Editor's note: Tom Deierlein wrote a series of e-mail updates to his friends, family and colleagues after being called up by the U.S. Army and sent to Iraq. Here are the excerpts accompanying Part 5 of MSNBC.com's special report, Charity Begins at War.
TO: Friends, family and colleagues
SUBJECT: Tom Deierlein Foundation Update
First and foremost — THANKSfor making the kick-off fund-raiser last November a huge success. We raised over $22,000 — amazing.
Here is the basic mission statement I used for the formation of the Tom Deierlein Foundation:
The purpose of this organization is to help needy families and children both nationally and internationally with their most basic living needs including medical care. We will raise funds in the U.S. and then use them to arrange for medical treatment and/or purchase critical daily items such as clothes, food, water, school supplies, vitamins, as well as toys, etc. We will partner with local organizations, institutions, and people to locate and distribute these goods and services to those in need. Our initial recipients will be Iraqi children affected by the current war.
Early efforts and successes: Two weeks ago we sent over $6,000 worth of children’s clothes (to Baghdad). We partnered with a used clothing and consignment shop to get clothes below or at cost. My Commander, Phil McIntire, was thrilled and said the items arrived just in time as they had run out of government supplies and there were a number of humanitarian aid missions planned for January and February. A young boy was injured when (a bullet) destroyed his hip. Without expert pediatric orthopedic surgical care he will never walk again. My friend Bill Billeter, a West Point graduate who moved his family 2,000 miles and missed the birth of his child in order to deploy, spearheaded this effort and refused to let the issue die with the military and Iraqi bureaucracies. Phil McIntire, a Michigan native, tapped into his network at home and arranged for the boy to be treated at the University of Michigan Hospital by an elite surgeon — all medical expenses paid. Our Fund will pay the travel expenses for the mother and child. We are finalizing the passport/visa paperwork this week. Here is an excerpt from an e-mail from Phil as he describes what happened when the father was notified. (Our interpreter’s nickname is Jackie Chan and our company mascot is the Archangels.)
I had Jackie Chan call the family today to make sure they were willing to go through with this. It will require for the boy and his mom to be away from their family, alone in the U.S. for several weeks. The family had no idea of what was going on behind the scenes other than they asked the (Americans) for help. The Dad answered the phone. I prepped Jackie in what I wanted him to say so he just went on for several seconds. The Dad was so shocked he started crying ... Jackie was actually shaking because he was so happy to give the good news and realize how much it meant to the Dad. The Dad kept saying between his tears of joy ... “I feel like I am talking to an angel from heaven!” “I feel like I’ve been talking to an angel!” It hit me, the magnitude of what we were helping to give to these parents and the little (boy). ... I don’t know the next steps regarding airfare, but will get back with you with and provide an update soon. Thanks, Tom, for staying true to the calling of the “Archangels” … “the protectors.” God Bless.
Personal update: Last but not least, a quick update on me. I am finally on my feet. My left pelvis is still healing and I cannot put weight on my left leg, but I do get up twice a day and I am even climbing stairs using crutches. Yesterday I got on an exercise bike (reclined). My recovery phase is FINALLY ending and I am anxious to start my full-on rehab phase. It is very slow-going and trying my patience, but I remain positive and enjoy the little victories. Here is a quick video of me walking on Dec. 27 — five days after I stood up for the first time:
Still many months to go …
TO: Friends, family and colleagues
DATE:April 26, 2007
SUBJECT: Last Update — Back to NYC and Back to Work
This is my last update letter. I am leaving the Tampa VA facility tomorrow and heading back to NYC. I am stopping by Fort Bragg (on the way to New York) to welcome my buddies back. It has been a long strange journey and yet now I face my hardest challenge of all in the past year and half — finding a decent affordable apartment in New York! I start back at work on June 4, 2007. Prior to that I will be getting settled in, spending time with friends and family, conducting my follow-up medical appointments and starting rehab … oh yeah, and sneaking down to Club Med for a week of fun in the Caribbean sun.
I arrived here in Tampa on Feb. 1 in a wheelchair. I am leaving three months later on my own two feet without a cane. I still move slowly, have trouble with my balance at times, have a noticeable limp, and some pain when I sit for an extended period of time. But I will continue my rehab at least one hour every day at the VA in NYC. I am officially medically retired from the military on May 31, 2007 — 18 years and seven days after graduating West Point. This time it is permanent.
