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Mark Brogan 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 happened.”

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 Service Trust.

“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.”
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