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Sergeant Bozik - Update 4

Just got an email from Sergeant Bozik's mother, Gail.

Joey was in a lot of pain after this surgery yesterday because the dr. had to cut his bone.  His fever is still running high, 101.9.  They gave him two more pts. of blood during last night.  This means they take vitals every 15 minutes during the 4-5 hour procedure.  We didn't get any sleep but today we are resting better.  Tomorrow, Monday, they take him down to unwrap his leg to check on infections.  The skin graft didn't take and they still have a wound vac on it.  However, Dr. Hampston did close the leg and said he hoped it healed and didn't have to be re-opened.  So pray for this problem.

And here is the latest news story about Sergeant Bozik:

Wounded soldier: I'm going to be OK

Editor’s note: This story is part of an occasional series chronicling the recovery of Army Sgt. Joseph Bozik, who was severely wounded while serving in Iraq.

Eagle Staff Writer

The day began like any other for Army Sgt. Joseph Bozik.

He was patrolling an area south of Baghdad, Iraq, when his life turned upside-down in the time it took a roadside bomb to explode.

But despite losing parts of his legs and right arm, Bozik said his future won’t fundamentally be much different than the life he envisioned before the explosion. He’ll still have his fiancee, Jayme Peters, his supportive family, a career and even his beloved game of golf.

“I didn’t realize how bad things really were,” Bozik said, describing his wounds during a telephone interview Monday from his hospital room. “I didn’t know what to expect. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to walk again. It was hard at first. But having my family and Jayme here has really made a huge difference.

“I’m going to be OK. I’m thankful to be alive.”

Bozik was severely wounded Oct. 29 when the Humvee he was riding in struck a roadside bomb. He lost his left leg about midway down the shin. All that remains of his right leg is his thigh. Bozik’s right arm is gone from the middle of the forearm, and several bones were fractured in his left arm and hand.

He said he still doesn’t remember anything about his ordeal immediately following the explosion, which nearly killed him. Fellow soldiers rushing him to the hospital, the numerous surgeries to stabilize his condition and the quiet times with his fiancee as she lovingly recounted her happy memories with him — none of those events made it into his memory bank.

When Bozik finally woke up at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., he still was heavily medicated and didn’t realize the extent of his injuries. He thought he had only been shot.

Bozik, who is from North Carolina, is one of about 5,000 U.S. military personnel who have been wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom and did not return to duty, according to the Department of Defense Web site. But he acknowledged he’s more fortunate than the 1,230 service men and women who have died and won’t have the opportunity to celebrate the holidays at all.

The makeshift Thanksgiving celebration planned at his hospital room is much better than the alternative, he said.

Peters, a Texas A&M University senior, has been at Bozik’s side since he returned to the United States and said she’ll remain there until he is able to leave the hospital. The recovery process will depend on how long it takes Bozik’s body to heal, a timeline doctors can’t predict, she said.

Not slowing down

Even though his body is not 100 percent of what it used to be, Bozik said he intends on living life to the fullest.

He said he is anxious to begin rehabilitation and already has been told about the different types of prosthetic limbs available. With today’s medical technology, Bozik said, doctors believe he will be able to do 80 percent of the things he did before the explosion.

“As long as I can play golf again,” he said in response to the news that he’d still be able to lead an active lifestyle. “I’m not the kind of person who wants to sit around all day. It’s one of the hardest things to do — lay around in bed and heal.”

His mother, Gail, said she understands the road ahead of them will be tough. There will be painful rehabilitation exercises and a learning curve to get used to the prosthetic limbs.

But she said her son is the kind of person who will take an optimistic approach to the life ahead of him — because she raised him that way.

“As long as he’s got that brain and that wonderful smile, I know he’ll be OK,” she said. “I’m just thankful he’s alive.”

She said watching her son in his wounded condition is “the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.”

“I need to be strong for him because he’s being so strong for me,” she said, breaking up in tears.

Peters said, just like she predicted, Bozik is taking his injuries in stride and with a positive outlook.

“I think he sounds great,” she said. “His attitude is amazing.”

She said he has a full understanding of how his life has been changed and is ready to meet those challenges head-on.

