Trauma to
Triumph

Trauma to Triumph: How an Army Veteran Conquers Life After Paralysis

Sualauvi Malua Tuimaleali’ifano III, known to his friends and family as Sua, is a 41-year-old Army veteran living in Land O’ Lakes, Florida. Born in American Samoa and raised in Hawaii, it took Sua considerable time to feel a sense of belonging as he grew up, which inspired him to join the military and begin a lifetime of service.

Sua joined the Army in 1997 following his high school graduation. In the Army, he thrived in the intense, goal-oriented setting, and forged strong relationships with his fellow service men and women. But Sua’s career took a turn in 2007, when he was injured during a patrol mission in the Middle East. He was thrown from a Humvee and -- unknowingly -- fractured several vertebrae. Sua continued his deployment for the next month, unaware of his injuries and thus going without proper treatment.

One morning months after the incident, Sua had an unexpected fall. A resulting head injury caused dislocation of the already-fractured vertebrae he suffered while on patrol.  The fall also resulted in a spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, and triggered the onset of PTSD. Little did Sua know, these injuries would result in lifelong paralysis from the shoulders down.

Sua was accustomed to a rigorous and structured lifestyle, but recuperation required him to be bedridden. Once he had the strength to begin to return to normal life, Sua had to come to terms with the fact that he would be wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life. He had found mission and purpose through his life in military service, yet now felt lost and unfulfilled. Semper Fi & America’s Fund stepped in to assist Sua through the incredible lifestyle changes brought on by a mentally and physically demanding recovery. The Fund helped Sua find his “new normal,” by introducing him to new avenues and opportunities for healing, like adaptive sports, and assisted him with caregiver services and other at-home care items. When The Fund provided him with a recumbent bike, Sua knew he had found a way to be part of a team again, and had discovered a way to connect with other veterans.

Though adjusting to his handicap was extraordinarily difficult, other wounded veterans -- many of whom, in his words, “had it worse” than he did -- inspired Sua to take charge of his life on his own terms. With The Fund’s support, Sua and his family have found new goal-oriented ways to approach life, and discovered a community of veterans living fulfilling lives.

The Fund introduced Sua to the Warrior Games, which are Paralympic-style competitions held annually and sponsored by the Department of Defense. The Fund also supported his participation in the Invictus Games in Orlando in 2016, and in Australia in 2018. Sua participated in adaptive sporting competitions alongside other wounded, ill, and injured service men and women from across the globe. At the 2016 games, Sua’s Wheelchair Rugby Team won the gold!

On top of competing as an athlete, Sua has also coached rugby, and enjoys applying his skills of leadership and motivation in a competitive, team-oriented environment.

The Fund creates experiences to bring veterans closure and emotional healing as well as physical support. They orchestrated a trip back to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany for Sua and his wife to trace back through his recovery, beginning with the hospital where he was stabilized before being medevaced home to the United States. The Fund’s program aims to show veterans like Sua pieces of their recovery they may not have remembered. For Sua, it provided an opportunity to say thank you to the medical professionals and emergency personnel who cared for him. During Sua’s trip, a nurse recognized him and congratulated him on his journey -- which Sua says gave him much-needed closure.

Today, Sua and his family are determined to enjoy life to the fullest, no matter the circumstances. The Fund continues to aid the family wherever needed: it funded the purchase of Sua’s adaptive vehicle, and when the coronavirus pandemic hit, The Fund ensured Sua and his family had access to warm, fresh-cooked meals and provided him with high-quality home workout equipment for his conditioning and strengthening exercises -- vital to his health and rehabilitation.

Sua says he and his family are grateful beyond words. “I’m where I am today because of The Fund,” said Sua. “I have motivation and pride. Their work has been a blessing for me and my family -- and that’s an understatement.”

He appreciates The Fund for being such an amazing organization, and for all they continue to do for him and so many other veterans and their families. Sualauvi looks forward to a bright future, excited to grow his involvement in adaptive sports and even new business ventures.

