…had only 2 therapy sessions before he appeared in this documentary. With tears in his eyes, he told me how relaxed he was and how good his skin was feeling from the therapies he had received. When I asked if I could touch his arm, he smiled and said go right ahead. His skin felt like what can only be described as a mountain range on one of those textured maps. After filming that two hour session, I had to go to one of the empty rooms and compose myself. I realized that making this film was going to be far from easy.
Six months later I came back to San Antonio to follow up and film Merlin's progress. I could not believe how quickly he had progressed and how advanced his healing was. He was standing upright, walking faster, and speaking so much more clearly. He had just retired from the Marines and was looking forward to working on his charity for children called Merlin's Miracles. The day after his retirement ceremony, the insurance company called to say that they would not be paying for his therapies anymore since he was no longer on active duty. I tried twice in my follow up to get Merlin to tell me his feelings about them cutting off the funding for his therapies. He did not want to say anything controversial, perhaps for fear of upsetting the "apple cart", but he knew Richard and Jann were treating him for free. He would come for his session and say to them "Please don't take too long on me today I know you can't afford it". That was just heartbreaking. And to this day, almost five years after his death, the insurance company still refuses to pay his outstanding bill of over $20,000.
In April, a week before his final operation, Merlin was part of a plaque presentation to the owner of the Eminence cream company as a thank you for donating their creams for the therapies. Every day he did something to help us help him and his fellow wounded servicemen. Merlin was such a genuine person and he made everyone around him comfortable with his injuries. But I will always remember Merlin German as the 21 year old kid who stopped me from complaining, because after all, what did I have to complain about?
He gave me a T-shirt that expressed his true feelings about his condition.
On the front it said:
Got a 3% chance of living
Q. what you gonna do??
And on the back:
A. Fight through
B. Stay strong
C. Overcome because I am a WARRIOR
D. All of the above
He was a true inspiration to all his fellow wounded warriors.
…invited me to his house in San Antonio so we could interview him and his wife, Lilly, at the same time. Once there, I spent some time playing with his daughter, Isabella and son, little Blaine, and watching them lovingly "torment" their dog and cat.
While Lilly was being interviewed, I asked Blaine if he had any pictures of himself before his injuries. He took me to his computer where, along with showing me the pictures I had asked for, he played a video of a Light Armored Vehicle being blown up by a IED (Incendiary Explosive Device aka roadside bomb). It was taken by the "insurgents" (or terrorists) for their propaganda purposes and he had gotten it off of an Al Jazeera website. He said "that was the IED that got me and Isaac (Gallegos). You want a copy?"
I thought to myself, this is amazing, I can actually show people how they got these horrific injuries, as well as showing what we are doing to help them. But after much thought, I realized that was exactly what the terrorists wanted us to do and I decided not to use that footage in the film. If I could show how well we were helping our troops, then it would be a kind of discouragement rather than bolstering the reason they had filmed it in the first place.
In the years that followed, I spent some time with Blaine and his family and learned a lot about the kind of determination it takes to recover from such catastrophic injuries. In Christmas 2008, we met at a shooting range in San Antonio where the newly promoted Gunnery Sgt Scott coached me and my wife, who, according to him, shot much better than I did. I think he was just being polite for my wife's sake, at least I hope so.
Shortly after that he was stationed at Camp Pendleton in California, where he underwent more surgery at UCLA's Operation Mend. Within months he was back with his unit and deployed to Afghanistan for another tour. He returned to the U.S. and is back at Brook Army Medical Center, promoted to a Master Sgt and working with other wounded servicemen. I recently went to a retirement ceremony for one of our marines, it was the first time I had seen Blaine or Lilly in over 3 years. He looked really good and was very happy that he had achieved his two main goals after being injured. And those were, to ride his Harley again and to continue to be a Marine…
…is a shining example of what our therapies can do. Over the past 5 years the therapies he has received have not only helped in his recovery and rehabilitation, but combined with his personal determination, have also given him a quality of life that he never thought was possible to have again. At 22 years old Isaac had 70 % of his body burned, he needed an 11 hour surgery to reconstruct his jaw, and was facing the possible amputation of his left arm and leg.
I first met him at a picnic we had arranged in San Antonio to film some of our documentary. At that time, his parents Phil and Nely, were always by his side to assist him. He could not reach his mouth to feed himself or comb what was left of his hair but he still always had a smile anytime he interacted with the kids at the picnic. That was August 2007 and it had been less than 8 months since he and Blaine Scott were injured. When I went to film the follow up footage 6 months later, he was feeding himself and playing video games, and he was very happy to still have his left arm and leg which were improving every day. Despite the number of hurdles he still had to face, his morale was 100 times better than when we first met. I signed a petition that he started on Facebook, he wanted the Marines to send him back to his unit so that he could be deployed to Afghanistan. He is a true definition of a MARINE.
We have come to rely on Isaac as the "poster boy" for our therapies because he has received them for a longer period of time and on a more consistent basis than anyone else. He has helped us with and participated in all the events we put together to help raise money for the 501c3. When we won the Audience Choice Award for our documentary at the San Antonio Film Festival, he was there with us to answer questions and support what we are trying to do for all burn survivors. I had a dream once about following Isaac on a run across the country for our charity. When I mentioned the dream to my brother, he told Isaac, who said, "Let's do it!" I believe that one day soon you will see us running across the country for Operation Hands On and visiting every burn center, where Isaac will help us spread the word that these therapies WORK…
…was the first Marine officer to participate in our program, but for some reason on the day of his scheduled interview, he suddenly refused to talk with us. At that time we had no idea why he didn't want to because his pre-interviews were great. He called us the next day and rescheduled after speaking with the others soldiers who assured him we were not there to bash the war, the people who started it, or the Marines.
