SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. — I was sitting in a daze in a cold and uninviting waiting area outside an emergency operating room about one month before my high school graduation in 2005. I listened to the robotic beeps of medical machinery when I realized my life was about to change forever.
Earlier that night, I was sitting on the couch watching TV when I heard panicked pounding on the front door. When I answered the knocks, a policeman stood on our front porch drenched head-to-toe from the rain. I’ll never forget the look of fear in his eyes when he told me to get my mom and follow him quickly.
My mom and I ran out of the house without even putting shoes on. We soon saw the flashing red and blue lights of emergency vehicles a couple of streets over. Despite the rainy weather, a crowd of curious neighbors formed near the scene.
I saw my 15-year-old brother, Josh, carried out of his friend’s house on a stretcher, covered in blood. The policeman had to hold me and my mom back. I remember my heart pounding in my chest and being filled with so much anger and confusion.
Josh barely made it to the hospital alive and hardly made it through the night. He was rushed into an emergency operation, the first of many surgeries he would eventually have.
Later, we learned my brother, Josh, was shot in the head, right between his eyes, by his friend with a .22 cailber handgun. Some may think since it’s such a small caliber gun it wouldn’t have caused so much damage … but quite the opposite is actually true. The bullet had just enough force to pierce through the skull and enter the brain, but not enough power to exit his head. Instead, the bullet was trapped inside, bouncing around, tearing through massive amounts of brain tissue.
The doctors never actually removed the bullet, fearing it would cause more brain damage. They also put Josh into an induced coma, and removed the top of his skull because his brain was swelling so much.
I remember the first time I saw him, lying there so helplessly, hooked up to many wires and machines. I was scared. I didn’t know what to do or what to expect.
The doctors told us that Josh was probably still going to die. They told us even if he did end up living, he would be extremely disabled, wheelchair-bound and probably blind.
Despite the bad news, my mom never gave up hope. She stayed with Josh every day and refused to “pull the plug” even when the doctors suggested to.
Against all odds, Josh woke up a couple of months later, but that was only the beginning of a very long and painful road ahead. He moved from the intensive care unit to the rehabilitation floor where he had to learn to do everything again. Things most people take for granted, like picking up a pencil or reciting the alphabet.
When he first woke up he couldn’t talk, or walk, and his mental state had obviously changed. He still had his sight though. It was very strange losing the brother I knew, and learning to love the new Josh he had become.
After months of grueling physical, speech and occupational therapy, Josh was finally allowed to come home. He was in a wheelchair and was fed through a feeding tube, but no one thought he was anything less than a miracle.
It took a long time for everyone, including Josh, to adjust to our new lives. Unfortunately, Josh became very depressed. He knew he was different, that he had changed. Even his closest friends couldn’t handle being around the “New Josh” and stopped talking to him. Josh couldn’t stand being in a wheelchair and not being able to fully control his body. He also suffered from short-term memory loss, which made normal day-to-day tasks very difficult to accomplish.
That’s when the Make-A-Wish Foundation heard about Josh’s story. The nonprofit organization grants wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions and believes the experience can be a “game changer” in a child’s life. They contacted my mom and said Josh’s story was very inspiring, and because he had been so close to death they wanted to grant him a wish.
Josh chose to go to Hawaii. My mom and Josh were treated like royalty during their tropical vacation. They got to be the guests of honor at a traditional luau, go parasailing and enjoy the sights for an entire week. Josh had so much fun on his get-a-way, that he came home with a completely new attitude.
That’s why every year, during the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC), I give to the Make-A-Wish foundation. Every September, when I fill out the form to donate, I feel a little sad thinking about what happened to Josh, but I’m also filled with joy knowing how far he’s come. If the money I donate can help grant just one child’s wish, it is totally worth it to me.
I’m happy to tell you after Josh returned from his Hawaiian get away, he learned to walk again. His wish really was a game changer. He now works as a sanitation specialist at a hospital, where he brings smiles and hope to the patients he works around.
I know not everyone has a story like mine, but the CFC features more than 20,000 charities and it is so simple to give. You can even elect to have monthly deductions come out of your paycheck automatically.
I encourage everyone to look inside themselves, find out what is important to them and consider making a donation through the CFC. With your help, the CFC can remain the world’s largest and most successful annual workplace charity campaign that donates millions of dollars to non-profit organizations worldwide.
To donate or for more information, contact your unit CFC representative.