “It’s hard to put your finger on that charm that they put into people’s lives”

Posted on November 10, 2016

Born and raised in southwestern Virginia, Captain Don Meador attended Valley Forge Military College and finished his four-year degree (in business management) at Radford University in Virginia. After Radford, he went on to Officer Candidate School and spent most of his service with the 10th Marines in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

I spent the majority of my time deployed within the States,” Don explains, “to Twentynine Palms supporting infantry units there while they trained to deploy.”

Not all of his time was spent in the U.S., though: Don deployed on a combat tour to Afghanistan in April 2012.

“I was an artillery officer. I was the S3 Alpha, which is the assistant operations officer for the battalion. We were kind of split up, so we had one battery performing a provisional infantry mission just south of Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province, another battery performing the security of actual Camp Leatherneck and we also had a unit up north of us at the Kajaki Dam. So I juggled all three of those as the assistant operations officer.”Captain Don Meador at the Big Sur Marathon

“While I was in Afghanistan, I started becoming sick and weak when we were working,” says Don, explaining the first of his two unusual physical issues. “I initially thought that it was a common cold. Between my boss and myself, we agreed that I would take a full day, sleep it off, and I’d be back at it the next day. When I woke up the next day, I felt just as weak, or weaker, than I did. I contacted our medical officer and he drew some blood. As he was looking into the blood sample, I went back over to work, going through our missions and stuff like that.”

“He called me about 30 minutes later and said that I needed to go with an escort to the hospital on the base,” Don continues. “He indicated that I had about half the blood in my body that I should have. I went over to the hospital, and they started pumping blood back into me. Eventually they flew me out to Landstuhl, Germany, for further investigation trying to figure out what was wrong. They determined that I had some internal bleeding. They moved me back to Portsmouth, Virginia, and did further evaluations. I had cirrhosis of the liver. The inflammation inside of me had irritated my esophagus and that is what had bled.”

It was in Portsmouth that Don first learned about the Semper Fi Fund.

“They helped my family out with hotel costs,” he says. “My wife came up to Portsmouth to meet me there. It was the first time I had seen my family in five months. The Fund helped me out with four or five nights in the hotel for my wife and, at that time, two kids.”

In June 2013, Don began attending Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. While working on his Master’s degree, he was asked about competing in a local triathlon as part of a fundraiser for the Semper Fi Fund. “I said absolutely — the Semper Fi Fund helped me out, so I definitely wanted to help them back so that they can help the next person.”

While training for the event, Don got what he describes as “probably the worst headache of my life while I was cycling. I tried to do the typical man thing and push through it, but it just wasn’t working. I got off the bike and tried to walk for a while, but that wasn’t helping. I called my wife to come pick me up, and we ended up in the emergency room where they did a spinal tap and pulled blood off my spine.”

“They MEDEVAC’d me up to Stanford University and determined that I had an aneurysm,” Don continues. “I had great care. They did a craniotomy and opened me up and clipped the aneurysm. In the midst of all that, I actually had a local friend, a great guy, Chris Cleary who helped me continue the fundraising for the Semper Fi Fund. I didn’t get to participate in that particular race, but I did get to watch.”

Today, Don is healthy and occasionally competes as a member of Team Semper Fi — most recently at the New York City Triathlon and the Marine Corps Marathon.

“The New York City Tri was a great experience. This year was my second year running it for the team. It was hot and challenging. You start out swimming, one mile down the Hudson River. Then it’s a 24.6-mile bike ride up and back along the west side of Manhattan. And then you’re back to transition into a run across 72nd Street into Central Park for a six-mile run, but this year because of the heat they cut it to a five-mile run.”

“It’s a great tool and an asset for me,” he continues, “to feel like you’re a part of a special group and you can identify with others and work through whatever issues and concerns you have in life’s endeavors. I feel very fortunate that the Semper Fi Fund allows me to compete on its team.”

Currently living in Virginia with his wife and three children, Don has transitioned into the civilian world. He has a job doing contract support for the Marine Corps and, in his spare time, trains for and participates in Team Semper Fi events.

“The Semper Fi Fund does amazing work. They’re willing to do whatever they can to assist someone through a major life-changing event. It’s almost intangible: They address a lot of things with funding, but it’s hard to put your finger on that charm that they put into people’s lives by helping out.”

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