Marine Master Sergeant John Hayes: “My injury has taught me what is important about life.”

The Home Depot Foundation is giving back to our veterans and the Semper Fi Fund has joined forces with Team Depot during this giving season. Click here to read the official rules of the giving campaign and read below to enjoy an incredible hero story.

“My wife was an expert in all things Semper Fi Fund before I even gained consciousness,” says Master Sergeant John Hayes, referring to his recovery at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, in early 2011. “The Semper Fi Fund, with support from the Home Depot Foundation, has done more for me than anyone else.”

John Hayes track chair with girls

John arrived in Bethesda on January 2, 2011, after losing both legs to an IED (improvised explosive device) blast on December 28 in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. An EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) expert, the Jacksonville, Florida native was in his 11th year as a Marine and sustained his injury during his fourth deployment.

“Surgery was an everyday occurrence,” John says about his initial recovery period. He estimates he had about 65 surgeries in Bethesda. “I flatlined on February 3, my wife’s birthday.

“This whole experience, it’s matured my marriage to my wife Janelle,” says John, who officially retired from the Marines on October 31, 2013 and will turn 34 in June 2015. “It’s aged our marriage at least 10 or 20 years, and it’s taught me what’s important about life. I want to spend time and have fun with my family. I pull in all the positive people as I can, I keep these people as close to my life as possible. You talk about support networks—Semper Fi Fund is a huge part of that.”

The Semper Fi Fund provided a wide range of support to John and his family, including an Action Trackchair that provides him with a level of freedom and mobility he wouldn’t otherwise have, supported the purchase of a special adaptive minivan (“I was up and driving — that’s one of the major things important to me — before I was even a year out. That was huge for my independence!”) and travel assistance so family and friends could be by his side during his recovery.

With assistance from the Home Depot Foundation, John received an attic lift in his home so he can access a storage area that runs nearly the full length of his house. “There’s so much storage up there—old car seats, old John Hayes on attic lift wheelchair parts, luggage, Christmas decorations, everything. Before the attic lift from Home Depot, most of my new house and garage was cluttered with 14 years of stuff.  Now it’s easy and fun, and the best thing is that I can do it myself—though the kids usually help!”

Another major piece of assistance John received quite literally changed his life: an in-ground swimming pool in his backyard. “A person walking around the house, walking here and there, is burning calories all the time,” John explains. “Not me. Not having limbs and being on the medicine I’m on, I tend to gain weight very easily. Having a pool, I can get my heart rate up and burn calories, and also spend time with my kids and have fun. I can stay fit and live a long life—I basically have an oasis, a wonderland, a water park in my backyard.”

After just a few minutes of speaking with John, one is quickly impressed by his positive and forward-looking attitude.

“Marines by nature are a very strong-willed, proud and confident bunch,” he says. “I embody all those traits. and before the injury I could do anything easily. After the blast, though, I have to ask for help daily, and that’s the toughest thing for me to do. Semper Fi Fund doesn’t make me ask.  Most of the time they just call to see what I’m up to, and the next thing I know that burden is off my shoulders.

“The Semper Fi Fund has gone so far,” John adds. “They flew my in-laws to D.C. during my recovery, they helped my dad, mom and aunt with travel and loss of income so they could be with me in the hospital, they helped pay for airfare for my three daughters to be with me—I know of no other organization that does what the Semper Fi Fund does. I feel like they’re my own family.”