Monday, June 30, 2014

Birthday Recap

I'm finally getting around to making my birthday blog post! It was a relaxing day and I got to spend it with some of my favorite people. I'm such a homebody that if given the choice I usually rather stay at home than go out, so having a low-key celebration was perfect. One of my great friends, Debby, came over to visit with my mom, sisters and me for several hours in the afternoon. My friend Lacee dropped by, too.
My sister Kristin made my birthday cake. I decided to have the same thing I had last year––a devil's food cake made with dark chocolate cocoa and a Butterfinger filling. She did an amazing job on it and it was so good.
My sister Sharon said having 30 individual candles was a must, and not just a '3' and a '0.' I agreed, but said I would need some help blowing them out since I can't breathe on my own and therefore don't have the ability to draw in a big, deep breath.
My mom, Sharon and Kristin helped me out. Anything for a friend, right?! ;)
I got these beautiful lilies from our family friend, Paul. They were so colorful and they lasted a really long time. I love fresh flowers, so I appreciated the thoughtful gesture!
I think I'm holding up pretty well for my age!
Thanks to everyone who remembered me on my birthday with gifts, cards, phone calls, emails and Facebook messages. It was a great birthday and I'm looking forward to this third decade of life!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Dream Come True

I've only seen my sister Kristin a handful of times since she got married 12 years ago since she and her husband have always lived a great distance away. Kristin and her family did live with my mom and me for five glorious months back in 2010 after her husband Scott finished school while he was looking for a job. Those five months went by quickly. Too quickly, and before I knew it Kristin's family was gone.

When Scott found a job it was a great thing for their family, except for the fact that it was in California––a distance of nearly 2000 miles and more than 30 hours away ONE way! This has made visits with Kristin's sweet family nonexistent since they moved at the end of 2010. It would cost a pretty penny for their family of seven to fly to St. Louis and would make for one loooong road trip (which would also be expensive, not to mention cruel and unusual punishment for five young boys). SO, for the past  years I've had to settle for emails and Skype conversations to keep in touch.

A few months ago my mom and I were discussing my upcoming 30th birthday and I told my mom that the only thing I wanted for my birthday was to see Kristin. I also told Kristin about my desire to have her come visit, but after thinking about it for a few days she told me that it wouldn't work for various reasons, so I just put the thought out of my mind. I knew it was a long shot, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to at least ask to see if it would be a possibility.

Imagine my complete surprise when Kristin showed up at my house last Wednesday evening! This is how everything went down: My sister Chandra left the house at dinner time and said she was going to the gym to work out. I thought it was an odd time for her to leave, but Chan does stuff like that all the time, so I really didn't think anything of it. (However, Chan was actually at the airport picking up Kristin.) My sister Sharon (who had already been planning to visit for my birthday) arrived from Mississippi that afternoon as well. She was in my room talking with me when Chandra (and Kristin) came home. When I glanced to my right my sister Kristin was in the room, along with my mom and Chandra. I was so surprised and I couldn't believe Kristin was in my room (I was actually speechless). I was just so, SO happy! 
Kristin was able to stay for 4½ days and we had a blast together. It wasn't nearly long enough, but I will take what I can get and be grateful! Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who made it happen, and an extra big thank you to Kristin's five boys and amazing husband Scott for taking off work and holding down the fort back in California. I know how much Kristin missed her family and vise-versa, so that made me even more appreciative. If I were Kristin I wouldn't have wanted to leave these handsome fellas, either! ;)
I've been too busy partying and having fun to do much blogging, so stay tuned for more posts about my birthday and the fun times I've been having with my out of town family! 

Thursday, June 19, 2014


Today is my 30th birthday. 30… can you believe it?! I definitely can't, I really don't feel 30. Not that 30 is all that old, but it just seems a lot older than I feel. I suppose the reason I feel a lot younger than I am is mostly because I haven't accomplished many of the things that I always thought I would've by now. I'm not married, I don't have kids, I never graduated college, I don't live on my own, etc. I've kind of felt stuck at 19 ever since my accident.

I know that I've done good things with my life that I can add to my last of accomplishments, but I just feel stuck where I am whereas the lives of everyone else I know evolve and progress much faster and in much bigger ways than mine does. My life has certainly turned out differently than I would've ever expected, but it's still a pretty good life. I'm happy, I'm healthy, stay busy, I have great friends and a wonderful family and I have everything I need. There are some things that I would change about my life if I could, but nothing that makes me think I have a rotten life. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what my 30's have in store for me. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


After listening to Lone SurvivorI decided to listen to Fearless, another book about a courageous Navy SEAL. This book was written by Eric Blehm, and it was extremely well-researched and well-written. It's pretty clear from the subtitle of the book that Adam is no longer living, so I'm not spoiling the book by saying so. Several years back Adam made it clear to his family that IF the unthinkable happened and he lost his life in the war he wanted his story told. Not just the good parts about him being Navy SEAL and a family man, but also the not so redeeming details of his past which he called his "dark side."

