Laura Brown, a mother with a son who fought in the Iraq war, is trying to improve conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center one laptop at a time.
The 50-year-old from Cody, Wyo., was chatting on the Internet with the mother of a wounded soldier two years ago when the mother mentioned she had to print out her son's e-mails and bring them to him at Walter Reed. Otherwise, her son couldn't receive them because there weren't enough laptop computers to go around.
Brown, whose own son had recently returned safely from the war, thought the solution to that problem seemed incredibly easy.
"It just kind of hit me," she said. "If one person needed one, then there's others. ... I mean, my son had e-mail in Iraq. I was really stunned."
So Brown decided to raise money for the cause. Her group, called Laptops for the Wounded, has been fundraising since November of 2005 and has now donated 27 computers to military hospitals around the country — 24 of them to Walter Reed. On Friday, Brown flew from Wyoming to bring 10 of them to the hospital herself.
Those computers, which were donated to Brown's group and refitted with new equipment, included web cameras so soldiers could lay eyes on their families from afar.
'Made it her mission'
"She basically just made it her mission," said Lisa Ramdass, a case manager at the hospital who has been working with Brown to coordinate the donations.
Ramdass said the laptops aren't just used for e-mail. One soldier who worked with a donated laptop couldn't speak, and was able to communicate with his family and his doctors by typing on the computer. Others who have eye injuries use the laptops to watch movies or television up close.
The hospital, flooded with wounded from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has attracted negative media and congressional attention in the last month, due to reports of shoddy living conditions.
Ramdass said the recent reports have neglected the more positive aspects of life at Walter Reed, including the generosity of donors like Brown. Many individuals and corporations have sent supplies to the hospital, she said, such as a South Carolina man who donated a large amount of body wash Friday.
"We are getting a lot of support," she said.
No stranger to pain
Brown said she can relate with the loneliness and isolation of the wounded because she is also disabled, having suffered knee and back injuries in recent years. She is also inspired by her son, who lost his young wife to illness just weeks after they were married several years ago.
"It was terrible but he got through it," she said. "That strength absolutely came from the military."
Rep. Barbara Cubin, R-Wyo., said Brown's efforts show the difference one person can make.
"Out of the goodness of her heart, she's turned a few small donations into a national campaign," she said.