General Douglas MacArthur said “Duty, Honor, Country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.” The 22 Project is rebuilding courage, faith, and hope one veteran at a time.
Patrick J. McNamara
Lieutenant Colonel (Retired)
West Point Class of 1997
My name is Joao Paula. I was born and raised in Portugal. I moved to the United States on August 17th of 2002 in pursuit of a better future and lived in Florida until February of 2008. Ever since I moved here this country provided me with an amazing opportunity to a great life, so I decided to pay it back. I’m a United States Army Veteran, First Calvary Division out of Fort Hood, Texas. I decided to enlist on February 28th of 2008 and served very proudly until March 19th 2011. I figured there wasn’t a better way to pay back all the good our country gave me, other than to serve and protect this great nation that I now call home.
During my service in the military I deployed to Iraq during 2009 and went through a lot. Luckily I didn’t get injured like many service members did, but I did see quite a lot of gruesome scenarios. Things that I don’t wish anyone to see. Still to this day there are a lot of memories that are triggered by the smallest things. As weird as it may sound, looking at a baby crib or a stuffed teddy bear brings back some of those memories. The entire time during deployment those scenarios were stuck in my memory and affected me a lot. I was sleeping about two to two and half hours a night. My temper flared continuously and I found myself getting to very dark place.
There was a time I felt like giving up. I sat on my bed with my back against the wall, my 9mm against my head and was ready to end my suffering and pain. I know now that suicide is not the right answer, but at that moment it seemed like the only solution to me. As I sat there I looked at a picture of my wife and I can say it is the one thing that saved my life. I realized I wasn’t ready to leave her yet. I ended up pushing through the rest of the deployment trying my hardest to metalize myself that soon I would be home with my family once again. That was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done.
After coming home; the temper flares, the anxiety, the sleepless nights and horrendous nightmares continued and at times got worst. Quite often I woke up terrified, crying and drenched in sweat because of nightmares that I was having. I never thought that all this was because of PTSD. Since I got out of the military, the same thoughts I had in Iraq have ran through my mind again. I couldn’t control my temper, and it was affecting not only my health
but my marriage as well. My wife was getting tired of the constant bad mood and yelling. I finally realized that I needed help, so I turned to the VA. They put me through counseling and also medications. Neither one helped much. I was diagnosed with PTSD after a few counseling sessions. It got to a certain point that I felt that everything I was doing wasn’t helping. The medications made me sick, and the counseling sessions made me even more depressed. I stopped going to counseling for a while and things got worst.
I turned back to the VA for help and that time one doctor and my previous therapist asked me right away what kind of therapy I wanted to do. Drugs or counseling? I realized then they couldn’t help me anymore. My nightmares got worst and occurred more often. For 7 years I was lucky enough to sleep maybe 3 or 4 full nights. And that was because I either drank alcohol or turned to marijuana.
About a year ago I was blessed to meet Alex Cruz, who, when learned out about by my military service and the issues I was going through for the past seven years, gave me a chance and an opportunity that nobody ever took the time to do. He told me about what he was doing to help veterans through his organization called THE 22 PROJECT and how their treatments has helped numerous veterans by getting their sleep back and also improving many other issues they
were experiencing, along with quality of life. I decided to give it a try, since nothing else that I did before helped. We did a scan of my brain and indeed showed damage cause by the PTSD and TBI. After the scan I began eight week treatment doing hyperbaric oxygen. At first I was wondering about how could going into a chamber help me get my sleep back, but within a week or two I started sleeping great. I started feeling better and more energized. Once I saw the treatment taking effect, I became more and more excited about the results and felt like a new person. I can’t say I sleep a full night every night, but the amount of sleep I get now compared to what I got before is a tremendous difference. It’s amazing what this treatment has done for me. It has given my sleep back, it saved my marriage and I can truly say that it has saved my life. I still have some issues that need worked on, but I’m doing it slowly, day by day and with the help of some great people. The good I got from this treatment is something I wished every veteran out there who has the same struggles could experience.
My name is Mackenzie Verdi and I am a disabled combat Veteran. I served five years in the 101st airborne division as a Military Police officer. During my five years I did two tours in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division. I grew in the ranks from a private in charge of a 50 cal. machine gun all the way to a Squad Leader in charge of 12 men.
The first time I deployed to Iraq I was a 50 cal. machine gunner. We were one of the first units to go into Iraq and break the Kuwaiti border. I was in a position where I had to act first. After long days full of action and at the same time not having communication from home, it was very hard to cope with on a day to day basis without the support of my family and friends around me.
My second tour to Iraq was a bit different. Our unit was placed in the middle of Baghdad and we were in constant conflict every day. While I was in Baghdad I was a Squad Leader in charge of 12 men. It was a hard and long 12 months. We were constantly in battle with the insurgency. The things we saw and did you would not wish on anyone. But as you are trained it is you or them. We eliminated a lot of bad people off this planet. After my second tour of duty I received a Bronze star as well as an Army Accommodation award with a Valor device.
