Unbreakable Bonds tells ten touching stories of mothers who spent years aiding the recovery of their children, US soldiers and Marines who suffered severe injuries during the War on Terror. The survival of these wounded warriors is a testament not only to the extraordinary efforts of military medical personnel and their own inner fortitude, but also to their mothers. These women put their lives on hold from the moment they get that first call about their injured son or daughter, giving up their homes and careers and leaving behind family and friends. They are ever present, from those agonizing early days in intensive care, through dozens of lifesaving operations and the months and years of both triumphs and setbacks during therapy and rehabilitation. Their commitment, like the wounds their children suffer, is lifelong.
Unbreakable Bonds showcases the selfless love and support of the mothers who, like their wounded warriors, have been changed forever, and who have, without hesitation, sacrificed greatly for their country. They also find strength through the exclusive network of caregivers, who are there not only for their sons and daughters, but for each other as well. With forewords from former president George H. W. Bush and former Maryland congresswoman Connie Morella, this book will appeal to US service members and their loved onesand those without ties to the military will gain appreciation for those who risk so much to serve our country.
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About the Author
Dava Guerin is a Washington-based communications consultant and writer and is the communications director for the US Association of Former Members of Congress. She was formerly president of Guerin Public Relations, Inc., and profile editor of Local Living Magazine and Bucks Living Magazine. She volunteers her time helping wounded warriors and their families at Walter Reed National Military Hospital. Guerin resides in Berlin, Maryland.
Kevin Ferris is an assistant editor with the editorial board of the Philadelphia Inquirer. For many years, he wrote the Back Channels column for the Sunday Currents section. His freelance work has appeared in the Weekly Standard, Wall Street Journal, and Christian Science Monitor. He served in the US Army from 1976 to 1979. Ferris lives in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
George H. W. Bush was sworn in as president of the United States in January 1989 and served until January 1993. During his term in office, the Cold War ended; the threat of nuclear war was drastically reduced; the Soviet Union ceased to exist, replaced by a democratic Russia with the Baltic states becoming free; the Berlin Wall fell and Germany was reunified with Eastern Europe; and he put together an unprecedented coalition of thirty-two nations to liberate Kuwait. He served in the US Navy from 19421945, and has supported our nation’s service members and their families throughout his life. As a champion of public service, he has encouraged all Americans to serve through his Points of Light Foundation, as well as his personal philanthropic efforts. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife, Barbara, and their two dogs.
Connie Morella represented Maryland's eighth congressional district in the House of Representatives from 1987 to 2003, served as ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development from 2003 to 2007, and is now president of the US Association of Former Members of Congress. Already a mother of three, Morella adopted her sister's six children after she passed away from cancer. In her role as president of the US Association of Former Members of Congress, Morella has been a champion of US wounded warriors and has supported them through her organization's charity golf tournament and Salute to Service: Statesmanship Awards Dinner, as well as many other initiatives. She resides in Bethesda, Maryland.
Read an Excerpt
Mark Fidler and Stacy Fidler
Mother's Day is traditionally a time when children of all ages contemplate the gifts they will give their moms to celebrate the annual ritual. From flowers and jewelry, to perfume and spa days, Mother's Day gifts are cherished symbols of their children's love. But for one Pennsylvania mom — Stacy Fidler — a pair of legs, a motorized track wheelchair, or wounds that heal are even better. For the proud moms of our nation's wounded warriors, Mother's Day is a time to celebrate their children's sacrifices, and their solidarity as a group of unexpected heroines themselves.
October 3, 2011, was without question the worst day of Stacy Fidler's life. Far away from his Pennsylvania hometown, her son, US Marine Corps Lance Corporal Mark Fidler, twenty-two, took one fateful step that triggered an IED and changed his life forever.
As the proud mother of two sons who serve in the Marine Corps, Stacy has lived with the danger of military service for years, but she also knows that service is a calling, and the commitment that her sons hold is sacred. She couldn't think of another line of work nobler or more suited to her boys. Her oldest son, Dan, is a warrant officer. Stacy always knew he would take care of himself and be "fine." For Mark, that was a different story.
"I never worried about Dan," she said. "But Mark was always rambunctious, and lived his life on the edge. We always feared that he would be the one who would step on an IED. He would be the one who would be blown up."
And you can see that devil-may-care quality in his engaging smile and piercing gaze. Full, brown, and sparkly, his eyes tell a story of a young man filled with exuberance, and a lust for living — someone not at all afraid of taking risks. Mark embraces life with irreverence too. Don't tell him he can't do something. He will always prove you wrong.