Adam lost his way after high school and he started drinking and doing drugs. He lied to everyone close to him, stole from them and did whatever he had to do to get that next fix. Not only did he deal drugs, but he developed a powerful addiction to them. Adam said that the first time he did crack cocaine he was immediately addicted to it. This addiction had such a hold over him that he always felt powerful urges to go back to it, even after getting clean. Adam relapsed several times over the years, but did ultimately manage to pull things around for himself.

Adam was an extremely dedicated and determined person and if he really wanted something he would work as hard as was necessary to achieve his goal no matter what. When Adam decided to join the Navy and become a SEAL he never looked back and said that becoming a Navy SEAL was what saved his life after getting off drugs. He also found God and was very devout in his faith. This made me so happy because it seems like so often in this day and age people are ridiculed or scoffed at when they are religious.

An interesting note is that Navy SEAL team 6 was responsible for capturing and killing Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011. There's a good chance that Adam would have been involved in bin Laden's capture if he'd still been alive.

This is a picture of Adam, his amazingly sweet and supportive wife, Kelley and their kids Nathan and Savannah:
This is a picture of Adam taken when he was deployed in Afghanistan:
Adam loved kids. When the weather in Afghanistan turned cold it broke his heart to see the Afghani children walking around barefoot and/or in flip-flops. When his wife was making a care package to send him for Christmas Adam said that he didn't need anything and to just send shoes and socks. His wife sent 20 pairs and when the people at their church heard about it they wanted to contribute shoes, too. They collected more than 500 pairs and sent them to Adam who went door-to-door around the Afghani villages writing down the names/shoe sizes of the kids. When he'd receive another shipment of shoes he would deliver them to the Afghani children. Adam hoped that when these kids grew up they would remember him and the kindness of the Americans and that it would maybe help to heal some of the wounds that the war made on the people.

This is a picture of Adam's headstone at the cemetery where he is buried, and the heart-warming story behind it:
Adam was always kind to everyone. When he was in elementary school he saw a group of boys picking on a boy with Down Syndrome. Adam went over to the boys and told them that if they wanted to pick on someone they could pick on him and to leave the poor boy alone. Adam befriended the boy (I can't remember his name) and would give him a high-five when he saw him in the hall at school. When the boy (now a man) found out about Adam's death he broke down into tears. The man's father makes headstones for a living, so he made this beautiful monument for Adam since it was something he could do for Adam and his family to express his gratitude for Adam who was always so kind to his son.

Like Lone Survivor, Fearless was an amazing book (and it thankfully didn't have bad language in it like Lone Survivor did). :) It wasn't quite as fast-paced as Lone Survivor, but it was so uplifting and reading it just made you just feel good, even though it had a sad ending. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the book and even decided to buy a copy of it even though I bought the audio book version from iTunes. (I like to lend books to people and/or re-read books that I've really enjoyed.) I really can't say enough good things about Fearless and it definitely gets my stamp of approval! I can't wait to meet Adam Brown one day in the next life because he is truly an amazing man!

[On a sad note, there was a terrible accident on August 6, 2011 where a chinook helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan after being hit by a rocket propelled grenade. Everyone on board died, including 17 Navy SEALs. Fearless's author, Eric Blehm, had spent countless hours interviewing 15 of these SEALs that belonged to SEAL team 6 since they were all friends of Adam's. There's a good chance that Adam would've been with them and that helicopter had he not died in combat the previous year. Ironically, these SEALs told Eric that they wanted to be sure and finish telling him about their experiences with Adam since they knew they were going to be deployed soon.]

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"Lone Survivor"

I finished listening to a really good book yesterday called Lone Survivor. This short book is the true story of U.S. Navy SEAL team 10 and Operation Red Wings. In June 2005 four Navy SEALs went into Afghanistan under cover of darkness on a special mission looking for Ahmad Shah, a terrorist and threat to the United States.

On June 28, 2005, the four members of Navy SEAL team 10 (Marcus Luttrell, Matt "Axe" Axelson, Danny Dietz and  Mike Murphy)  were found by two goat herders and a 14-year-old boy the morning after they arrived in the Hindu Kush mountains. This accidental meeting with these goat herders proved fateful and the SEALs were faced with a huge dilemma. They could kill the goat herders, but they worried about being charged with war crimes and possible imprisonment, not to mention being villainized by the liberal media in America. They also had moral issues with killing three innocent people, but knew that if they let them go there was a good chance they would alert the Taliban. They ultimately decided to let the goat herders go.

About 90 minutes after their decision to let the goat herders go the SEALs were ambushed by a group of about 150 members of the Taliban. The SEALs engaged in a firefight and held their own against this group for a while, but they were surrounded with nowhere to go. They tried calling for backup, but couldn't get a signal from the position they were at on the mountain. Mike Murphy, the team leader, made the decision to leave the spot where he was concealed in order to get out in the open where he could get a signal. This decision* meant certain death for him, but he sacrificed himself in attempts to get backup to hopefully get the other three SEALs out alive. This decision did result in Murphy's death, but he was successful in getting a signal and getting word to the Lieutenant Commander. Dietz and Axelson also lost their lives during the firefight. Marcus Luttrell was badly injured; he broke his back is a fall down the mountain and sustained other fractures, but he miraculously survived.

