Most people do not remember their first steps.
Lance Cpl. Timothy Donley, 20, took his two weeks ago, after an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan cost him both legs and use of his right arm.
“Imagine trying to move your hand, just trying to close it,” he said. “You think, ‘I’m going to close my hand,’ and nothing happens.”
Donley can twitch his thumb, index, and middle fingers, but doctors thought he never would be able to move his other two fingers.
He regained command of his ring and pinkie fingers Friday, a small victory that could lend some normalcy to his fractured life.
He eventually may be able to open a bottle without assistance, or hold a shirt above his head.
Donley is one of Bethesda’s newest residents, an outpatient living at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he likely will spend more than a year rehabilitating.
Since the September merger of National Naval Medical Center with Walter Reed Army Medical Center, seriously injured servicemen and women such as Donley have become a visible part of the community, bringing the war home to Montgomery County.
“It’s easy to complain when you’re sitting in traffic or running from meeting to meeting, but if you start and think about it for a moment, it’s really small inconveniences that we’re worried about,” said Russell Hamill, assistant chief of the Montgomery County Police Department, who previously was commander of the Bethesda station. “You go to a restaurant, it’s a 45-minute wait. They can’t do that anymore.”
Giving BackLosing a limb does not mean giving up activities a warrior loves.
Wounded warriors can work out at Champion Boxing Fitness in Rockville for free during the day, said David Sheehi, co-owner of the facility.
“We thought about doing this the first day we opened,” he said. “A military lady, a nurse at Walter Reed, she was telling me all about the wounded warriors. I said, ‘This would be great. This is an ADA facility.’”
The gym is part of Walter Reed’s adaptive sports program, which helps rehabilitate wounded servicemen and women. At an adaptive sports open house May 9, 26 signed up.
“They’re warriors — they were in the battlefield,” Sheehi said. “These guys have the background of boxing, kickboxing, [Mixed Martial Arts], and they feel like they lost it. Now they’ve got it back again.”
Wounded warriors also can get on the ice.
In July, Thom Hirsch of Bethesda took over as president of USA Warriors Ice Hockey Program, a nonprofit that offers standing and sled teams for disabled military personnel.
The team practices at the Rockville Ice Arena, where they will receive free ice time through August.
“Every time we want additional ice space, we ask them, ‘How much can we pay?’” he said. “It is very obvious they are giving us a gift.”
Ali Shahoseini of Germantown started praying for Donley before they met.
He heard the Marine’s story at Montgomery Hills Baptist Church in Silver Spring, which a friend of the Donley family attends.
Inspired by Donley’s sacrifice, Shahoseini raised approximately $1,800 on May 19 at a fundraiser for the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit that serves injured service members.
It can be easy to forget Walter Reed’s job — rehabilitating injured military personnel, said Dave Dabney, executive director of the Bethesda Urban Partnership.
With summer drawing wounded warriors and their caretakers outdoors, more people are having that realization, Hamill said.
The base serves active and retired service people, and brings 1 million visitors each year, said Ken Hartman, director of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center.
The merger changed the base, bringing in people with serious visible injuries, said Hadley Bergstrom, a research scientist who works on campus.
“You’d see some of the soldiers, but now they’re everywhere,” he said. “It’s kind of striking, because you see people with horrible injuries. Just the other day I saw two guys in wheelchairs who lost all their limbs.”