One Family's Lifeline to Recovery.
Army SGT Andrew & wife Tori recall their amazing journey from battlefield injury through recovery and becoming a family.
What was your initial experience with the Semper Fi Fund?
March 2012 in Kandahar, Afghanistan, while on patrol with my squad moving towards a village, I stepped on a pressure plate IED resulting in the loss of both my legs and severe internal injuries.
Shortly after arriving at Walter Reed Medical Center, my wife, Tori, and I had our first experience with Semper Fi Fund (SFF). Well...I don’t actually remember this, because I was undergoing so many surgeries during this time—but Tori said a case manager came to visit while I was still in the ICU. She introduced herself and explained what SFF does. She then gave my wife a check for anything she might need and said that SFF would be there if we ever needed anything. This was our first experience, and it left an incredible impression. Tori came to Walter Reed with very little as far as clothing and supplies, and that check helped her get settled for what would be a very long recovery. Since then Semper Fi Fund has helped us with grants, family support, and aided in my “Recovery through Sport.”
For Tori: You were just a newlywed when Andrew was injured. What helped you through the initial days, weeks, months?
Andrew and I had been married less than three months when he was injured. Thankfully, we had a “blast-proof” foundation for our marriage. We were best friends for 5 years before we began a “romantic” relationship. I was on spring break from law school when I was called about Andrew being injured. I received a phone call from a number I did not recognize. I was in disbelief. I questioned the caller to be sure he really had the “right” Smith. I was praying the commonality of the last name had led to a mistake; however, it was my husband who was injured. I was advised to immediately return to “home address.” I quickly realized that they needed to know where to send the car if Andrew did not make it. I survived the initial days, weeks, and months by relying on my faith. I was in constant prayer for Andrew. Once I got to see Andrew the first time, I knew we could beat this. We were a team, and we were going to conquer it. However, we needed help, both tangible and intangible. Enters Semper Fi Fund and one of their case managers. A few short days after we arrived at the hospital, I have a vivid image of a woman walking in and giving me some clothes and a check. I was confused. Why was this stranger giving me these items? She didn’t know the blessing that she was in that moment. I had been on spring break in Florida when I learned of Andrew’s injury. Now, I was in a cold ICU wearing tank tops for days at a time. With the check she gave me, I had my friend who lived in the area go purchase me a pillow for the ICU, a jacket, and some tennis shoes. My flip-flops weren’t cutting it in the ICU.
Andrew, tell us about your journey to recovery?
Recovery was a long journey. After I was injured I spent two months in and out of surgeries. Finally, after 3 months we were able to move to outpatient. Even though losing my legs was extremely hard, the internal injuries caused by the shrapnel were more serious and complicated. Due to the internal injuries, I was unable to eat or drink most food for 7 months. I was being given nutrients through a picc line (peripherally inserted central catheter) in my arm that my wife had to learn how to administer to me. Finally, after what I believe is a true miracle from The Lord, my stomach healed, and I was finally able to eat. With real food came strength and I started learning how to walk with prosthetics. After many days and weeks of going to physical therapy, I finally became accustomed to using my legs. In late 2013, after 22 months, my wife and I were able to leave Walter Reed and go home.
Has becoming a father affected your recovery?
Becoming a father has been one of the biggest blessings in my life. Tori and I have always had a heart for adoption so in the summer of 2016 we submitted our paperwork. Our son is now a little over 21 months old and every second has been awesome. He has been a huge blessing to both of us. I have always had motivation for staying healthy and active, but with a child, it is a necessity. He could out maneuver me from an early age. Now, he can run sprints around me. I want to be there for him — I want to coach his teams and support him in whatever he does. Each day, he is a large part of the reason I push through any pain that may arise. I want to be the best I can be (for him). I want him to be proud of his dad and the man that I am. Watching him grow and learn is fun, and I’m looking forward to teaching him all kinds of cool stuff. I just hope he likes golf! He is our greatest blessing.
Can you sum up what the Semper Fi Fund means to your family?
SFF means that we are never alone. I cannot fully explain the meaning of knowing that if -or when- rough times come, we will never be alone. SFF has been with me through each step of my recovery. I remember seeing the staff of SFF when I was in the ICU, when I needed help celebrating my wife’s birthday because I couldn’t leave my bed, when I took my first steps in physical therapy, and when I pulled out of Walter Reed in a truck they helped me purchase to head home. Naturally, I thought that was the end of the road with SFF; however, I was wrong.
SFF stays intimately involved and is a constant lifeline. In particular, our case manager has been such a blessing to us both. Most organizations provide for wounded service members only what their needs are in the moment. Semper Fi Fund looks deeper and holistically. They realize the importance of the family unit and provide for the emotional well-being of the caregiver as well. I will always be profoundly grateful for what SFF has done for my husband and my family. The donors of SFF are making such an impact everyday and in so many ways —big and small— in our family.
For Tori: Have you been able to participate in any of Semper Fi Fund programs/events for caregivers/family members?
Yes, I have been able to take part in a couple different retreats for caregivers. We were at Walter Reed for almost two years. We gained friendships built through shared tragedy and triumph. Those types of friendships are unbreakable and rare. Because of SFF, I am able to see my Walter Reed sisters at least once a year—and without our husbands! For one weekend, we try to focus on ourselves and laugh through some of the struggles we face throughout the year. For example—tripping over your spouse’s spare leg.