[*A chinook helicopter carrying 16 special forces officers (8 Navy SEALs and 8 Army night stalkers) came to try and rescue the four SEALs on the mountain after receiving the distress call from Mike Murphy. The helicopter was shot down by the Taliban and all 16 men on board were killed. 19 men lost their lives in Operation Red Wings, making it the worst single day loss of life disaster in the history of Naval special forces warfare.]

Marcus didn't sleep much that night and went off in search of water the next day since it had been nearly 24 hours since the last he'd drunk something. The Taliban fighters were still tracking Marcus and they found him, but he still had his gun and managed to kill the Taliban fighters before they killed him (although he was shot in the leg in the process). Marcus finally found water and managed to get two swallows of water before looking up, seeing two men watching him. Fortunately these men were local villagers, not Taliban fighters. They took him back to their village, gave him food and water and tended to his wounds. This was a risky move for them, especially after the Taliban fighters came looking for him. The villagers hid Marcus and kept him safe for several days.

The long story short is that Marcus was rescued about a week later. Here's a picture of SEAL Team 10 (L to R): Mike Murphy, Danny Dietz, Matt Axelson and Marcus Luttrell
Marcus was awarded a Purple Heart medal and the Navy Cross for his actions. Dietz and Axelson were posthumously awarded Purple Hearts and Navy Crosses and Mike Murphy earned the prestigious Medal of Honor for sacrificing himself to make that distress call.

This book was recently made into a movie and was what piqued my interest in the book (although I won't be seeing the movie since it's Rated-R and I'm sure would be pretty graphic). Mark Wahlberg is the actor that played Marcus Luttrell:
Marcus is now retired from the Navy and in one of the interviews I watched with him he said that he was thinking of going to medical school (he was a medic in the Navy, as well as being a SEAL). He's also gotten married to his wife, Melanie, and they have two kids.
Above is a picture of Marcus with Mohammed Gulab, one of the men from the village that provided him protection from the Taliban after they found him. Marcus and Gulab formed a strong bond those few days when Marcus was waiting to be rescued. The sad thing is that Gulab has received many threats from the Taliban for his involvement in helping Marcus and his house was burned down and one of his cousins was murdered. Gulab and Marcus consider themselves brothers and Gulab has even come to America to visit Marcus on his family's ranch in Texas.

It didn't take long before I was "sucked in" to this book. It was really intense and I found it difficult to tear myself away from it. I developed a deeper appreciation and respect for Navy SEALs. Those guys are tough! I definitely recommend this book, but be advised that this book had terrible language in it. I suppose it's not hard to believe of military men in a stressful situation. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

And the Verdict Is…

Back in this post I wrote about my sister Annette's exciting news that she is pregnant and expecting twins. I've been so excited for her and have been eagerly anticipating finding out the sex of the babies. Well, she finally had her ultrasound bright and early this morning and it's just what she was hoping: a boy and a girl! 
My sister and I talk on Skype once or twice a week and now that she's getting further along in her pregnancy she's starting to show. Every time we talk I always ask her to stand back so that I can see her torso. She said she feels huge (of course) but I assured her that she doesn't look as big as she thinks she does. She's naturally quite thin, so for being 19 weeks along with twins she looks great!

FAQs: Why the Trach?

Sometimes I get asked why I still have a trach even though I'm not dependent on a ventilator anymore now that I have my diaphragm pacer. There are several important reasons:

Even though I'm no longer on the ventilator, sometimes I still need to have my airway suctioned out when I get a buildup of secretions that make it difficult to breathe. On average I need suction a few times a day; sometimes more, sometimes not at all. It just depends on how much gunk I get in my throat/airway, or how bad the allergens are in the air. (I've needed to be suctioned a little more often this spring than I usually do because there must be more pollen and stuff like that in the air.)

When I get suctioned, we stick a thin suction catheter down my trach and suck out any secretions with a special machine. Maintaining access to my airway is a must because it would be difficult to suction without it.

One of the other main reasons I still have my trach is just in case I need to go back on a ventilator. This has only happened a couple of times since I got the diaphragm pacer back in 2006. (I think both of these times were when I was hospitalized and my body was too sick/too weak to just rely on my pacer alone to breathe for me. I temporarily needed a little extra breathing support until I regained my strength and could go back on the pacer.)

Keeping the trach is basically a backup or a precaution just in case something were to go wrong with the pacer. That's highly unlikely, but you never know, and it would be much easier to maintain an existing trach rather than having to do another tracheotomy down the road if I were to ever to need it.

I know the trach is another thing that kind of emphasizes my limitations and I wish it wasn't necessary, since it makes me look different. It's also something people sometimes ask about (usually kids), but at least I'm no longer on a ventilator, because that was even more noticeable. I hope this all makes sense and explains why I still have a trach.
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