JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO - FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- Wounded Soldiers recovering here have a message they'd like to pass on to the Boston bombing victims: You're not alone.
They can relate to the devastating aftermath of an explosion and the emotional and physical pain of lost limbs. And they know firsthand the courage and strength required to heal after blast injuries like those at the Boston Marathon. Still, they have a message of hope to deliver. "Keep your head up and don't quit," Army Sgt. Christopher Haley said. Haley lost his leg and damaged the other when a roadside bomb exploded in Afghanistan in September 2011. He remembers the moments after -- the shock and disbelief and the quick ride to Kandahar. The doctors induced a coma, and when he woke up in Bagram, he took one look at his legs and cried.
"I thought it was all a terrible dream," he said. "When I realized it actually happened … that was rough." Haley was flown to San Antonio Military Medical Center to recover. A few weeks later, an amputee walked into his hospital room and delivered something he'd been lacking in recent days -- hope. "I thought to myself, 'If he can do it, there's no reason I can't,'" he said. "And I realized my life wasn't over; I still have a lot of potential." This is the exact message he'd like to convey to the Boston bombing victims. "I can't imagine what you're going through," he said. "But plenty of people want to see you succeed. I want to see you succeed." Army Sgt. Jordan Sisco said he was shocked and horrified when he saw the Boston bombings on the news. The incident that robbed him of his legs and his left thumb last summer was still fresh in his mind. "I have an idea of what the Boston victims are going through," he said. "I don't know, but I have an idea." Like Haley, Sisco vividly recalls the moment the blast hit. He was leading his squad on a surveillance mission near the site where his best friend had been injured just hours earlier. He jumped into a ditch and landed on a bomb. Time stopped at that moment, he said.
The explosion lifted him into the air "like a tornado," and a dark wall of sand surrounded him. He landed on his face and his first thought was a calm one, "I'm OK. I'm alive." Moments later the "unbearable" pain set in, and he began to pray. "God, let me see my Mom one more time." While on the chopper being rushed to care, he last remembers reaching out to hold the hand of a female medic. When he next woke up he was in the hospital and the first person he saw was his Mom.
While glad to be alive, those early days of recovery were dark ones. "When I woke up in the hospital and discovered I had no legs … I was devastated. I didn't think there would be a girl out there for me." And if there was, Sisco worried about being able to support and protect a wife and family.
"It took a lot to get me out of that," he said. "That was a very dark period for me." Sisco slowly pulled out of his depression by leaning on his family, friends and caregivers at the Center for the Intrepid, Brooke Army Medical Center's outpatient rehabilitation center here.
Talking about his situation helped, he said. "It's good to talk and hang out with people," he said. When alone, he rediscovered his love of movies and classic rock. Sisco began setting goals for himself -- new prosthetics, walking again -- and recently decided to again take up surfing, a sport he fell in love with while growing up along the coast of California. He was nervous and scared at first, but when he got on the board and caught the first wave, he popped up and rode inland. "It was absolutely amazing," he said. "Pure bliss." While he's overcome one challenge after another, his biggest accomplishment, Sisco said, is never giving up.
"There were so many times when I felt like life was over," he said. "But it's not the end of the road yet. "Many people have gone on from here to live happy and healthy lives after a horrible injury," he added. "If I can do it, if the people in front of me can do it, I know the Boston victims can too."
Haley has found healing in talking about his experiences and taking up sports such as running and wheelchair basketball. He began to run, not because he enjoys it, he said, but because he can.
Today, the Soldier's new goal is finding that one thing he can't do. "I haven't found it yet," he said with a smile.
Haley said he has every confidence that the Boston victims will move forward from this difficult time.
"They didn't deserve it," he said. "But the one thing they can do now is come out on top."