Mark Brogan has no memory of the blast in Iraq, but he’s been told that a suicide
bomber attacked sometime around noon, that the blast instantly killed his sergeant,
and that it nearly killed him too.
Mark has been told that shrapnel penetrated his skull and brain, and lodged itself
in his spinal cord. He knows that he nearly lost an arm, that he was nearly a quadriplegic
... that he nearly died. But he doesn’t remember any of it.
What he does remember is weeks later coming out of a coma and gradually processing
where he was and what had happened. He also remembers the moment he realized how
close he’d come to death.
Rooting through the bag his wife Sunny had packed for him and brought to the hospital,
Mark discovered his dress blues and a stuffed animal he’d had since childhood. At
that moment, he realized that Sunny had packed for his funeral.
Sunny wasn’t there to witness the blast that nearly claimed her husband’s life,
but she remembers with crystal clarity every moment of those agonizing weeks when
she thought she might lose him.
Alone in Alaska, where Mark had been stationed, Sunny received the news. She was
told her husband would be in a vegetative state for the rest of his life ... if
he lived at all.
Mark underwent an emergency craniectomy, a procedure that removed half his skull
to relieve pressure on his brain and allowed it to swell. “His head was the size
of a football,” Sunny says. “He looked like something out of a horror film.”
But he still looked like her husband, and she wasn’t ready to give up hope. “I could
tell he was still there,” she says. Soon, he began to show signs that confirmed
her intuition. He fought the ventilator and began breathing on his own, something
a quadriplegic wouldn’t do.
While Mark fought for his life, Sunny immersed herself in research about what his
life would be like if he survived. She also prepared herself for the worst.
“I kept busy trying to find out what the worst-case scenario was,” she says, noting
that this allowed her to “grieve a little quicker so that I could be okay with whatever
She also made sure to catalogue every single medical record. “If I hadn’t had her,
I’d probably still be lost in the system somewhere,” says Mark, who finally regained
consciousness after a 17-day coma.
He recognized his mother and Sunny, but it would be months before he could understand
what had happened to him.
Five years later, Mark is grateful to be alive, but his life today would be unrecognizable
to him. “You have expectations that would work for your old self, but you haven’t
accepted that you’re a new person,” he says, explaining the challenges of coping
with a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
He had planned on working in business when he got out of the Army, and even had
a corporate job lined up, but that dream died with TBI.
“Now there’s no way I could handle high stress jobs,” says Mark. “I could not keep
track. I don’t have the mental agility or stamina to do those things.”
Sunny can’t have a career either, since taking care of Mark is a full time job.
With no job and no children, Sunny laments how making friendships is difficult.
She and Mark often feel isolated, cut-off from the rest of the world.
“Our social lives are pretty much nonexistent right now,” she says, explaining that
post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), along with Mark’s hearing loss, makes going
out a challenge.
Most days are spent going to doctor’s appointments. Sunny has to drive Mark – now
epileptic, he can’t drive anymore – and she also accompanies him back to see the
doctor because otherwise Mark will have trouble hearing, understanding, and remembering
the doctor’s instructions.
The blast blew out Mark’s eardrums as well as damaging the part of his brain that
processes language. “So between the hearing loss and the location of the brain injury,
it’s kind of a double whammy as far as understanding people,” says Mark.
It’s hard for him to interact with strangers, because they have trouble understanding
his disabilities. Just looking at him, you would never know he was a severely wounded
soldier. His hair covers the craniectomy scar. As for PTSD and hearing loss: “They’re
both unseen injuries,” says Mark.
As such, Mark feels most comfortable at supportive events with other wounded soldiers
who understand his situation and can relate. He is also grateful to have such a
committed partner in Sunny. The couple has faced incredible challenges since Mark’s
injury, but their bond is a strong one.
“The lesson we’ve learned is that people’s lives can be forever changed in the blink
of an eye,” says Sunny, “And when that happens, people need help.”
For families like the Brogans, that help is available through the DAV Charitable
“A world of needs arises for those who survive traumatic injuries as a result of
their service, and the DAV Charitable Service Trust is creating new possibilities
for disabled veterans and their families,” Mark said.
Trust initiatives help veterans with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and those
who are homeless or teetering on the brink of self-destruction. It supports rehabilitative
therapy, family assistance, prosthetics research and a wide array of services and
programs that help veterans. Trust initiatives aid wounded warriors who are returning
home and support the families of those living and departed. The Trust provides a
lifetime to veterans and their loved ones.
“My injury never took away my concern for my fellow soldiers and the veterans who’ve
given so much to this country. Initiatives like the DAV Charitable Service Trust
play a vital role meeting unmet needs,” Mark said. “And the people who support the
Trust are helping make better lives for people who’ve given so much for all of us.”