After returning home I had to deal with the thoughts, sights and smells I encountered over there. I would constantly be on high guard when I was out in the public. My mood went from always being the funny guy to an I don’t care attitude. My wife hated the person I became. I did not want to socialize nor did I want to hang out with anyone other than my comrades. My sleep was always disturbed by any little sound I heard as well as dreams that made me relive some of the things I did. I was definitely a changed person.
When I met Alex at the 22 Project and H.O.W. it changed me for the better. I started the Hyperbaric and after a good week or so I noticed I was sleeping a whole lot better and that my mood was changing. I had more focus throughout the day and my attitude was that of someone who cared. I started to go back to school which gave me a sense of direction and purpose. If it was not of these programs I do not know where I would be today. It has severely changed my life for the better and I cannot express enough thanks to these wonderful programs.
In a fraction of a second, Patrick Zeigler’s life changed forever.
On November 5, 2009, Patrick was in a small building with other soldiers; he had only been there a few days after returning to Fort Hood, Texas from a tour in Iraq. His coworkers were scrolling on their cellphones, trudging through paperwork, sitting in chairs aligned in five rows or so. Patrick was in the second row.
Nidal Hasan, former U.S. Army Major and psychiatrist, stood, yelled ‘Allhu Akbar’ and began shooting.
“I distinctly remember he yelled and I looked up and they always call them a lone wolf and that’s exactly what he looked like, he looked like he was howling at the moon when he yelled that, he raised his head and yelled to heaven,” He said, “because he thought he was going to heaven that day. Now he sits on death row, paralyzed from the chest down.”
Patrick said he was probably the first or second person hit by the spray of bullets. He was shot in the head, an impact so strong it knocked him from his chair, but he was still conscious. He tried to crawl away to safety, but Hasan came and shot him three more times in the back. Patrick said he passed out after that.
“The paramedics came in and they actually black-tagged me back they thought I was going to die, so they had moved on to help other people who were less wounded – who they thought were going to survive,” Patrick said he later learned.
But he did survive. It wasn’t without a fight, however.
“Apparently, I regained consciousness and sat up and said ‘Hey, I need help let’s get to a hospital right now,’” said Patrick
Doctors removed 20 percent of Patrick’s brain in order to save his life. The right half of his skull is made out of plastic. Patrick had to relearn how to walk four different times. After each surgery, it was like a reset button was hit, and Patrick had to start from square one.
“Honestly,” he said, “I think I was the only one that thought I was going to survive, pretty much everyone else was waiting for me to expire… I just knew I was going to make it. I hate faith in God and in myself.”
Patrick is strong, his faith is strong, and so is his support system.
He told First Coast News that a key component of that support system is The 22 Project. A non-profit created by Alex Cruz aimed to help Veterans receive the medical treatments needed after they serve.
Cruz is also the President and CEO of Medical Integrative Neuro Diagnostics, a place where special brain imaging technology is used to take MRIs, CAT scans and 3-D SPECT imaging. He realized he could use his equipment to help veterans and thus The 22 Project began. Cruz’s 3-D SPECT imaging equipment, which goes beyond a CAT scan or an MRI, detects changes in the capability of the brain. Cruz took a scan of Patrick’s brain when he first began therapy.
Patrick’s therapy requires him to spend 75 minutes, twice a day, inside of a hyperbaric chamber in Delray Beach. The chamber pumps 100 percent oxygen into his brain to try and help heal some of the damage his brain sustained on that fateful day in Texas. Cruz runs The 22 Project as a non-profit but he funds 90-95% of the treatment for the veterans he has helped. In total, Cruz has helped change the life of 30 veterans.
“It’s very easy you just have to lay there and breathe and I get to watch TV or a movie while I’m doing it. After a week of treatments I’m starting to feel some benefits and a little bit of change in my demeanor,” Patrick said.
Patrick had been wanting the hyperbaric treatment for years and he is glad to be back in his home state. He is still fighting through the pain and through the memories but he is getting a little better every day.
“I didn’t lose my personality, I didn’t lose my intellect, sometimes I forget to use it, but I’m doing very well, considering,” Patrick joked.
MY NAME IS JAVIER GOMEZ, I AM A DISABLED VET DUE TO MY T.B.I., P.T.S.D. AND DELUSIONAL DISORDER. I SERVED AS A SNIPER FROM FEB 2004 TO APR 2010, WITH TWO TOURS IN IRAQ. I WAS HIT BY TWO I.E.D.S (IMPROVISED EXLPOSIVE DEVICE) AND AN RPG AMBUSH. THE RPG AMBUSH LEFT ME WITH FRACTURED RIBS AND A CONCUSSION LUCKY ENOUGH TO BE ALIVE. THERE MUST BE A GREATER PLAN FOR ME. I HAD BEEN BATTLING MY SYMPTONS VALIENTLY BUT FELT I WAS GOING NOWHERE; TAKING HEAVY MEDS SEEMED TO BE THE ONLY TOOL I HAD. I WOULD GET REALLY BAD ANXIETY ATTACKS THAT CONFINED ME TO MY HOME. FOR A WHILE I TRIED TO SELF MEDICATE BY USING DRUGS- THAT JUST TOOK ME TO THE WRONG PATH. I EVENTUALLY WAS HOSPITALIZED TWICE BY BAKER ACT.