Although I am far from back to normal, I can get around fine and even did a 20-yard dash in 5.99 seconds. Not exactly ready for the NFL Combine, but definitely better than last fall. I went to the golf range last weekend just to see what would happen — I only managed to get three balls into the air. Those that have played with me in the past will know that is probably not injury-based. Along with an actual round of golf, my next big goal is to actually run. The deficiencies in my left foot and leg prevent that right now, but hopefully by year’s end I will manage a trot.
I also threw out the first pitch at a Yankees game. My two goals were to not fall down off the mound and get it over the plate. I did not fall over, but the pitch was high and outside. I kept telling everyone that the guy gave me the “pitch out” sign. Joe Torre has invited me to be his special guest at a Yankees game of my choice this summer.
Although my baseball fantasy was fun, on a more serious note, I am lucky to be alive with a second chance at life and blessed to have gotten some of the best medical care available anywhere in the world. Yes, there were issues at Walter Reed and here in Tampa, but they were paperwork- and bureaucracy-based, not medical-care-based. All the doctors, nurses, technicians and therapists I have had the pleasure to deal with were true professionals and compassionate, caring individuals. My rapid recovery is my proof.
I still owe some anonymous doctor in Baghdad last September a debt of gratitude. I learned only recently that apparently as I nearly bled to death (they gave me over 8 pints of blood) he administered an experimental drug called Factor 7, a blood coagulant that could have caused organ failure and deep vein thrombosis (blood clots in the veins).
Thank goodness that is all behind me now. On the brighter side, during Tom 2.0 I will no longer take my health or fitness for granted and may in the end lead a longer, more healthy life by staying focused on eating well and staying physically active.
Many, many people sent me letters, notes, e-mails and gifts. Tons of folks dropped by for visits over the past seven months. I cannot thank everyone in this note, but rest assured they were a CRITICAL part of the healing process. I am fortunate to have friends and family like you.
Tom Deierlein Foundation: The foundation is going well and a group of folks have now stepped up and are making this take off. A very basic Web site is live (http://www.tdfoundation.org/faf/home/default.asp?ievent=234836) and we are planning our next fund-raiser. (The wounded Iraqi boy) and his mother have arrived in Michigan and his surgery should be this week or next. The Foundation paid the travel expenses. I will send more info in a couple of week on the new Army contact in Baghdad for those that want to continue to send goods, but if you want to donate, visit the site. I will be sending the new guy some stuff in early June (once he has had a chance to settle in).
Here is what Capt. Bill Billeter (my replacement in Baghdad) said about the clothes we sent over three months back:
There is a local Iraqi District Council member who has dedicated much of her time to locating and assisting the refugee families who have fled to our area from all over Iraq. This area is a little safer than most, so we have several hundred of these families here — Sunni, Shi’a, whatever. They often arrive here with little besides their clothing, a few small suitcases, and a carload of children. The council member invited many of these families to a local government office that was secured by Iraqi police for the purpose of giving out food and water. And she invited us too. So, we loaded up one of our trailers with many of the clothes, shoes, stuffed animals and school supplies that you and your friends have sent us. There were hundreds of Iraqis there with their families. We pulled up and opened the trailer, and you would have thought we were giving out gold bars. Hundreds of them gathered around us to get whatever we had to offer. And they were grateful. I saw little kids holding stuffed animals bigger than they were. I saw families helping their children try on the new clothing and shoes. … It was a great event and a great day, and all the boxes of gifts that you guys sent us made a big difference.
As you know, many of the Iraqis are fed lies about us by the insurgents and radical imams and those who want us to fail here. They are told that we are oppressors and infidels. And, unfortunately, many Iraqis believe the lies because they don’t get to interact with us and find out the truth. On that day, with the hundreds of refugee families, they got to see us for who we really are.
Thanks again everyone for the love and support you have given me over the past year and a half. I am looking forward to getting back to New York, back to work, back to my family and friends, and back to my regular life prior to this surreal experience. I will leave you all with one last quote I learned back in 1985 when I first entered West Point. Never has it seemed more appropriate or more real to me than now as I launch the new and improved Tom 2.0:
“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche
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