"When Mark was thirteen, he broke both of his legs in a car accident and spent ten weeks in a wheelchair and then on crutches," Stacy said.
Before he joined the Marine Corps, he used to joke that he wanted to lose both of his legs so he could get the running prosthetic legs and be able to run like a Paralympian. "And," Stacy said, "when I would be milking the cows at the farm where I work, he would tell me, playfully, that he would rather have his feet cut off than to have to step in dog poop like me! So oddly enough, it didn't surprise us that, just two weeks into his first deployment, that's exactly what happened."
Mark dreamed of being a United States Marine all of his life. "That's all I ever wanted to do," he said, "and since I was a little kid I would imagine myself helping to defend our country. Getting the bad guys and keeping America safe were all I ever wanted to do."
He was destined for the job. Shooting guns, hunting, and fishing were as commonplace to Mark as eating and sleeping. His father, Kermit, a US Marine himself, and a Vietnam veteran, loves the outdoors. He currently owns a Pennsylvania buck farm called "Fidler's Whitetails," where he raises those majestic animals and hosts groups of avid hunters who get to see them in their glorious natural habitat.
Mark was up to the task, too. Armed with excellent marksmanship skills, a family history of service to the United States, and a burning desire to fight the bad guys, he couldn't wait until his first deployment. After he enlisted, he went through basic training and was assigned to a security detail in Washington, DC, not that far away from his family home in Strausstown, near Reading, Pennsylvania. In this small town, without a single traffic light, everyone knew the Fidlers, and Mark always made an impression.
"Mark was the kind of kid you just never forget," Stacy said. "He always wanted to be in the middle of the action, and didn't like not being in the fight."
After his assignment at the Marine base at Eighth and I Streets in Washington, he completed his training for combat duty at Twentynine Palms, in California, and was scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan. On September 11, 2011, as Stacy dropped Mark off at the airport, she had a feeling of dread. She remembered those seemingly playful encounters, where mother and son joked about being a Paralympian runner. As she watched Mark sitting quietly on the airport bench, she wanted to take a picture of him, thinking that this might be the last time she saw her son with both legs. "I was very nervous, and remember thinking to myself that I should get out of the car and take a picture," she said. "But I just drove away."
Mark Fidler arrived in Afghanistan on September 23. Just eleven days later, on October 3, while on foot patrol in Sangin, with a belt of 40 mm grenades strapped to his waist, Mark stepped on an IED. For Stacy, his devoted mother; his father, Kermit; his brother, Dan, and his wife, Brittney; his two sisters, Kelly and Amanda; and Amanda's husband, Bill, their lives would be inexorably changed in ways they would have never imagined.
"When we first got the phone call that Mark was injured, we really didn't know how serious it was," said Stacy. When a service member is wounded, communications are shut down to make sure the family is notified first, and doesn't find out about their children's injuries on social media sites or by any other external means. "We tried to get as much information as possible from his buddies and the doctors because Mark was unconscious. To this day he has no memory of the blast at all."
Eventually, the family would learn the details of what they now refer to as his "alive day." Mark was on a 6:00 a.m. foot patrol on the way back to his base, with the Marines who would be relieving his squad that morning. About 200 yards from the base, Mark, who was the fourth Marine in line, stepped directly on the IED; the metal detector had missed the device.
Mark, with twelve live grenades strapped to his waist, literally was blown up. The violent blast blew off both of Mark's legs, the right at the knee and the left just above the knee. Three of the grenades detonated, adding to the severity of his injuries. Most of the soft tissue around his lower back and buttocks was blown off. One of Mark's buddies frantically ran over to him, trying desperately to control his bleeding. As he was applying a tourniquet, he wasn't sure if Mark would live or die. In fact, Mark's heart did stop beating. His condition was so grave that the medical helicopter barely took the time to land. Mark was hoisted aboard. He was flown to Bastion, where he received 120 units of blood, then to nearby Bagram Air Base. Not long after, he was sent to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. The center, near the US air base at Ramstein, is America's largest overseas medical facility. Once his condition was stabilized, Mark was transferred to Walter Reed.
"I first got that dreaded call from Kermit, and then I called my son Dan who also found out some of the details of Mark's injury at that time," said Stacy. "I remembered thinking that if just his legs were blown off that wouldn't be so bad, because then Mark could finally get those running legs. We were so hopeful that was the case."
