“Alive Day,” a term used in the military to describe the moment a service member almost lost their life while in combat.
Background–January 1, 2006
January 1, 2006 will always be remembered as the day that Denise Mettie’s son, U.S. Army Specialist, Evan Mettie was almost taken from her. During Army Specialist Mettie’s second deployment to Iraq his team was involved in a suicide car bomb, leaving him with a severe traumatic brain injury due to shrapnel from the improvised explosive device (IED).
Evan was in the “gunners” position of the Humvee when they stopped to investigate a parked car on the side of the road. When his team challenged the car’s driver, the driver blew himself and the car up. The effects from the IED inevitably affected Evan and his team nearby.
Evan received a shrapnel wound (fragments from bomb or ammunition) to the left side of his brain. Some members of his unit said it looked as if the left side of his head had been blown off. When a medic arrived to Evan’s aid, she quickly got him out of the Humvee, bandaged his head and intubated him. The Air Mission Commander requested an emergency landing at which time Evan was flown to the nearest medical treatment facility in Baghadad.
Once Evan was stabilized at the medical treatment facility in Baghdad from shrapnel that remain lodged in the left side of his brain, he was then evacuated to Landstuhl, Germany to undergo surgery for bleeding behind his left eye. Denise and her family were on orders by the Department of the Army’s Wounded in Action Branch (DA WIA) to head to Germany. However, because they had neither passports, nor birth certificates readily available the family was flown to Washington, D.C. where the DA WIA was making arrangements for the paperwork. Meanwhile in Germany, Evan was stabilizing miraculously from the injury, so much so that the U.S. Army medevac’d him to Bethesda National Naval Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Denise and her family were to learn later on that the rush to get to Germany was so that she and her family could say their last goodbyes; Evan was not expected to live.
Coming to his side at the hospital
Upon arrival to the Bethesda National Naval Medical Center, Denise and her family were warned by healthcare professionals that Evan looked horrible and to expect tubes and life support equipment.
“When we walked into his room, my immediate reaction was “he looks beautiful, thank you God!””
In reality, Evan’s head was a maze of staples, he suffered fractures to all of his facial bones, his eyes and nose were swollen and he had respirator tubes hooked up through his mouth. The biggest concern at that moment though for doctors was that Evan had bleeding at the brain stem.
Through weeks of trials and tribulations, Evan continued to fight. Denise and her husband stayed by his side continually. After about a month Denise’s husband needed to return home to Washington state for work and to take care of their two teenage daughters. Denise had to take a leave of absence from her job at the U.S. Bank, a position she never returned to. Her new position–full-time military family caregiver to her son Evan.
Military Family Caregiver
When Evan deployed for the last time in 2005, Denise will always remember her last conversation with her son and the promise she made to him…
“He was home and told me, “Mom, I have a bad feeling about this one, I don’t think I’m going to be coming home.” I held his face in my hands and said, “I don’t care how you do it, what you have to do, but you will be coming home to me and I will be by your side every step of the way.””
Evan was released from Bethesda National Naval Medical but his road to recovery is a never ending battle in and out of medical treatment facilities and rehabilitation centers. As a veteran caregiver, Denise has spent months living in areas across the nation with Evan to make sure he gets the best treatment possible. What helped her get through was her continuous determination and unfailing support from family and friends.
“I thought I was strong enough to handle it alone, I was wrong. For the first time in my life this was something completely out of my control. I thought I had faith before but this was profound, I now knew what it was like to surrender complete control.”
Denise learned the importance of communicating with family and friends–the need to ask for help. Financially Denise and her family struggled to make ends meet with traveling from medical treatment facilities and rehabilitation centers and Evans medical bills. But with support from neighbors and their local community they were able to raise enough funds to offset some of the expenses. Family also helped in alleviating the overwhelming emotions and daily needs that Denise was responsible for as Evan’s caregiver.
Evan’s current schedule at home consists of one hour on the Quadriciser (a machine that restores strength, balance, circulation, range of motion and overall wellness). Monday, Wednesday, and Friday he stands for 40 minutes with a “sit-to-stand” chair that works to hold his head and move his arms up and down. Tuesday and Thursday, Evan has mat therapy, the practice of leaning forward, backward and stabilizing himself. While each day consists of small movements, it is a small step that his body must do to relearn body movement.
To date, Evan has been diagnosed as being in a “Locked-In” state. He understands his surroundings and responds with yes/no eye blinks; he does not speak; his vision has improved from the nerve damage in his left eye; and he is deaf in his right ear. Through the use of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) Evan is able to smile, hold his head up and even laugh. Evan still requires 24/7 care from Denise and their home-healthcare practitioners because he is unable to purposefully move his body.
Denise’s caregiving journey is filled with hope; she continues to be amazed by Evan’s determination and strength of will.
“We did lose our “old” Evan, but God did give us a “new” Evan, and we are eternally grateful for that.”
Caregiving advice from Denise
Through the years of caring for her son, Denise has had to learn about Evan’s specific medical condition, research new advances in spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury and advocate for proper treatment and care. Her advice and guidance as a military caregiver would be admired by any mother, father or military spouses in any wounded warrior situation.
“In retrospect what has helped us the most throughout this journey is an unfailing faith, researching and learning everything we can about our son’s injury and continuous advocacy for our wounded warrior. There will be times when you feel like you are doing this alone–you are not. Become active in groups pertaining to your wounded service member’s injury–online, in person, by phone. Cultivate a network of friends to chat with, ask questions and just be there for each other. And remember to never give up!”
The most positive aspect of caregiving is that Evan is home with us.”
If you are a military family caregiver and would like to hear more about Denise’s story or would like advice on caring for wounded warriors, please contact Denise Mettie at (firstname.lastname@example.org).
For information on tips for caring for wounded, ill and injured service members check out our Military Caregiving homepage.
Also, if you are a caring for a veteran or wounded service member, we would like to hear from you. Please share your experiences, heartaches and advice for others in caregiving situations with us today. Comments can be made below.