BrainLine Talks with Sarah and Ted Wade About Their Personal Story

An interview with Sarah Wade and retired Army Sergeant Edward "Ted" Wade. Following the attacks of September 11, Ted was called on to serve first in Afghanistan and later in Iraq. On February 14, 2004, his humvee was hit by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) on a mission in Al Mahmudiyah. He sustained a severe TBI, suffered a transhumeral traumatic amputation, multiple fractured bones, soft tissue shrapnel injuries, and complications due to acute anemia, hypergycemia, and infections. Though SGT Wade remained in a coma for more two months, and withdrawal of life support was discussed, he made a remarkable recovery.

Ted joined the Army in 2000, I guess--spring of 2000, I think, and was sent to Fort Bragg to the 82nd Airborne. After September 11th Ted was deployed to Afghanistan in early 2002 and then later on in 2003 would be deployed to Iraq fairly early in the conflict there. And on the 14th of February, 2004, he was on a mission near Mahmudiyah, Iraq, not far from Fallujah, and an improvised explosive device was detonated underneath his Humvee. Ted was unconscious at the scene, had been hit in the head with a piece of shrapnel and his helmet had blown off of his head. He also had a traumatic amputation. His right arm was completely severed in the blast and he would be later taken to a combat support hospital and then on to Baghdad and then transported to Germany a couple days later. In Germany things were pretty bad. His situation started to deteriorate. The doctors there weren't real hopeful. Ted was transferred to a German hospital from Landstuhl because the Air Force flight surgeons were not confident they could get Ted back to the States alive at that point. So he was sent to a civilian hospital in Germany and at that point was expected to stay in Germany until he passed away. I don't think anyone was confident they were going to get him back to the States alive. And at that point his father and I were... approached by the doctors and given the option to withdraw life support if that's what we chose to do. And, thankfully, we were lucky and had good instincts and made the right decision in that situation. Ted made a big improvement, really started to rebound about maybe ten days after the injury, started to show signs that things were getting better. And at that point the military doctors decided that (a) things may be hopeful and that (b) they could get him back to Walter Reed in one piece. Well, I say one piece. You weren't in one piece. [laughs] You were missing an arm, but-- [laughs]. That's probably not a good way to term it. But anyway, about two weeks after you got injured-- You were injured on February 14, 2004, and on March 2, 2004, we made the flight together back from Germany to Andrews Air Force Base, and Ted went to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and was in the intensive care unit there for a few weeks. That's where things started to get scary again. I had gotten my hopes up when Ted's condition started to improve in Germany, only to get back to the States and Ted's coma persisted. And after a few weeks--maybe four, five, six weeks-- things start to not be so hopeful that someone is going to wake up. You stayed in a coma for a good two and a half months. At that point you started to show some signs of being in there, like closing your eyes and pretending to be asleep when a nurse would come in to check his vital signs or check his blood sugar. [laughs] I think also one of the clear signs you were getting better was that you were being difficult, not letting people brush your teeth except the people you liked. There were only certain nurses that could brush your teeth. But Ted eventually started to climb out of the coma, spoke to a speech therapist. The first time they tried to get you to swallow and see if you could safely swallow soft foods, it was Katie Sullivan who fed you some ice cream, and you asked her for more. And she said if she had known, she would have fed you ice cream weeks before then. But Ted spoke those first words and then didn't say anything for a few weeks after that. [laughs] It was probably six months after the injury that you were starting to walk and talk. At that point you were in Richmond, Virginia, at the VA Polytrauma site there. That's where he learned to walk again, learned to talk again, dress, all the basics. And from there we went home, home back to North Carolina, and Ted started going to our local VA hospital. You were only there for a few weeks. Ted was transferred to an extended care facility that was at our VA hospital, and they didn't have the expertise and the resources they needed to give Ted what he really needed to get better. So at that point we made a decision with the primary care team that he was working with for Ted to go back to Walter Reed. One of the big concerns at that point was Ted doing amputee rehabilitation and learning how to use the prosthesis. And that takes some very specialized care, very specialized. It's a very specialized field of prosthetics but also occupational therapists to do the prosthetic training. There's not a lot of occupational therapists that encounter arm amputations, so we decided Walter Reed was the best place to go and spent a few months there doing amputee rehabilitation in early 2005. But Ted started to have some other health issues related to the brain injury that Walter Reed just wasn't equipped to treat and ended up going back to North Carolina. At that point our VA hospital found a local provider that has significant experience with brain injury. We became road warriors at that point. There wasn't a good option in North Carolina for Ted's amputee rehabilitation, and there wasn't a good option at Walter Reed. It wasn't that there wasn't a good option in Washington; it was just at that point the way benefits were for the military and their health insurance, TRICARE, they weren't able to pay for what Ted needed in the Washington, DC, area. So it wasn't for any lack of caring of the doctors at Walter Reed; they just weren't able to get Ted to the care he needed. They didn't have a way to get it paid for. So we did a lot of bouncing around. And wow, for about four years we traveled back and forth between Walter Reed and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, trying to balance out your injuries. And now we've hit a point where we're going to relocate to the Washington, DC, area. Four and a half years. It's four and a half years this month, I guess. August. August 14th. Huh. We're going to relocate to the Washington, DC, area and start over here. I think one of the things that was difficult was deciding where home was going to be. [off camera speaker] Why was DC the choice? I know you're from here, but-- The available care here is much higher than what is available in North Carolina. We are