What does Independence mean to you?

This is Al Sawyer, an American hero from a forgotten era.

Al served his country bravely in the Korean War. Of the 8 major engagements in that war, Al was in 4 of them. When 111 servicemen in his unit were called for duty, only 13 were to return home. “I learned how to run,” he says wryly. And it was running that would save his life.

When the Chinese entered the conflict in 1951, United Nations’ forces were out-manned and out-gunned and forced to retreat all the way back to the southernmost tip of South Korea. Al’s unit had to run on foot through rice paddies in the dead of winter. A mortar landed just behind him killing both men on either side of him. “I don’t know how I did it,” he recounts, “but I ran until I keeled over close to the first aid tent. When I came to, on the evacuation plane, I heard an officer say, ‘Looks like we’re going to have to take this guy’s feet off.’ I raised myself up and told him exactly what I thought of that before passing out again!”

After four years of courageous service, Al made it home okay, recovered from his wounds and went on to raise a family, pursue an established career as an electro-mechanical engineer and eventually took up square dancing where he met his second wife Jane.

One day, while the two of them were out walking (something they did together every day), he got dizzy, and felt faint. His wife rushed him to the hospital where he was told he had 2 clogged arteries. He had suffered a heart attack and a stroke.

“After that, he was falling all the time,” says Jane.

“I used to be so active,” Al laments. “Everything around here I built or designed – the sheds, the extension to the house, the gardens. And Jane and I always walked the dogs at least an hour a day. I’m losing too much of my independence because of my imbalance problem.”

His doctor referred him to Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care’s Home Health Services due to Al’s high fall risk and constant fatigue. The team, including physical and occupational therapists, came to Al’s home and assessed his living situation. They created a practical action plan for him which included exercises, training, and borrowing needed medical equipment from the VNHC Loan Closet.  “They showed me step by step how to do things differently – all the little stuff that you take for granted,” Al explains. “They got me to rethink how to do it. I now watch every move I make.” He also learned how to use a 3 wheel walker which he says is a “life-saver.”

After only a few months of treatment Al has much appreciation for VNHC’s services. “These people were absolutely fantastic! They were positive, positive, positive – and they didn’t talk down to me. That meant more to me than anything else.” Jane adds, “When they stepped in, it brought back his happiness. I knew he was going to be okay seeing that he could now handle it!”

“…And I haven’t fallen in over 3 months,” Al finishes, beaming.

This Independence Day please take a moment to reflect on what independence means for you and “all the little stuff we take for granted.” Consider that for someone like Al Sawyer, who served his country so valiantly, it now means something as basic as being able to walk from the bedroom to the kitchen safely without falling down.  Please consider making a gift today to allow us to help someone else regain their independence and bring some dignity back into their life.

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