Just a few days away from leave, Sgt. Joel Tavera volunteered to take another soldier's duty shift. He soon learned that his life was about to take an abrupt turn.
On March 12, 2008, inside the Tallil air base in southeastern Iraq, Sgt. Tavera's armored SUV was hit by an enemy missile, killing three soldiers. Joel was one of two who survived the blast, but we was burned, blinded and bleeding.
"The last thing I saw was a flash of blue sky, and that was it," recalls Joel.
The force from the rockets and explosives also fractured Joel’s skull, and he spent the next three months in a coma. When he finally came to, the pain from his burns, which cover 60% of his body, was so intense that he needed heavy medication for nearly a year.
He gained a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, but lost sight in both his eyes. He also lost four fingers, and his right leg below the knee; but he didn’t lose his will to live; far from it.
For the past two years, Joel has spent his time relearning the basics. He said many people thought he would never walk again, and for the majority of time since the accident, he was confined to a wheelchair. Amazingly though, this hardworking young man has beaten all the odds, and not only walks, but recently finished a 5k walk in an hour and 13 minutes!
“It felt really good to finish!” said Joel, “And I’ve got another 5k planned in two weeks!”
What’s the rush? Joel has a surgery coming up that will replace a piece of his skull, and will likely keep him from doing much of anything, let alone walking three miles. So, he’s taking in as much life as he can, before he has to cut back.
When asked if he ever gets angry, Joel admits that he does, but says it’s not the way he chooses to live his life.
“My mentor, who is a blind Captain in the military, always told me that there’s no way I can change things,” recalled Joel, “He said I can either be depressed and die in my sorrows, or live life and help others.”
So, that’s exactly what he does. Still active duty, Joel’s new job is not only to get better, but to give back to others. He says his injuries have opened up a whole new world to him and he wants to share his story in the hopes of inspiring other people to keep trying.
The only thing that keeps this motivated soldier down is pain. That’s where HHN comes in. Joel receives weekly Acupuncture on his amputated leg from HHN provider William Lichter, DC; something that makes a huge difference in his life.
“The Acupuncture decreases the pain, and makes it so I don’t have to take as much pain killers,” said Joel, “I can’t imagine not having the treatments.”
With the help and support of talented providers like Dr. Lichter, we at HHN are happy that we can provide this true American Hero with a little relief. Especially when people said he should be satisfied with the miracle of survival, and that he would never walk again or function on his own. To their surprise, he did just that, and continues to have hope for his future.
“I want to get married and have a family and live on my own,” said Joel.
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