February 19, 2017
Our First Walter Reed Trip
By Dot Sheehan
It was June 2009 and I knew it was going to be a very difficult day. You see a group of Operation Hat Trick supporters were making their first trip to visit wounded service members and veterans at Walter Reed. (At that time there were two hospitals-Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospital.) They are now just one-Walter Reed National Medical Center.) We knew if we were to fully understand who we were supporting we needed to go and visit those who had been injured and to deliver OHT hats. We needed to understand their most important needs and the gaps in care that needed to be filled.
It would not be an easy day.
Our group consisted of the University of New Hampshire President, US Senators, Nate Hardy’s Mom and Dad, 3 UNH alums, and a few others. Groups are kept small so that patients aren’t overwhelmed.
That day we saw it all. We started in MATC-the training room for those amputees, men and women, recovering from 1-4 amputations. Yes, I said 4!!!!!!! For the first time ever there was a young man, Brendan, who had survived quadruple amputation. He had also lost an eye and 10 teeth. Brendan was 22 at the time and was having a bad day that day. Ya think? We were as asked not to give him a hat but to just observe what he was going through to try to recover as best he could from these devastating injuries.
We did just that and watched as 60 other amputees went through their daily grueling exercise routines. Most had a support system with them – mother, father, wife, girlfriend, etc. But some had no one and were going through this by themselves. So unimaginable. Some mothers and fathers left their lives at home and moved into the hospital setting to be with their sons and daughters. Some were there for up to 2 years.
We provided a brief respite to patients and family alike. If they felt up to it and if it didn’t interfere with their training, patients would talk to us about their injuries, where they came from, and what they hoped to accomplish while at Walter Reed. So many said their goal was to get well enough to go back to combat duty. Amazing!!!!!!
One of my most memorable parts of the day was when I met a 25 year old young man who had been burned about the face and neck, had shrapnel in his face and was a triple amputee. He had a wife, a 5 year old and a 5 month old. AND he was severely depressed. Again, ya think? I handed him an OHT hat and as he put it on, he said, ”You’ve almost made me feel normal again, Ma’am, and maybe just maybe my 5 year old won’t be afraid of me this afternoon when he comes to visit.” You see that hat covered a lot.
By noon we were overwhelmed and didn’t know how we would survive the trip to Bethesda Naval Hospital that afternoon to visit those with head injuries. We were as close a group as you can imagine. We had seen the worst of the worst, we thought, and knew that those young men and women had changed us forever. We had no problems really in comparison. We knew that they all could have been our husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends. We knew WE would never be the same and KNEW that Operation Hat Trick had a lot of very important work to do.
Stay tuned for my next Blog where I talk about the rest of this day at Bethesda Naval Hospital where we visited with patients who had suffered severe head injuries.
Operation Hat Trick
The Founder’s Blog is a regular feature on the Operation Hat trick website. This blog will give you information and recount stories of our journey to help those in need. To read our most recent blog and find archived blog posts, please visit our “Founder’s Blog” page.