THE STORY BEHIND THE COATS
The day after Thanksgiving, my family, including my wheelchair bound Badass Wounded Warrior husband, retired MSG Mark C. Allen, and some friends went to Stone Mountain Park, GA for the local Christmas festivities.
You see, Mark was injured in Afghanistan in 2009. A gunshot wound to the head has left him unable to speak, walk or care for himself in any way. He is able to smile and laugh. He's in there, alright, his voice and ability to communicate are just trapped inside.
It was the day after Thanksgiving, so even in Georgia it was cold - really cold. In order to keep Mark warm, he had my oh-so-manly red wool peacoat draped across his lap, his friend's leather coat draped backward over his chest and a golf towel (yes, a golf towel) fashioned as a scarf. It was absolutely ridiculous. Look, I'm not above wearing pajama pants to Walmart at 8:00am, but even I wouldn't want to be out and about looking like he did.
"Why not just put a coat on him?", you may ask.
Well, because of Mark's brain injury, his arms are contracted with limited range of motion. Make sense? Didn't think so. Try this: hold your arms like a Barbie doll, with elbows bent at a 90 degree angle. Pretend you can only raise your arms halfway above your head and halfway out to the side. Okay, grab a coat and try to put it on. Now you get it?
Back to Stone Mountain...after just an hour and a half at the park, and only participating in the train ride, it was too much. Too cold for Mark, and his nurse had to take him back home. He missed the lights, the Christmas parade, the 4D movie, the Christmas musical and above all, quality time with his friends and family. He missed the joy on his childrens' faces. All because he lacked something as simple as a coat.
When I got home that night, I started on the research. I came across several websites with adaptive lightweight jackets, but they were mainly geared toward the elderly. I mean, I'm a child of the 80s and I appreciated a good Member's Only jacket back in the day, but I'm just about 100% sure that my 41 year old husband wouldn't be a huge fan of the asthetics, not to mention the lack of warmth. And so I searched and searched and searched.
Then, I stumbled across the Koolway Sports website and about burst into tears. They offer heavy duty jackets for people with the EXACT physical limitations of my husband. Shortened backs to avoid bunching in the wheelchair, zippers from cuffs to waistband for easy on and off and removable blanket bottoms to keep his legs warm. I mean, it was PERFECT! As I researched more, I learned that the coats are custom made to each recipient, and are therefore significantly more than your average coat, running about $500/each, but looked to be worth every penny.
I made a post on Facebook, excited to find the coat, and then you guys, my AMAZING and GENEROUS friends took over. You were constantly commenting, and equally excited, wanting to help me buy this coat for my husband! I was (and am) overwhelmed by your generosity. I'm admittedly bad at accepting help - I know this, but you guys were so amazingly persistent, that I set up a GoFundMe account to accept contributions.
The goal was $600. Within 24 hours, you had donated triple that - $1,860.
That was enough for THREE of these custom made coats, so I started reaching out to my other wounded warrior friends to see who needed some warm and snuggly help. I reached out to two families, both of whom I met while our loved ones were hospitalized together, recovering from their injuries. These people are very near and dear to my heart. They are family.
But that wasn't enough for you, my AMAZING and GENEROUS friends. You weren't ready to stop giving. And so, at your urging, I reached out to a FOURTH badass wounded warrior family to see if they could use a coat. Since they live in cold Chicago, they graciously accepted the opportunity.
And so, I set up another GoFundMe.
Within 7 days we had enough to buy that FOURTH coat and a FIFTH coat for a Navy Corpsman, so his wife can make sure he stays snuggly and warm. I've also spoken to more dear friends to get a SIXTH coat for their son, who was injured in Iraq. And then a SEVENTH, then why not an EIGHTH for an injured Ranger and even a NINTH for another injured Ranger?!? Since you kept giving, we were able to order a TENTH adaptive coat for an Army veteran and an ELEVENTH coat to a Ranger in Connecticut and even a TWELFTH coat for a soldier in Georgia. And since you haven't stopped, so far we've purchased THIRTY custom made coats, specially adapted to meet the specific limitations of each individual recipient.
Y'all. I don't even know what to say. You are seriously THE BEST. You know me, you may not have seen me in years, but you know me. You don't, however, know my friends, yet you still, without hesitation spent your hard earned money to help them out. I just don't even know what you say to accurately convey my emotions.
My life is hard. I cry a lot. More than any of you know. I cry because I miss my husband, because my kids miss out on their dad, because my fellow wounded warrior wives are in pain, because I heard a song on the radio that made me think of him, or because I accidentally sprayed his cologne and the memories all came flooding back.
The last few days, however, I've been crying different tears. Happy tears. Humbled tears. Honored tears. Excited tears. Tears of joy.
These tears, these happy tears - the ones that don't come nearly as often as the sad ones - these tears are because of you.
I recently partnered up with a dear friend's Non Profit Organziation, Birmingham Warrior Alliance Project, to continue with this drive, and take it to a new level.
I'd love for every wounded veteran to have one of these amazing coats, allowing them to live life to the fullest.
From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU.
Thank you for your generosity.
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