At twenty-two years old, this strapping, rambunctious young man became another casualty of the War on Terror, and his fifty-twoyear-old mom a caregiver for life.
For Stacy, family means everything.
Stacy used to love to see her boys come home; it was better than the alternative. Yet every mother of a US service member knows that risk comes with the job. After all, they volunteered to fight for their country. On holidays, when Mark, Dan, and the rest of the Fidler family gathered in their rural home, Stacy spoiled them in traditional Pennsylvania Dutch style. There was a feast, of course, complete with a special dish of mashed potatoes made with sugar and stuffing, which she playfully named "Fidler's Filling," and more food than anyone, even hungry Marines, could hope to devour. But after Mark was injured, the warmth of family, and the smell of a roast in the oven, was, sadly, replaced by tubes, drains, and monitors, and an ICU that took their breath away.
"We waited for Mark to arrive, and Dan was the first person to see him," Stacy said. "When we finally were able come into the room, it was absolutely terrifying! There was my precious boy, lying there, tubes everywhere, and completely unconscious. The ICU is a very frightening place to be, especially when it is your son, and you have no idea of what is going on."
As the family waited, bit by bit they learned how severe Mark's injuries really were. Though relieved he was receiving the critical care he needed, they understood that Mark had undergone severe trauma, and they were not sure if he was going to live or die.
Stacy's inner "mama grizzly" kicked in, and from that day on she became tougher than the toughest drill instructor, and a fierce protector of her now wounded warrior son.
"After the initial shock, I did what any other mom would do, spending days in the ICU, sleeping wherever I could, and checking Mark's vital signs on the monitors incessantly," Stacy said. "I remember watching that monitor endlessly just to see him breathe, yet never fully understanding how grave his injuries really were."
As Mark's doctors performed surgeries each day to try to save what was left of his legs, Stacy knew things weren't going well. His trauma surgeon finally had to break the news to the family. Mark would have both of his legs disarticulated at the hip, and the tissue from his legs would be used to rebuild the lower part of his back that was blown off during the blast. With no stumps to attach prosthetic legs to, Mark was an unlikely candidate for artificial legs.
"Because of Mark's particular case," said Stacy, "at this point having prosthetic legs would be awkward and would take a lot out of him. It's not like he can just pop them on in the morning and walk down the street."
All this proud Marine mom could do was cry.
But over the next few months, Stacy drew strength from Mark, and also had the support of her family, the Marine Corps, a host of other organizations, and of course, the other Mighty Moms of Walter Reed.
"Mark would always say, 'It is what it is, Mom,' but Mark and all these guys are not like most people," Stacy said. "We always talk about the fact that it seems like the service members who have the hardest time after a catastrophic injury like Mark's are the ones who think nothing will ever happen to them. Mark always thought he would lose his legs, and while it doesn't mitigate the pain, it helps him and all of us because we know his life will be just as full and productive as it was before the blast."
Over the next year, Mark would face a host of unexpected complications, and Stacy, and at times her other family members, would call Walter Reed home, a far cry from the bucolic life they led before the blast.
"Mark spent six months in the hospital, and there were so many ups and downs," said Stacy. "Just when I thought things were getting better, Mark had a seizure and was sent back to the ICU. He spent one month there, and then was finally brought back to the fourth floor of the hospital, and we were so happy that on November 10 he was awarded a Purple Heart."
One of the horrible ironies of war is the medical breakthroughs in trauma care that have their roots in military medicine. From robotic prosthetics to wound care and rehabilitation advancements, long-term survival rates and quality of life have dramatically improved. For wounded active duty service members — and there are nearly two thousand who have lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan — being treated at Walter Reed has made all the difference.
"There is no question that Mark would have died if not for his buddy helping him at the scene, and Dr. Patrick Basile, who put his body back together like a jigsaw puzzle," Stacy said. "Dr. Basile literally used my son's legs to cover the soft tissue that was lost, and he was also part of the team, along with Dr. Potter, who just completed the first double-arm transplant on another patient. Thanks to him, Mark was also successfully treated for a condition called heterotopic ossification, where after a blast injury like Mark's, bone grows where it shouldn't, and that creates unbearable pain."
Stacy and her family were there at every stage of his treatment and recovery. When he first arrived, he was immediately assigned an active duty liaison who did everything for Mark, including carrying him to and from the ambulance, visiting him every day, helping with paperwork, and taking care of any need the family had. The military also provides a recovery care coordinator and a nurse case manager. A military liaison makes sure everyone is working together. In addition, the Armed Services Foundation pays for food and lodging, and a host of other support groups, including the Semper Fi Fund, Luke's Wings, Freedom Alliance, and the Yellow Ribbon Fund, helps with everything from buying a Sleep Number bed and track wheelchairs, to paying for flights for family members and providing families with a much-needed free trip or a dinner out of the hospital environment.
