In 2011, Sgt. Brian was on patrol in Afghanistan outside the safe zone of his base camp. Suddenly an IED exploded and his truck rolled over and into a ditch. He slammed his head, and his helmet failed to prevent the skull fracture that occurred, not to mention the PTSD and traumatic brain injury that tormented him afterward.
He returned stateside in 2012 with a 90 percent medical discharge and needed 24-hour care, according to his wife, Alesha. “We’re fighting for 100 percent,” she said.
“I had reached my limit with the battle that lived on in my head each and every day, and I had given up, literally,” Brian said.
The breaking point occurred when he didn’t show up for class one day at St. Petersburg College and was found heavily bleeding from where he had cut his arms. Alesha rushed him to the nearest VA facility where he was hospitalized for the suicidal attempt.
“I was lost,” he said.
Brian, 28, and the father of three children, had previously contacted an organization in Ponte Vedra, Florida, in order to receive a service dog but had been on a waiting list for more than a year and wasn’t expected to access the program until late 2018.
Alesha called the organization in plea for her husband’s desperate situation. She learned that somebody had dropped the class and there was now a vacancy. They said Brian should come immediately.
But there was one barrier—the cost of transportation. Ponte Vedra is 250 miles from the couple’s home in Pinellas Point, and due to Brian’s inability to work expenses were tight.
“That’s when I reached out to a CFC-supported organization,” Alesha said.
By the next day, a check covering fuel for two round trips had arrived. Alesha immediately packed the car for the five-hour journey to take him to the facility for training, then made the trip again three-and-a-half weeks later to pick him with his new dog Woody.
Woody was donated by the program and specifically trained for Brian’s disabilities. The gentle dog wakes Brian up from nightmares, positions himself as a barrier from strangers, and distracts Brian from stressful situations in public.
Since being home and joined at the hip with his new buddy, Brian feels safe to go to public places with is family.
“I noticed a huge difference even four or five days after he was back home,” Alesha said.
“Before, I had to drag him out because he couldn’t be left alone. He would just be grumpy and mean all the time. We went Disney World and he did amazingly well. I’ve never seen him that calm in a situation with that many people. I can tell it’s just going to get better from here.”
“The organization has changed our lives forever,” Brian said.
Brian is not the only veteran who has been given back his life through a CFC-supported organization.
Toby Yarborough is another one and an Army veteran from Chesapeake, Virginia, who suffers from traumatic brain injury and PTSD resulting from injuries sustained in Afghanistan. He had trained his German Shepherd, Duke, to assist him, which the faithful dog did for 14 years until his death. To continue his animal therapy care that helps with his seizures, Tony adopted a rescue dog, Sasha, and the two traveled to Texas for special training.
“We received help to transport us to Texas and back,” Toby said. “This organization was really great to step up and help with travel.”
From his experience with therapy dogs, Tony wrote a book called The Quiet Healing. A documentary film of the same name was made to show his many struggles and moments of joy.