True
DAV

In 2013, Shealynn Casserly was deployed to Afghanistan as a combat medic. Three months later, she went through a life-altering experience.

She was out with engineers doing routine clearance early in the morning. She remembers the sky being a beautiful indigo blue as it was just starting to get light and that they were making trivial conversation when their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device (IED). Casserly was thrown 40 feet, so far that the other soldiers had to search for her.

[rebelmouse-image 19533252 dam="1" original_size="640x380" caption="What it looks like when a military vehicle hits an IED. Photo via U.S. Army/Flickr." expand=1]What it looks like when a military vehicle hits an IED. Photo via U.S. Army/Flickr.


Later, she was told she had been lucid enough to help the soldiers assess and preliminarily care for her multiple injuries, but she has no memory of that. After the explosion, the next thing she remembers is waking up in a hospital bed three days later with her brother beside her.

"I saw a lot of white, and just from that, I knew I wasn't in Afghanistan anymore; it was clean, not tan and dusty," Casserly recalls.

Casserly had been airlifted to Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C. She'd suffered a number of serious injuries, including a broken jaw, broken eye socket, broken hand, seven broken ribs, a perforated ear drum, two broken femurs, and a dislocated left knee. While in recovery, part of her intestines exploded due to a bowel obstruction and had to be repaired. She also had a traumatic brain injury.

Over the next five years, Casserly underwent over 60 surgeries to repair her damaged body. But the work she had to do on her mind was a different story altogether.

Shealynn in recovery. Photo via Shealynn Casserly.

"For the first two months, I didn't even know if I had legs," Casserly says.

Casserly was confined to a hospital bed, unable to even turn over without assistance. She was averaging three to four surgeries a week and was often in and out of consciousness because the initial recovery period was so painful.

The first time she actually took a breath of air outside was that July two months after the accident. It was 100 degrees in D.C., and she was able to go to Walter Reed's rooftop garden by operating an electric wheelchair with her uninjured hand.

Unsurprisingly, all this took quite a toll on her mental state. While she had constant support from her mom and brother (who spent those first four months of Casserly's recovery sleeping next to her bed), she couldn't shake the depression welling up inside her.

"I was just so overwhelmed mentally and physically," Casserly remembers.

She was also so focused on her physical recuperation that she didn't realize what the experience was doing to her mind until her surgeries started to die down.

Shealynn Casserly. Photo via Shealynn Casserly, used with permission.

Eventually, Casserly hit a real low point, where she started contemplating suicide — an effect of post-traumatic stress disorder that's all too common in veterans.

In fact, women who've served are 2.4 times more likely to commit suicide than a female civilian. And that rate has increased over 85% since 2001.

"Unless you've been there, you don't realize how low people can feel," Casserly says.

Determined to climb out of her depression somehow, Casserly started a hardcore workout regimen. She knew that exercising produces endorphins that can elevate mood, so once she had gotten to a point in her recovery where she could handle some physical activity, she got moving.

At the end of that year, she and her brother were going to the gym six hours a day every day for weeks.

She was afraid at first that it wasn't making any difference, but then she woke up one day and felt legitimately good for the first time since the accident.

"I called my mom and said, 'I feel like how I used to feel,'" Casserly recalls.

Never wanting to hit such a low point again, Casserly has kept up her rigorous workout schedule and even added in some sports competitions.

[rebelmouse-image 19533255 dam="1" original_size="640x359" caption="Casserly practicing the shot put for the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games at West Point. Photo by Angelique Jefferson/U.S. Army." expand=1]Casserly practicing the shot put for the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games at West Point. Photo by Angelique Jefferson/U.S. Army.

In 2016, she competed in the Department of Defense Warrior Games, where she tried her hand at things like shot put and discus. She also did some snowboarding at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic and has since continued to explore adaptive sports.

Through her athletic endeavors, she's made a lot of friends; she even met her boyfriend, Derek Gamez, at Walter Reed's base gym. He has become another incredible support system for her.

That said, her mental and physical recovery is an ongoing process. It's not always easy, but she continues to push herself forward.

Shealynn in physical therapy. Photo via Shealynn Casserly.

Some days are lower than others, especially if she doesn't get to exercise. She also recognizes that her experience has changed her — mostly for the better.

Casserly felt like she used to come across as a pushover, but thanks to all she's gone through, she's now much more vocal when it comes to her mental and emotional health. And she's actively looking for ways to help other injured vets who might be struggling through their recovery.

"I want to use what's happened to me to benefit other people," she says.

While she says she's not the best at speaking in front of a crowd, Casserly has been able to talk with fellow vets one on one about what they're going through and empathize in a meaningful way.

When emotional pain goes unnoticed it can have detrimental impacts just the same as physical pain. But hopefully, with vets like Casserly telling their stories, more vets who are suffering silently will feel like they, too, can ask for help.

Joy

Meet Eva, the hero dog who risked her life saving her owner from a mountain lion

Wilson had been walking down a path with Eva when a mountain lion suddenly appeared.

Photo by Didssph on Unsplash

A sweet face and fierce loyalty: Belgian Malinois defends owner.

The Belgian Malinois is a special breed of dog. It's highly intelligent, extremely athletic and needs a ton of interaction. While these attributes make the Belgian Malinois the perfect dog for police and military work, they can be a bit of a handful as a typical pet.

As Belgian Malinois owner Erin Wilson jokingly told NPR, they’re basically "a German shepherd on steroids or crack or cocaine.”

It was her Malinois Eva’s natural drive, however, that ended up saving Wilson’s life.

According to a news release from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Wilson had been walking down a path with Eva slightly ahead of her when a mountain lion suddenly appeared and swiped Wilson across the left shoulder. She quickly yelled Eva’s name and the dog’s instincts kicked in immediately. Eva rushed in to defend her owner.

It wasn’t long, though, before the mountain lion won the upper hand, much to Wilson’s horror.

She told TODAY, “They fought for a couple seconds, and then I heard her start crying. That’s when the cat latched on to her skull.”

Keep Reading Show less

Matthew McConaughey in 2019.

Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey made a heartfelt plea for Americans to “do better” on Tuesday after a gunman murdered 19 children and 2 adults at Robb Elementary School in his hometown of Uvalde, Texas.

Uvalde is a small town of about 16,000 residents approximately 85 miles west of San Antonio. The actor grew up in Uvalde until he was 11 years old when his family moved to Longview, 430 miles away.

The suspected murderer, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, was killed by law enforcement at the scene of the crime. Before the rampage, Ramos allegedly shot his grandmother after a disagreement.

“As you all are aware there was another mass shooting today, this time in my home town of Uvalde, Texas,” McConaughey wrote in a statement shared on Twitter. “Once again, we have tragically proven that we are failing to be responsible for the rights our freedoms grant us.”

Keep Reading Show less

Sandy Hook school shooting survivors are growing up and telling us what they've experienced.

This story originally appeared on 12.15.21


Imagine being 6 years old, sitting in your classroom in an idyllic small town, when you start hearing gunshots. Your teacher tries to sound calm, but you hear the fear in her voice as she tells you to go hide in your cubby. She says, "be quiet as a mouse," but the sobs of your classmates ring in your ears. In four minutes, you hear more than 150 gunshots.

You're in the first grade. You wholeheartedly believe in Santa Claus and magic. You're excited about losing your front teeth. Your parents still prescreen PG-rated films so they can prepare you for things that might be scary in them.

And yet here you are, living through a horror few can fathom.

Keep Reading Show less