"I am blessed to have a very supportive family, and all of my children and their spouses were there for us from the very beginning of this ordeal," Stacy said. "Dan's wife and Amanda's husband were so giving of their time, and without them, and all my children, I don't know how I would have made it through."
Despite the assistance of so many people, the hospital is a far cry from the comforts of home. During Mark's in-patient stay, Stacy spent most of her time in his room, which was covered from floor to ceiling with photos, American flags, Marine memorabilia, and cards from many well-wishers. There was lots of food, too. In fact, Stacy complains that she gained at least fifteen pounds from her lack of exercise, and from eating all of the candy and cookies that filled his hospital room. After all, her mission was to help Mark recover, both physically and mentally. So, day after day, night after night, she claimed the corner of that room, taking turns with Mark's dad, as her temporary home, sleeping on a small, uncomfortable cot, squeezing in showers when she felt she could leave Mark alone for a couple of minutes. Even for this experienced farmhand, it was a tough way to live. Through it all, she continued to be thankful that Mark was still alive, and that she was not a Gold Star Mother.
He was also in a great deal of pain, though he rarely complained. For a Marine, this was part of the job. While he was beginning to improve, the skin flaps and wounds from his many surgeries still were not healing properly.
"Sometimes it feels like I am walking on hot coals, but I don't have any legs or ankles," said Mark. "I have learned that is called phantom pain, and I just have to deal with it." He also is constantly hot, sweating profusely at times, and rarely ever feeling cool. He explains it this way: "Since I don't have any legs, there is less of my body that can dissipate heat, so I feel hot most of the time. One of the best days I have had since the blast was when I went on a trip with my family and got to float in a lake. I felt so free, and for a moment, forgot about the fact that I have no legs."
Mark also said that he still doesn't remember the details of the blast. "I just remember going to bed the night before and then waking up three weeks later in the hospital," he said.
As the months passed, Mark had his ups and downs — excruciating pain, high fever, infection, and more surgeries. Stacy and all of the Fidler family were there for him, though Stacy was his primary caregiver. Fortunately, her boss was willing to give her the time she needed to care for Mark, and she did try to go home to Strausstown to work on the farm when she could.
"Most people don't know what this is like unless you are living it every day," she said. "Mark wanted me here all of the time, because he was on so much medication that his memory was affected. It is very important to be an advocate for your son, and little things like making sure his medication is in order, or that his specialized bed is made properly, are extremely important."
Stacy also was a quick study when it came to Mark's medical care. She became the gatekeeper of his hospital room, monitoring who could come in and out, depending on how Mark felt at the time. "Walter Reed is a wonderful place, and there is no better hospital in the world to care for the grave injuries Mark suffered. But sometimes, it was hard for him to have groups of doctors staring at him, or having celebrity visitors come in. They all mean well, but sometimes I had to graciously let them know that Mark simply wasn't up for their visits."
Excerpted from "Unbreakable Bonds"
Copyright © 2014 Dava Guerin and Kevin Ferris.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword: President George H. W. Bush,
Foreword: Connie Morella (R-MD),
Wounded Warriors and Their Caregivers: Ten Stories of Love, Hope, and Unbreakable Bonds,
Chapter 1: Mark Fidler and Stacy Fidler,
Chapter 2: Josh Brubaker and Mary Brubaker,
Chapter 3: Christian Brown and Lyn Braden-Reed,
Chapter 4: Tyler Jeffries and Pam Carrigan Britt,
Chapter 5: Thomas McRae and Carolee Ryan,
Chapter 6: Robert Scott III and Valence Scott,
Chapter 7: Jeffrey Shonk and Tammy Karcher,
Chapter 8: Adam Keys and Julie Keys,
Chapter 9: Stefanie D. Mason and Paulette Mason,
Chapter 10: Derek McConnell and Siobhan Fuller-McConnell, Esq.,
Chapter 11: Band of Mothers,
Chapter 12: Favorite Mighty Moms' Charities,
About the Authors,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
For those who aren't familiar with US military life and its sacrifices firsthand, the single most important book to trying to understand and appreciate our brave servicemen and women and their families. For those who are, a touching and too true read.