View Full Version : This guy literally bleeds Red and Gold! Thank God for people like him!

11-23-2007, 02:27 PM
‘Too ornery to die yet’

By Lee Hill Kavanaugh - The Kansas City Star
Posted : Friday Nov 23, 2007 11:39:04 EST
ATCHISON, Kan. — The stares bother him the most.
People see the red flesh that creeps along his cheekbone and jaw. The dangling left arm with permanent nerve damage. The wheelchair. The stump where his lower left leg was.
“It’s what I gave for Iraq,” Army Spc. Scott Stephenson, 23, says with a shrug, and then he’s quiet for a moment.
He’s grateful that the rest of him is back in the U.S., even if his home for nearly a year has been the Brooke Army Medical Center at San Antonio. Soon he’ll be home for good in Atchison.
For Stephenson, the fact that he is alive at all, when doctors gave his family “no hope at all,” is a miracle.
“I had a 5 percent chance of surviving,” he says. “But my hearing is real good, and it drives me crazy when people whisper about me behind my back. I can hear just fine.”
He usually turns and tells them he served his country to preserve their right to talk however they want, so ... this is his gift to them.
He gave his left leg and his old life to Iraq.
“I always get pissed off. ... They should just ask me,” he says, apologizing for the cuss words he scatters about.
But the anger flits away just as suddenly, and his eyes grow calm. He thinks about the other soldiers with him that day, the ones who risked their lives to save his. This week, he’s in Alaska, greeting members of his old unit as they return from a year in Iraq.
He’s working on his anger issues. But this new battle confronting myriad complications from severe burns, a damaged arm and an amputated leg is the most difficult he’s faced.
Still, he finds the humor, if there is any around. And his mother, Luana Schneider, who has stayed by his side for nearly a year, laughs along with him. In a way, they’re both survivors.
When she first heard that a bomb nearly killed her son, the news nearly killed her, too.
She remembers the phone ringing last November while all the Thanksgiving leftovers were still on the table.
She rushed to see him, to stand by his bed, squeeze his hand before he died. Doctors told her she wouldn’t make it in time.
She tried anyway.
“Doctors didn’t give me an ounce of hope,” she says.
She remembers looking down at him, recognizing only his eyes — he was so swollen and bandaged, oozing from operations to remove shrapnel and dead tissue. She heard the doctor say he had endured three strokes en route from Baghdad to Germany to San Antonio.
She has stayed with him through the amputation and skin grafts and debridement, the stretching of scar tissue, the stapling of abdominal muscles.
She has watched grueling physical therapy that made him cry. And she cried with him when a team of doctors told him a prosthetic leg was probably not in his future — his burns were too severe and he lost too much muscle tissue to support an artificial limb.
That news almost destroyed the optimism they had been nurturing. But with a new doctor’s opinion, perhaps a year to heal and some promising technology, they have hope again.
There are blessings, too, she says. Her son has no traumatic brain injury. No blindness or hearing loss. He’s still himself, cracking jokes on the cusp of obscenity. He just looks a little different.
His helmet worked. So did his ballistic goggles, hearing protection and gloves, which spared his fingers, now a creamy white against the red of his wrists.
Schneider says she knows why the middle child of her merged family’s brood of 13 survived: “He’s just too ornery to die yet.”
They both laugh. She shows off the tattoo that covers her back, a pair of eagle’s wings symbolic of his Airborne insignia entwined with a Purple Heart medal.
“That’s because mine got melted off,” Stephenson says. “Hey, I need to e-mail my unit, if they could find my tattoo, along with my ***, since it got blown off, too.”
He laughs again.
And then, overwhelmed, mother and son cry.
He was part of a four-Humvee convoy patrolling last Thanksgiving near a forward operating base south of Baghdad. He was sitting just behind the front passenger, in “the suicide seat,” the one most likely to be destroyed by a roadside bomb.
The convoy was on a “blacklist” road, one that scouts trained in spotting bombs had not yet cleared.
“We had no business being there,” Stephenson says.
He doesn’t remember hearing the explosion, only feeling its force and realizing his uniform was burning. He felt things melting on his skin. He was carrying 800 rounds of ammunition. What if they cooked off? The explosions would kill him as surely as a sniper’s bullet.
He flung open the metal door and rolled on the ground, still burning. He heard someone screaming. Later, he would learn it was him. A medic jumped from another Humvee and threw a fire blanket over him.