 

Trauma to Triumph: How an Army Veteran Conquers Life After Paralysis

Sualauvi Malua Tuimaleali’ifano III, known to his friends and family as Sua, is a 41-year-old Army veteran living in Land O’ Lakes, Florida. Born in American Samoa and raised in Hawaii, it took Sua considerable time to feel a sense of belonging as he grew up, which inspired him to join the military and begin a lifetime of service.

Sua joined the Army in 1997 following his high school graduation. In the Army, he thrived in the intense, goal-oriented setting, and forged strong relationships with his fellow service men and women. But Sua’s career took a turn in 2007, when he was injured during a patrol mission in the Middle East. He was thrown from a Humvee and -- unknowingly -- fractured several vertebrae. Sua continued his deployment for the next month, unaware of his injuries and thus going without proper treatment.

One morning months after the incident, Sua had an unexpected fall. A resulting head injury caused dislocation of the already-fractured vertebrae he suffered while on patrol.  The fall also resulted in a spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, and triggered the onset of PTSD. Little did Sua know, these injuries would result in lifelong paralysis from the shoulders down.

Sua was accustomed to a rigorous and structured lifestyle, but recuperation required him to be bedridden. Once he had the strength to begin to return to normal life, Sua had to come to terms with the fact that he would be wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life. He had found mission and purpose through his life in military service, yet now felt lost and unfulfilled. Semper Fi & America’s Fund stepped in to assist Sua through the incredible lifestyle changes brought on by a mentally and physically demanding recovery. The Fund helped Sua find his “new normal,” by introducing him to new avenues and opportunities for healing, like adaptive sports, and assisted him with caregiver services and other at-home care items. When The Fund provided him with a recumbent bike, Sua knew he had found a way to be part of a team again, and had discovered a way to connect with other veterans.

Though adjusting to his handicap was extraordinarily difficult, otherwounded veterans -- many of whom, in his words, “had it worse” than he did -- inspired Sua to take charge of his life on his own terms. With The Fund’s support, Sua and his family have found new goal-oriented ways to approach life, and discovered a community of veterans living fulfilling lives.

The Fund introduced Sua to the Warrior Games, which are Paralympic-style competitions held annually and sponsored by the Department of Defense. The Fund also supported his participation in the Invictus Games in Orlando in 2016, and in Australia in 2018. Sua participated in adaptive sporting competitions alongside other wounded, ill, and injured service men and women from across the globe. At the 2016 games, Sua’s Wheelchair Rugby Team won the gold!

On top of competing as an athlete, Sua has also coached rugby, and enjoys applying his skills of leadership and motivation in a competitive, team-oriented environment.

The Fund creates experiences to bring veterans closure and emotional healing as well as physical support. They orchestrated a trip back to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany for Sua and his wife to trace back through his recovery, beginning with the hospital where he was stabilized before being medevaced home to the United States. The Fund’s program aims to show veterans like Sua pieces of their recovery they may not have remembered. For Sua, it provided an opportunity to say thank you to the medical professionals and emergency personnel who cared for him. During Sua’s trip, a nurse recognized him and congratulated him on his journey -- which Sua says gave him much-needed closure.

Today, Sua and his family are determined to enjoy life to the fullest, no matter the circumstances. The Fund continues to aid the family wherever needed: it funded the purchase of Sua’s adaptive vehicle, and when the coronavirus pandemic hit, The Fund ensured Sua and his family had access to warm, fresh-cooked meals and provided him with high-quality home workout equipment for his conditioning and strengthening exercises -- vital to his health and rehabilitation.

Sua says he and his family are grateful beyond words. “I’m where I am today because of The Fund,” said Sua. “I have motivation and pride. Their work has been a blessing for me and my family -- and that’s an understatement.”

He appreciates The Fund for being such an amazing organization, and for all they continue to do for him and so many other veterans and their families. Sualauvi looks forward to a bright future, excited to grow his involvement in adaptive sports and even new business ventures.