From the moment he sat down he really opened up and told us a lot about his personal struggles with his injuries. He spoke about his inability to do normal things like help with the everyday chores of running a household, or pick up his children without fear of dropping them from lack of strength. These things really bothered him. In his interview he describes how he could not bend over to touch his toes and how after one day of therapy he could.
Dan has had this therapy at least 4 times a month over the past 5 years. He is a part of a small group of servicemen that has benefited from operationhandson.org's program to train therapists that can continue the therapy for the servicemen after they retire or are discharged from the military.
Dan has a construction company in Houston and makes a point to employ other vets as a way to give back. He has been very helpful in our attempts to get the VA to pay for therapies. He realizes, as we do, that our therapies are essential to the recovery of these servicemen and that they should be included in the protocol for all military burn survivors and covered by their insurance.
…spent most of his recovery in a wheelchair. Blaine and Isaac recommended he go to the San Antonio Massage & Spa and see what they could do for him. His first question was, do you think you can help me to walk? And within 3 months Chris was walking. This would be a big deal for anyone and especially for someone who at the time thought walking might not ever be in his future.
During his interviews he expressed many times how his quality of life had improved way beyond he ever thought was possible. He was thrilled to talk about the fun he was having with his children racing with them at the mall and having them tell him to slow down.
The one thing you notice about these wounded warriors is the support they have for each other. Chris was that guy who every time he came to the Spa he would stop to talk to all of his fellow servicemen giving help, advice, and encouragement to all.
For the first 3 months Richard and Jann had provided his therapy for free. This made Chris become very vocal about making sure the insurance companies paid for these therapies. It made me angry when I had to watch how hard Chris and the others had to fight to get what they deserve.
When I went for the follow up Chris was back in a wheelchair after a few operations that put his legs in braces. He was upbeat and still spent time to stop and talk with everyone. I am happy to report that he is walking even better than before and living happily in Germany with his wife and kids. And whenever he comes back to the U.S., he makes sure to stop by in San Antonio and to have a session with Richard.
…always seemed to have a joke ready for us. I admired how he faced his injuries with humor. He had some fingers missing on his hands and a forefinger that was reconstructed from a muscle in his back. His response to questions about it was, "It helps my ability to swim in circles!"
He was the only one in our film who was in the Navy and whose injuries were not caused by combat but by an accidental electrical explosion while serving on the USS Nimitz. Because his burns were electrical in nature, his therapies needed a different approach than the others.
When we met him he was with his brother at the picnic in San Antonio and had already been receiving the therapies for over 8 months. He looked very fit and well adjusted. He told us that before receiving these therapies, he had struggled to walk, put on his own clothes, and most of all, to feed himself and that he had become very depressed. Now, with his range of motion restored to such a high degree, he feels that he can achieve anything he wants to. He really liked our film crew, especially our interviewer, Maria, and photographer, Nora. After one of our days of filming, he invited us all to dinner where he fully entertained us. I remember my mother telling him he should go on stage and be a comedian.
When his doctors told him that his abilities were going to be restricted, his desire to prove them wrong and overcome the limits caused by his injuries were miraculous and inspiring. One of the things he had been told was that he would never play golf again and they couldn't have been more wrong. We filmed him on the golf course and I was amazed at his skill and strength. I don't know how to express the feeling you get when you watch a person with these kind of injuries excel in a sport that you can't even play. It's humbling.
Peter retired from the Navy in 2004 , he moved back home to Texas and is on his way to be coming a nuclear engineer. I recently reconnected with him on facebook and I am pleased to say he is doing really well.
... had already left San Antonio a few weeks before we went to make the film. He was considered the #2 miracle man behind Merlin German, having survived 84% of his body being burned. He had been receiving the therapies for over 6 months prior and had worked very hard so he could to get back to Miami to be with his family and young son, Little Vic.
I met him first socially when my brother came to visit me in Fort Lauderdale. Victor had driven almost 2 hours to meet us for a dinner we had arranged to introduce him to Cheri Houle, a local LMT who had volunteered to be trained to continue his therapy. This was the first of many times we would get together socially and professionally. He would come to my house and we would jam to "Wild Thing" on the guitars, eat homemade pizza with Little Vic, go through his picture albums, and talk of the important things of life in general. I found Victor to be very vocal and passionate about his condition, and also about his love for Guinness.
When his interview was filmed at a local spa in Fort Lauderdale, he had not had a session in 3 months and his body was showing signs of regression. The skin on his elbow had an open, bleeding scab and he had trouble raising his left arm above his head. Cheri immediately started to hydrate his skin with the special organic Eminence creams that Richard had sent us from Texas and used a manual manipulation technique that successfully enabled him to regain his range of motion.
He talked a lot about the advances the military has made in treating the injuries of war, (and how he wanted our therapies to be included in these advanced treatments). He wanted to be as helpful as possible in navigating the course we had set to reach the goal of making our therapy available to all burn survivors. In his own words he told us, " It has not only worked on me but on 20 or 30 other guys as well, so there should not be any questions or need for any more research, we should be all the proof you need".
Victor worked with us for about 6 months after moving home to Miami. He took a job with Homeland Security and recently moved to Puerto Rico where he has just become the proud papa of a new baby girl. Operation Hands On is, and always will be, extremely grateful to Victor and all of our wounded warriors that helped us help them…
THANK YOU ALL!