The fire stopped. But the pain still raged.
“I started crying, wailing,” he says. “I didn’t want to die.”
The medic cut off Stephenson’s scalding uniform, flinging melted patches and dog tags and hot-to-the-touch rounds as far as he could.
Lying in the dust, naked, burned and bleeding, Stephenson looked at the sky and saw a bird gliding in the breeze. Why does he remember that? He was waiting for his own bird, a medevac helicopter, to take him to the combat-support hospital.
As the Black Hawk took off with Stephenson on a bunk, he wanted to sleep. But a sergeant gripped his hand and ordered him to not close his eyes — so he didn’t.
Once he got to the hospital and a gang of medical personnel swarmed around him, he asked whether he could finally let go.
“A doctor told me yes,” he says.
Stephenson didn’t open his eyes again for two months.
Coming home last summer for a short leave after eight months in a Texas military hospital felt like a dream.
Strangers at Kansas City International Airport began applauding even before he had been wheeled away from the gate. Banners shouted that he was a hero. He remembers it as a blur, except for the part where they were calling him a hero. That didn’t feel right.
The heroes are still over there, he told the reporters.
Stephenson hadn’t really been home in two years. He’d been training for Special Forces when he broke a foot. After that, he landed in the 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division out of Fort Richardson, Alaska. His buddies are his second family.
Nearly every day at the hospital, he would ask his nurses whether anyone else from his unit was there. He worries about that.
He had just 30 days in July to reconnect with his civilian life. Thirty days to remember what it felt like to be home, to remember himself before Iraq. Home was a place to be goofy and laugh and pet his dog and hug his mom and sisters and brothers, and eat as much home-cooked food as his stomach would hold.
And finally he could drink a beer.
He was even the best man in his best friend’s wedding, making his way down the aisle with slow hops behind a walker, joking with the maid of honor that they’d have to start the song again, he was taking so long.
Close friends have asked him about “the moment” when the bomb, attached to a 10-gallon gas can, blew up beneath him.
He has told them all the details, matter-of-factly. He has watched their faces. Knows what parts to rush through and what parts to stretch out in his storytelling.
What he hasn’t told them was how scared he felt when he first woke up at Brooke. He hesitates, lowering his voice.
“I was afraid ... to look down, you know. ... I wanted to know ... if my piece was still attached.”
He waits a moment, waits for his audience to understand what he has said.
And then he drops his punch line: “It’s my WMD!” he yells, and laughs along with his parents and brother and sister.
It feels good to laugh.
Then he’s serious again. He knows that other servicemen have suffered such injuries.
He has months of surgeries and therapies and frustrations ahead. He knows there is no simple fix. But he wants to come home to Atchison for good, and work on therapy.
He has plans. He wants to go back to school and study business. He wants to go to a Kansas City Chiefs game.
“I bleed red and gold,” he says.
He looks around at his family and knows how much he is loved. He has new hope of reconnecting with his toddler son, Akai Allen. Akai was born just days before Stephenson left for Alaska two years ago and lives with his mother, a former girlfriend.
Since Stephenson’s injuries, everyone in his family has learned to give hugs and kisses without embarrassment. They have learned it’s OK to cry and to make fun of body parts that won’t function right.
“Those of us with big burns are known for having big humor,” Stephenson says, which sets off his family laughing again, sharing more stories about his antics.
His mom watches and listens. She has always known about the power of humor. She taught her children to laugh at themselves, to spit in the eye of the troubles life can hurl.
Humor is her WMD.
“You can either feel sorry for yourself and your child, or you can find the humor,” she says. “Every soldier, parent, spouse who comes here goes through a depressed state. But the doctors tell us, those who survive and do well are the ones who can laugh.
“... He is the face of this war. A lot of them are coming back damaged, and it will be Scott and others like him who will teach everybody how to have hope for tomorrow.”


11-23-2007, 09:04 PM
God bless him!

A Hero, a great American and a true Chiefs fan!

11-23-2007, 09:12 PM
Man that was a tough read. God must have good plans for him. He has something special awaiting him.