I can say with absolute certainty that writing my book, Wounded Warrior, Wounded Wife, was an honor. I connected with dozens of military spouses who had experienced pain, loss, and incredible upheaval, and was constantly amazed by their willingness to share their stories. They shared generously, frankly, and with the ardent hope of helping other wives to wounded veterans. It was a tremendous privilege to speak with them, and create a book designed to spread the word about their courage, perseverance, and unsung heroism.
I’d like to share the incredible story of one of these women with you now. Fiona attended SPA Day in 2014 and hearing about her experiences brought tears to my eyes. I’m so honored that she generously shared her personal history with me, and thrilled to be able to pass it along to you now. (You'll find a more detailed version of her story in my book.)
It was a routine, errand-filled day for Fiona when Patrick called from Afghanistan to tell her that he was heading out on an extensive mission and that she wouldn’t hear from him for a few weeks. When the phone rang at seven-thirty the next morning, she was caring for their four-month-old son, Stevie.
“I saw the call was foreign, but that it wasn’t from Patrick, and I began to worry.”
Her instincts were right. It was marine headquarters, calling to say that Patrick had been injured and would be coming home. That was all the information they gave her.
“I was feeding little Stevie in my arms when I dropped to the ground,” she recalled. “I was staying with my parents at the time, thank God, and my mother came running over to comfort me and help me understand what was going on. That date, July 4, 2012, is engraved on my heart.”
Later that morning, Fiona received a call from Patrick confirming that he’d been injured and was on his way home. As she waited for his return, Fiona found herself thinking back to when she was a freshman and Patrick a junior and they met at a high-school science fair. She was a studious, petite, blond science lover, and he a talkative Filipino baseball player. He watched, enthralled, as Fiona displayed her science project on biomechatronics. Theirs was an attraction of opposites, and they married right after high school in 2009. Then her buff jock joined the marines to serve his country, and she headed off to college to study biology and work as a yoga instructor.
During his time with the marines, Patrick was deployed twice. Fiona found Patrick’s second deployment to be the toughest, even before she received the call about his injuries. Patrick went to Afghanistan in April 2012 for active duty, while Fiona faced the challenges of studying, working, and caring for their son.
Once Patrick returned to the States, Fiona found herself facing a whole new struggle, fighting and suffering alongside him as he endured numerous painful surgeries to get him to the point where his body could accommodate prosthetic legs. He underwent an amputation of his left leg and salvage interventions to save his lower right leg, battling infections throughout the ordeal.
A year later, after many unsuccessful attempts to save his right leg, Patrick, Fiona, and a team of doctors came to the painful decision to amputate the leg just below the knee. The rehab process Patrick had been through for his left leg would have to start all over again.
“A double amputee! I didn’t know if I could go through more surgeries and amputation while caring for little Stevie,” Fiona recalled. “Some people call this the boomerang effect: just when you think everything is going smoothly, it comes back around and hits you hard. I felt like we were starting all over again. I was finally adjusting to caring for both my husband and our son while studying, and this setback was overwhelming.”
In the face of this staggering array of challenges, they both pushed on. Six months after his second his amputation, Patrick began the journey of learning to walk with two prosthetic legs. Fiona dropped in as often as she could to see his progress and meet with the prosthetist who had made and fitted his artificial legs.
While the physical therapist taught Patrick to walk on his new limbs, Fiona and the prosthetist worked on merging her man with man-made machinery. Fiona was already scientifically inclined, and the biology, neuroscience, mechanics, electronics, and robotics involved in creating effective artificial limbs intrigued her. She wanted to learn more. Seeing Patrick light up as he learned to walk with his new legs inspired her. She decided to learn how to make devices that interact with human muscle and nervous systems, high-tech limbs that would give wounded warriors physical freedom again. She set out to get her master’s degree in prosthetics. Never one to sit on the sidelines, she felt empowered to make a difference in not only her husband’s life, but in the lives of other wounded warriors.
The first day Patrick walked on his own, he was filled with joy. Just that little bit of independence, that little bit of freedom, was enough to get him thinking, “Okay, I have a fighting chance.” Today he tells others that, since that day, he hasn’t “thought about suicide once, and self-medication is a thing of the past.”
At Fiona’s graduation with a master’s in prosthetics-orthotics, Patrick walked up to her on his new legs, one hand holding Stevie’s and the other holding a bouquet of flowers with a card that read, “Congratulations! You’ve taught me—and will now teach others lying wounded in hospital beds—not to get down on themselves in spite of missing a limb. You’ve shown me that life without limbs can be limitless.”
It takes courage to chose hope over fear and that’s what the wives of wounded veterans do, day after day. Studies show that people with access to a living support system heal faster and are less affected by PTS, so wives and partners like Fiona not only prevent tragic veteran suicides but also save our health care system millions of dollars. Love is healing source in the world, and it takes courage to love someone who goes to war healthy and vigorous but comes back injured.
And like all of the caring, passionate, brave, wise women I’ve met as I’ve collected their stories, Fiona demonstrates how much strength, resilience, intelligence, and courage it takes to be the woman behind the man, the support system that keeps the wounded veteran going once he’s returned from the battlefield. She is truly leading a hero’s life.
To read more real-life tales of hidden heroes, CLICK HERE and enjoy special pricing for a limited time!