Military Mom Cares for Triple Amputee Son
By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service
SAN ANTONIO, Nov. 17, 2011 Saralee Trimble hunches over a craft table, meticulously weaving thin strips of material together to form a basket.
Saralee Trimble offers suggestions to her son, Army Pfc. Kevin Trimble, as he works on a leather project with his brother, Ben, at the Warrior and Family Support Center in San Antonio, Nov. 10, 2011. DOD photo by Linda Hosek
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The room is noisy with TVs blaring and people chatting and laughing, but her concentration is unbroken as she focuses on her task.
For just a few brief moments, this mom of five is simply focused on piecing together a basket, rather than the life that was nearly lost to her on a roadside in Afghanistan.
Trimble’s son, Army Pfc. Kevin Trimble, was just four months into his deployment when a fellow soldier standing three feet away stepped on a homemade bomb. The soldier was killed and Trimble lost both of his legs above the knee and his left arm above the elbow.
Trimble was at home in New Orleans when she got the phone call. It’s a call, she said with tears welling up, that she’ll never forget.
She and her husband, Daniel, were told their son had been injured and was in serious condition, but was stable and alert. Shocked at the news, they focused on the positive. “The most important thing was he was alert,” she said.
After a few days in Germany, her son arrived at Brooke Army Medical Center here on Sept. 24, and Trimble, her husband and her children rushed there to greet him.
The toughest moment, Trimble said, was when she saw her son for the first time. “I wanted to cry,” she said, again tearing up at the recollection. “It was heavy, real heavy.”
Not wanting to convey their shock, she and her husband went out in the hall, held each other and cried. Her son had dreamed of being a soldier for as long as she could remember, and joined right out of high school. She knew how devastating this injury would be to him as a man, and a soldier.
“It was really hard,” she said. “He’s 19; he’s my baby.” She then thought of her other children. Four of her five children are in the service: one in the Air Force, two in the Army and one in the Marine Corps Reserve.
Two have deployed multiple times and one expects to go soon, she said. “I thought of Kevin and then, ‘What about them?’”
The Long Recovery
Trimble steeled herself for the long recovery road ahead. Her electrician husband returned home to a foreman job they couldn’t afford for him to lose, and she settled in at the hospital. She grimaced as she recollected those early days of recovery.
“It was very traumatic, no way around it, it just is,” she said.
Trimble said her son was boiling hot all the time so they placed ice packs on his shoulders and constantly doused his face and neck with cold water. He was on pain medication, but even that couldn’t fully prevent the pain. “You can’t avoid it; it’s part of it,” she said.
Throughout, Kevin remained positive, Trimble said, with only a few moments of despair. “A few times he’s broken down and said, ‘Mom, look at me. What good am I?’”
In those moments, Trimble said all she could do was pray with her son and assure him he’d be OK. She never, even from the start, had a doubt that he’d pull through, she said.
Trimble said her son reached a turning point when a group of wounded warriors, including several triple amputees, came to see him at his bedside. “That encouraged him so much to see other guys the same as him who were actually getting around and able to do something,” she said.
Kevin checked out of the hospital less than two months after his injury, and is about to start his therapy at the Center for the Intrepid, a state-of-the-art rehabilitation center just steps away from the hospital.
He’s had one two-hour physical therapy session so far, Trimble said, and that one “wiped him out.” “They had him getting from the wheelchair onto the floor and then back up,” she said, noting that’s no easy feat with just one arm. “When he came back he didn’t want to do nothing but sleep.
“But that’s good,” she added. “He needs that challenge.”
Next up, he’ll be fitted for a prosthetic arm, and later prosthetic legs. The sooner he can use his limbs and gain independence, the better, Trimble said.
Meanwhile, she is helping him get acclimated to his “new normal” by taking him on outings, whether it’s to Sea World or to play miniature golf. He had a great time golfing, she said, but was saddened by the children’s stares.
“I told him, ‘You know you’re going to have that the rest of your life,’” she said. “‘You are different from everyone else, but that doesn’t say who you are. You still are who you are.’”
The Challenges of Caregiving
It’s been a rough couple of months and Trimble acknowledged the stress that accompanies full-time caregiving. Fearful of the devastating impact of a fall, she isn’t comfortable yet leaving her son alone. And she only has brief respites during appointments or when one of her children is there to help. But even a short break can provide a big recharge, she said.
When she’s not by her son’s side, Trimble finds respite, and solace, in the Warrior and Family Support Center, a sprawling 12,500–square-foot facility here. The center offers a place for families and wounded warriors to relax, reconnect or just have a cup of coffee. Along with computers, video games, movies and books, the center offers a host of outings, and craft classes to service members and their families.
Trimble is a familiar face at the craft tables. One day she’ll be seen weaving baskets, and the next she is building a mosaic or stained glass creation. Her son and other family members often join in, as well. On this day, Kevin and his brother and sister -- visiting here on military leave -- stopped by for a leatherworking class. They joked and laughed as they worked on their creations. Kevin was making a belt with help from his brother, Ben.
As he worked, Kevin said he was grateful for his mom’s presence. “Things would be harder without her,” he acknowledged.
Having family around is vital for a wounded warrior’s recovery, his mother noted. “It’s very important for them to have support,” she said. “Look at Kevin. It’s not even two months and look where he’s at.”
Trimble said they’ll most likely be here for another two years. Her son’s goal is to graduate from the Center for the Intrepid on his 21st birthday, May 22, 2013.
Meanwhile, Trimble has a long road of caregiving ahead, but said she’s up to the task. The toughest challenge for her isn’t the lack of time alone or the stress, she said, it’s seeing her son in pain. “That’s one reason why you want to take a break,” she said. “Knowing that he’s suffering … that’s very hard.”
With two years of separation from her husband looming, Trimble said the time apart will be tough. Plus, she’s worried about how he’s maintaining their home in her absence. “I’m sure no one is running the broom while I’m away,” she joked.
But despite the ongoing struggles, Trimble said she wouldn’t have it any other way. She’ll be by her son’s side for as long as he needs her to be.
“He’s my son. Caring for him … I couldn’t ask for anything more special.”