Pay it Forward

Photo Credit: Mari Linfoot

When my husband Gary was paralyzed in a helicopter crash in Iraq in 2008, our world was turned upside down. Immediately, we knew the best way to deal with this new life was to work as a team along with our family. Our bond and love is stronger than ever. We are accepting the challenges of his injuries and enjoying a happy and fulfilled life. However, moving forward and making the best of your circumstances is never easy.

Gary and I know we are ultimately responsible for our future and our happiness. Along the way, loving and patriotic Americans and nonprofit organizations have given us a lift. We find it a blessing and try to make the most of each act of kindness.

Two of the most notable gifts we have received are the iBOT mobility device and an exoskeleton. The wheelchair allows Gary to go up and down stairs, look a fellow battle buddy eye to eye, and take our lovable dog Sandi on her daily run. The exoskeleton is a rehabilitation device that allows him to stand and walk. In October 2013, the Infinite Hero Foundation gave a grant of $100,000 to the Airpower Foundation at American Airlines SkyBall to allow Gary to become the first military recipient of an exoskeleton for home use.

Since receiving the device in our home in mid-January, Gary has walked over 200,000 steps. We walk for an hour every day of the week, which is a significant commitment of our time; we are hoping the feedback we provide will be invaluable in the advancement of the device. It is the future and we are proud to be a part of it.

In 2013, I was diagnosed with Trigeminal Neuralgia, a disease that causes intense, electric, shock-like pain to the face and is universally acknowledged as one of the most painful afflictions known to adults.  At the time of my diagnosis I was caring for my warrior 24/7, as he was bedridden for 11 weeks due to a serious complication of his spinal cord injury. Along with the intense pain, medication side effects, and confusion as to why I would have to be challenged with a rare and painful illness, I took a page from my husband’s book of courage and kept going. I shared the diagnosis with my family and only a few of my closest friends. I held it close, as I didn’t want something else to be “wrong” with us. I tried to hide it.

Thankfully, in early 2014 I underwent successful brain surgery to fix the compression on my nerve. Today I am still recovering from the side effects of that surgery, but feel stronger and better than I have in years. Our children stepped in to help mom and dad during this difficult time as they have done so often in the past. Many miles on my bike, walking, or running have made me strong again and it feels so good. 

Medal of Honor recipient Major General Pat Brady once said that, “We all have been given an equal and unlimited amount of courage.” When adversity strikes, as is does to everyone in their lifetime, it is up to each individual to dig deep and use that courage to make the best of their circumstances. He is right. Anger is often the first emotion we feel when life doesn’t go as we planned. (By the way, when you’re in this stage, posting on social media is never a good idea…)

Use your courage to help you overpower the anger and take action to lead yourself to a more happy life. Fiercely, but calmly, protect what you believe in and don’t let others steal your happiness.

We have discovered the only way to repay people is to pay it forward. Demonstrating the technology of the mobility devices with school children is always a unique and rewarding experience. Sharing the lesson of accepting challenges and having a “no quit” attitude invigorates us to keep going the best way we know how. I am thankful our family is strong and although we face great challenges, we face each one head on and with great determination. We hold close and cherish the new relationships we have made on this journey and are thankful for the people we have met. It is with the support of our family, our friends, and our faith in God that we know we can eagerly face tomorrow. Our story is not defined by his injury. My husband’s legacy is who he is as a father, husband, son, brother, and friend. He is an Army veteran who served proudly, honorably and with valor, and he made incredible contributions to the war on terror. My story is who I am as a mother, wife, daughter, sister, and friend.

It is important not to let tragedy define who you are. Tap into your courage and take the steps necessary to carve your happy life. Use resources to help you take charge of your future and independence.

Ultimately, it’s up to each of us. Pay it forward. 

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