RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – During First Lady Michelle Obama's visit to Richmond Wednesday --- she toured the Polytrauma Unit at McGuire Veterans Hospital. The facility is one of the top spots on the East Coast for soldiers recovering from serious head trauma. And through partnerships with non-profits like "Hope For The Warriors" soldiers are re-connecting with family & friends and learning to start their lives over again.
In the course of 4 months Justin Menchaca has become a new man. He's gained about 60 pounds, mastered the stair climber, walking without a cane and Justin is even starting to speak again. All thanks to the Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center at Richmond's McGuire Veterans Hospital.
It was July when the when this Special Forces Green Beret took a bullet to the brain near Kandahar, Afghanistan. And despite the improvement, he's still a shell of the specimen he used to be.
At 6 feet tall and 200 pounds Justin was a robust 23-year-old and enjoying life like any other young man his age would. But his parents would tell you just the fact that he is here today is nothing short of a miracle.
"They gave him a 20% chance of living though surgery, when he was going though surgery in Kandahar," said Justin's dad Dominic Menchaca.
Here at the Polytrauma Center, physical therapy is paramount, but Justin is relearning all of his life skills. Things like cooking, laundry, balancing a checkbook and eventually even driving. It's tough to gage just how far Justin can progress but so far he has exceeded everyone's expectations.
"Literally, each day - you give thanks for the little victories and the small miracles, and the continued improvement and just focus on the now instead of worrying about the...you know," said Julie Menchaca, Justin's mom.
Justin's doctor has no doubt this young soldier will eventually return to his unit at Fort Bragg...despite a traumatic injury that would have killed most people. Dr. Ajit Pai believes the mental & physical rigors of the military --- help most soldiers recover faster.
"That muscle is reserves of protein that will allow them to heal wounds - so he not only has that extra reserve, also - being in the special forces, he has that mindset of I will not fail," said Medical Director of Dr. Ajit Pai Medical Director of the Polytrauma Unit.
His parents are from Idaho and have been staying at the Fisher House - right across the street from the Polytrauma Unit. And the "Hope For The Warrior Project" provided Justin's grandparents with plane tickets and a week's hotel stay, to visit from Idaho.
"They wouldn't have been able to come if they had to do it themselves, so it was a great thing that they did for us," Dominic added.
"Hope For The Warriors" needs your support. If you'd like to donate – click here. "Hope For The Warriors" was recently given a 4-star rating by a group that tracks the most open and ethical charities.