FORT BLISS, Texas — “They told me I wasn't going to be able to learn,” he said.
In May 2014 he walked across the stage in a ceremony designated to those who have completed higher education. He will be receiving his master's degree in rehabilitation counseling which he will use to help others who have similar stories. He is bringing his journey full circle and affecting the lives of many along the way.
He is developing software to help people reach their greatest abilities, allowing them to be more successful than they imagined. He doesn't wish to dwell on the events that steered his life in its current direction; he would rather discuss how he plans to improve the process of transitioning.
He is retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Victor Medina. He is the TBI Warrior.
Retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Victor Medina, right, addresses a class of future nurses about what it is like to live with a traumatic brain injury at El Paso Community College, Northwest Campus, El Paso, Texas, March 6, 2014. Medina and his wife, Roxana Delgado, left, share their story with future health care providers to give them an understanding of TBI other than what textbooks teach. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Candice Harrison)
In 2009, nearly seven years after he became an active-duty Soldier, Medina was injured when an explosively formed projectile tore through his vehicle during a convoy in Iraq. He does not remember the blast; all he remembers is waking up on a stretcher while being medically evacuated. He did not know he suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Medina returned to his unit in Iraq and was assigned to perform administrative duties instead of convoy missions. The things that were once simple tasks became difficult for the platoon sergeant.
“I tried to tough it out, I guess, but I wasn't myself,” said Medina, who was a motor transport operator. “I was very unaware of my surroundings. Everyone else was aware there was something wrong.”
Within three days Medina's leadership could tell that his symptoms were serious. One morning, he woke up having a seizure. That was the final event before he was sent to Balad, Iraq, for further medical attention.
A CT scan showed damage to his brain. He was sent to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, for further testing and treatment. An MRI showed the damage was more severe than anyone imagined.
He was medically evacuated to Fort Bliss, Texas, where he was stationed, for rehabilitation and treatment. His days were filled with appointments and therapy. He spent some time at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, a specialized facility for brain injuries, at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Maryland. Upon returning to the El Paso, Texas, area, Medina continued with his rehabilitation until he was medically retired in 2012.
Medina soon realized sharing his story with others was necessary to his recovery.
“TBI Warrior started as a blog, now it is a registered trademark,” said Medina. “When I was in rehab, it started as a blog. I couldn't speak well, but I could write well. I started documenting my rehab through words. Then, to my amazement, people from all over world were writing me about how much my story impacted them.”
The blog evolved into a website. Medina plans to develop tbiwarrior.com into an online community where people can find resources and support. He understands, firsthand, the importance of support.
“My wife has stood by me. She didn't have to, but she did. She is one of the main reasons, if not the main reason, why I am where I am at today,” said Medina. “She is the one who helped me put life in perspective. It's all about support.”
Roxana Delgado, Medina's wife, a senior research associate for the Samueli Institute, did not have experience with being a caregiver, but instinct told her that compromising herself and her goals would not benefit either of them. She worked and went to school full time while taking care of her husband.
“My idea was if I can help him but at the same time continue to develop my life, I can continue to get the best of both sides,” said Delgado who just completed her doctorate in interdisciplinary health sciences. “I will still fulfill my goals and he will get to where he is supposed to be.”
The journey to where “he is supposed to be” included Medina continuing his education. He said even though he was technically retired, he was not of retirement age. He was not ready to be idle.
Doctors told him he would not be able to learn new things, but he was on a mission to prove them wrong. While he does admit that learning is significantly more difficult, it hasn't prevented him from fulfilling his passion: helping wounded and disabled Soldiers.
When he is awarded his master's in rehabilitation counseling in May 2014, he plans to use it to help those Soldiers. Along with completing his degree with a 4.0 grade point average, Medina is developing software program to benefit those transitioning out of the Army.
“I'm developing a prototype of software that will track those who are severely wounded through their transition process and beyond,” explained Medina. “If you have a [military occupational specialty], the software is going to give you all of the transferable skills your MOS has.”
The computer program will take that information along with the type of disability and give a list of the possible accommodations available to help the Soldier reach their employment goal. The software will also build a database of veteran-friendly employers.
“The program creates a mechanism to record goals, set up some milestones, track [the Soldier's] progress and see how successful they are,” said Carlos Escobar, an advocate with the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program, also referred to as AW2, located at the Soldier and Family Assistance Center here.
Escobar has known Medina since 2009 and has watched him progress into what he is today. Because of his experiences, Escobar thought Medina would be perfect for an internship with the AW2 Program.
Medina's internship is still in its infancy as he has only been working there for a few weeks, but his impact is already in full force.
“He is a veteran who overcame his disabilities,” said Escobar who also suffered injuries as a Soldier. “He understands what is required to be able to succeed in life, and he can use that to provide the tools to other individuals who are coming out in the same way he came out of the Army.”
The passion Medina feels for the wounded and disabled veteran population has driven his recovery. He continues to use his experiences to help others through their journeys. He does not pretend the transition process is without flaws, but what makes him different is his vision to bring about positive changes.
He has been, and will continue to be instrumental to empowering wounded and disabled veterans.
By U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Candice Harrison
Provided through DVIDS
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