Military Spouse Magazine

MAR 2019

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AFTER THE SEPT. 11 ATTACKS, MIKE VERARDO, A HIGH SCHOOLER FROM RHODE ISLAND, KNEW RIGHT AWAY HE WANTED TO ENLIST IN THE ARMY AFTER GRADUATION. His then-girlfriend, Sarah, could never have predicted the life that would unfold for them a�ter he was assigned to the 82nd Airborne. "Mike's unit was deployed to Afghanistan in 2009, and as soon as they arrived in the Arghandab River Valley they started taking casualties," Sarah explained. "Mike was injured in multiple blasts in April 2010, but the last one was the one that changed our lives forever. The blast from an improvised ex- plosive device (IED) took his le�t leg, much of his le�t arm, and caused a severe traumatic brain injury." A NEW LIFE Mike's injuries were so severe that it wasn't as simple as going to the hospital to recover. Like so many who are catastrophically wounded, he clung to life and endured months of medical uncertainty. "I remember talking to his mom and her describ- ing first everything to me before I'd see him, not just what was immediately visible, but Mike wanted me to know the extent of his injuries and what I was 'signing up for,' a life that was not typical, and had many challenges," Sarah said. "When he finally got to come home, nearly three years post-injury, he came back to our home state of Rhode Island. I was not remotely prepared for the life we were entering. I remember standing in my kitchen crying, open- ing my computer and looking on YouTube trying to learn how to pack his wounds myself because VA (Veterans Affairs) care hadn't kicked in, and I had no idea how I was going to manage caring for him alone. I realized quickly that his fight was over; I had to relieve him of duty. I had to carry his battle at home." Nearly a decade later, Mike's journey has included 119 surgeries and years of therapy for his wounds. Sarah has never le�t his side. "Mike requires full-time care and because of that I am his unofficial nurse, case manager, and benefits specialist all in one. I am also the mother to our three beautiful daughters, and last, but certainly not least, his wife," said Sarah. Sarah's role as Mike's caregiver extends heav- ily into advocacy for other veterans in her role as chief executive officer of The Independence Fund, a national nonprofit committed to empowering our nation's severely wounded, ill, or injured veterans to O U R L I V E S The Battle at Home Life as a caregiver to my husband. By Kait Hanson, Army Spouse overcome physical, mental, and emotion- al wounds incurred in the line of duty. "I would say that in a way all caregiv- ers are advocates; having to fight for their veteran. In our specific journey, it started by just making sure that Mike was getting the care he needed," Sarah said. "We dealt with quite a few issues across the board in health care, so I knew that I didn't want anyone else to have to deal with the same issues again. I advocate for Mike when people misunderstand or underestimate him. I chose to extend that advocacy to other families like ours through The Independence Fund be- cause I know we are not alone in this fight. Our nation's severely wounded, ill, and injured veterans are heroes, and they've earned our nation's sup- port. I will certainly never forget that." LIFE AS A CAREGIVER Though Sarah is proud of the many hats she wears as spouse, mother and advocate, she wishes more people understood some of the distinct differences in her life as a full-time caregiver. Photos provided by Kait Hanson 16 MILITARYSPOUSE.COM / MARCH 2019

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