In the meantime, Peters said, she’s eager to celebrate the holiday season with Bozik, something that probably wouldn’t have been possible had he not been wounded. He was scheduled to remain in Iraq until February or March.

“We’re very happy he’s here for the holidays and alive,” she said.

His other family

Although he is spending the holidays with his loved ones, Bozik said he hasn’t forgotten about his close friends in Iraq who won’t have the same joy of eating a Thanksgiving meal with their families.

The stress of combat situations, Bozik said, allows soldiers to forge strong relationships with the others in their company.

“You become very close to the people you work with,” he said. “It becomes more like a brotherhood than just guys who work for you.”

Bozik’s job was to guard the Main Supply Route, the road military vehicles use to carry supplies from the ports in Kuwait to places all over Iraq. He was stationed at a small camp south of Baghdad and helped keep the road clear of Iraqi insurgents’ roadside bombs and ambush sites.

“Every firefight is intense,” he said. “Anytime you have to pull the trigger and fire at someone, it’s not a fun thing to do.”

Bozik said he forged strong friendships as a result of the violent situations he and other soldiers encountered. They became like family to each other. At 26, Bozik was older than many other soldiers with whom he was stationed, so he found himself playing big brother.

“I could give them advice if they were having problems with their girlfriends or whatever,” he said.

Since being wounded, he’s had a chance to speak with some of his friends who still are serving in Iraq. He said they were glad to hear he’s doing well and offered their best wishes. They said they couldn’t wait to visit him when they got back to American soil.

“They saw what I looked like and had to go to combat stress [counseling],” he said. “They were so happy to hear my voice.”

New path

Bozik has lived an extraordinary life in the past few months, but he now he faces an altered version of the future he once saw for himself.

“I do envision myself in the future, what life is going to be like,” he said. “I know things will be different than they would have been [before being wounded], but for some reason, God chose me. I know things will be OK.”

Once he is able to go back to school, Bozik wants to earn a degree in criminology. Initially he wanted to work for the U.S. Marshals, but now he’ll concentrate on getting a job with the Department of Defense or as a consultant, he said. He also would like to work with other amputees and help them return to as much of a normal life as possible.

Bozik said that without the love and support he’s received — from his family, friends and complete strangers — he doesn’t think he would have been able to make such a strong and quick recovery.

“I want to thank Jayme,” he said. “I want to thank her and my mother for staying by my side. I couldn’t have done it without them.”

He’s received about 100 cards from across the country, which Peters said adorn the walls of his hospital room. Not a square inch hasn’t been decorated, and there’s still a couple of dozen cards left.

The support also has come from caring Brazos Valley residents. Peters said Bozik particularly enjoyed a set of support cards he received from a second-grade class at St. Joseph Catholic School.

“The cards made him smile because kids have a tendency to say some funny things,” she said.

Bozik also said he is astounded at the amount of support he has received from complete strangers.

“I wish I could meet every single one of them, shake their hands and thank them for their support,” he said. “I can’t tell you how much it helps me and my recovery.

“It makes me proud to be an American. That’s why I joined the military, to support my country so those supporting me wouldn’t have to.”

Gail Bozik said the presence of Peters has helped her tremendously, as well

“I couldn’t do it without her,” she said. “She’s wonderful. I love her so much. I love her like one of my own.”

Love story

When Bozik talks about the future, he doesn’t stop at the things he’ll be able to do once he is fitted with prosthetic limbs.

In addition to his unfinished schooling, he has unfinished business when it comes to his life with Peters. Bozik said he looks forward to spending the rest of his life with her and starting a family.

One of the things he’s thankful for this season is the opportunity to look at her “beautiful face” once again.

The two plan to get married Dec. 31. It will be a new beginning of their lives together at the beginning of a new year.

Peters said the ceremony will be a small, quiet affair. They will have a larger wedding later when Bozik is able walk down the aisle, something he wants badly to be able to do.

“Our love is there,” she said. “He knows now that I’m here for the long run. I don’t see a guy who doesn’t have two feet or his right hand. I still see the same old Joey. He still has that smile that I love — that dimple in his cheek. I see the whole person, and there’s no way he’s going to get rid of me.”

[Previous Sergeant Bozik Posts: Original, First Update (with pictures of Sergeant Bozik), Second Update, and Third.]