still going to go back to North Carolina for... TBI and neuro-- Your neuropsychiatrist, Dr. Gualtieri. Yes. This is one of the largest problems that I still have is that I'm trying to form sentences and I, originally when I started speaking, had a sentence. And as I started or finished--whatever--started to finish what I was thinking, it dropped out of my train of thought. And now I have to wander and think about--or wonder and think about... We were discussing that we wanted to move to--why we were moving to Washington, DC. I think one of the things that is tough when you get injured if you've been in the military-- I guess if you're active duty--it would be different maybe if you were National Guard or a Reservist--but military you don't choose where you live. You're stationed wherever it makes most sense for whatever your particular job is in the military. And so a lot of times you live somewhere that's not necessarily home. And when you get injured, one of the dilemmas is trying to figure out where home is and where you want to relocate to. That's something we didn't know immediately, and a lot of it was based on what kind of care Ted needed. And I think we arrived on moving to the Washington, DC, area because I grew up here. Ted grew up all over the country, so you don't really know where you call home. So that was an advantage for me winning where I got to move. [laughs] I think also when we really sat down and went over all the different types of providers that Ted needed, one of the hardest components to find was an upper extremity prosthetist. There are options within the VA system, but those options require someone traveling to see Ted if we were in North Carolina, and it's just not as convenient. So we decided that there are brain injury resources in the Washington, DC, area, that the military has an incredible amputee program, but also I think one of the shortcomings we had in North Carolina was good primary care. Ted just never really had anybody at our VA hospital in North Carolina that was--wasn't--I guess it wasn't-- I've got to be careful how I say that. It wasn't that they were a bad primary care doctor; it's that Ted had a set of injuries that they weren't used to dealing with. And Ted's had really good primary care at Walter Reed in the past with some of their physicians that work with blast injuries there, and it just made the most sense to be in this area to be able to put together the best expertise for all his different injuries. [off camera speaker] And will you have access to a mentor or support group because you're near Walter Reed? Yes. I'm... You're trying too hard. >>I know, and that's why I'm like... [off camera speaker] What's your mentor's name? Jim Mayer, who... also was... [sighs] a combat injury also. He works for... Wounded Warrior Program. He is your mentor, I guess, through the program that Walter Reed has. Walter Reed for a while now--I think they started it during Desert Storm actually-- their amputee program and the rehabilitation program at Walter Reed has teamed up with some veterans from Vietnam and some veterans-- Mr. Porter got injured in Korea. They are veterans from previous wars that lost limbs that have gone on to lead successful and full lives who have come back to give back to this younger generation of veterans. Walter Reed paired up with the Amputee Coalition of America and set up a wonderful mentoring program. And I think one of the exciting things, one of the reasons why you want to be close to Walter Reed and the Bethesda Naval Hospital, is Jim Mayer, Ted's mentor, is trying to expand the program for other types of injuries and is hoping for you to help him out with that, to reach out to some of the families. One of the things we've definitely found is a lot of times someone who has been through what Ted has, during the early stages when you were unconscious, it's absolutely terrifying not knowing what to expect. I would have loved to have had someone to talk to who had some firsthand knowledge, also to talk to somebody who had just survived [laughs], someone to tell me, "You're going to get through it." But I think one of the things that's been really interesting to watch with Ted is he has visited a few families at Walter Reed and at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda where their family member is still unconscious. And Ted's been introduced to them through some of his former nurses or other hospital staff. It's really been interesting to see you be an inspiration to a family member. I think what's important is-- I think for someone to recover it's very important to keep their family member who is taking care of them in the fight. I think one of the things you've been able to do is give people hope. It was the week you got out of the hospital. You were injured in February, and they let you out of the hospital just in time for Thanksgiving. I think it was two days before Thanksgiving. It was Thanksgiving week. That was the goal was to get Ted out of the hospital for the holidays and let him spend Thanksgiving at home. I guess we had decided we were getting married before you went to Iraq and really regretted having waited. [laughs] We should have just gotten married before you left. We were naive in thinking that we were going to have a nice big wedding with everyone there. I guess once you got injured, none of that stuff was important anymore. I think what sunk in was when Ted got injured. When you were really fighting for your life, I think one of the things that really hit me was I really regretted not having gotten married because I thought I was going to lose him and I was never going to have that opportunity. I remember at one point saying in the car when we left the hospital in Germany and were driving back to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center to the Fisher House there where we were staying, your parents and I, and I remember in the car being really in shock because the doctors hadn't had a very good prognosis that day, and I remember saying, "How can you be a widow if you never got married?" [laughs] It was just--it was strange. When you got out of the hospital, I wasn't waiting any longer. So we took the first opportunity we could and went to the courthouse in Orange County, North Carolina. Your friend Joe, who was living in Wilmington, North Carolina, at the time-- he had been a Marine. I shouldn't say that. Once a Marine, always a Marine, right? But he was a Marine who was no longer in the Marine Corps. He drove up from Wilmington, North Carolina, to be one of the witnesses. And if I remember correctly, your friend Brandon was going to come up from Fort Bragg, but he didn't get out of work on time before they closed for the week for the Thanksgiving break. So was it a copier repairman, I think, that we-- We dragged a repairman in to be our other witness. [laughs]
Posted on BrainLine November 24, 2008.