ON THE SECOND TRIP TO THE PSYCH WARD, I WAS DEALING WITH STRONG FEELINGS OF GUILT, AND I WAS READING THE BIBLE AND CAME ALONG A VERSE THAT SAID IF YOUR RIGHT EYE CAUSED YOU TO SIN CAST IT AWAY, REGRETABLY I TOOK IT LITERALY, AND REMOVED MY EYE WITH MY FINGERS- IT WAS GRUESOME. SO YOU CAN ONLY IMAGINE THE KIND OF TURMOIL I WAS FACING DUE TO MY TIME IN IRAQ. LIKE I SAID, MEDICINE HELPED MASK THE SYMPTONS BUT NEVER CURED ME. I ONLY CONTINUED TO RECEIVE SECONDARY SIDE EFFECTS, AND SOME SORT OF QUALITY OF LIFE THAT WAS ACCEPTABLE.
THEY SAY A PERSON ONLY CHANGES WHEN THE WORLD BECOMES SO UNBEARABLE THAT YOU ARE CAUSED TO CHANGE YOUR WAYS. THAT IS WHERE THE 22 PROJECT COMES IN. MY BROTHER RAN ACROSS COL. COLMENARES AND DISCUSSED MY SITUATION AND GAVE HIM A CARD. MY BROTHER AND WIFE CONTINUOUSLY ASKED ME TO CALL HIM, SO I DID. HE PUT ME IN CONTACT WITH MR. ALEX CRUZ FROM THE 22 PROJECT.
IF YOU ASKED ME WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE OXYGEN TREATMENT I WOULD HAVE TOLD YOU IT’S WORTH A TRY, ALL THEY’RE ASKING ME TO DO IS LIE DOWN AND BREATHE. WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT THAT WOULD HAVE HELPED. GRATEFULLY I ACCEPTED AND MY LIFE TOOK AN INCREDIBLE TURN FOR THE POSITIVE; I STARTED TO BATHE, I WAS ABLE TO HOLD A CONVERSATION WHICH SEEMED IMPOSSIBLE AT TIMES, AND GOT SOME SORT OF GRIP ON MY ANXIETY. IN THE PAST, I WOULD RUN OUT OF MEDS THAT I WOULD TAKE DURING ANXIETY ATTACKS NOW I DEFINETLY HAVE THE TOOLS TO COMBAT THE ANXIETY.
I NEVER LOST THE WILL, I JUST LOST THE STRENGTH, BUT I STILL PUT ONE FOOT IN FRONT OF THE OTHER, I GUESS SOME HABITS OF BEING A SOLDIER ARE HARDER TO GET RID OF. I AM FOREVER GRATEFUL FOR THE LIGHT THAT THE 22 PROJECT HAS GIVEN ME IN MY DARKEST HOURS, LIKE THEY SAY “I SEE THE LIGHT”. SO IF YOU ASK ME FOR MY ADVICE; I RECOMMEND IT. IF YOU CHOOSE TO IMPROVE YOUR QUALITY OF LIFE- JUST LIE THERE AND BREATHE, EVERYTHING WILL TAKE CARE OF ITSELF. IF YOU ARE SOMEONE WHO IS GOING THROUGH THIS, JUST KNOW YOU ARE NOT ALONE. THE 22 PROJECT COMMUNITY WILL BE THERE AS YOUR BATTLE BUDY IN LIFE. FROM ME AND MY FAMILY, ALEX, THANK YOU I AM FOREVER GRATEFUL FOR THE HOPE AND 2ND CHANCE YOU’VE GIVEN ME. I’LL BE HAPPY TO LET EVERYONE KNOW I AM TRYING TO HAVE OUR 1ST BABY.
A GRATEFUL SOLDIER,
My name is Sarah Yuengling I served in Fallujah Iraq 2004 to 2005 as a Navy Nurse. My dad died a few days after I arrived in Fallujah I was not able to go home. A couple of days later I was in the hospital standing over a patient with two corpsman when a rocket landed next to the barriers. No one was physically hurt but small little slivers of the concrete fell from the wall and my patient screamed “ my ears my ears”. It was a loud noise and I was really numb in side but also had no fear because I believed my dad was there in spirit at that time protecting me.
On the way back home in Kuwait I fell on the tarmac on my left side and injured my hand. I went to many surgeries and was on and off pain meds. I got out of the Navy in 2009 had one more surgery then went back to work again. I was on sleeping medications until recent. When I got out of the military I isolated myself because I had no emotion. I just shut down. I realized that I needed something so I joined the Wounded Warriors programs and they helped me so much and brought me back to feeling my emotions again.
I sought care at the VA because I could not sleep had some nightmares and affects that still haunt me like I feel scared at night I wake up at every little noise I hear. Loud noises feel like it goes right into my brain and it is actually feels painful. The loud noises from gun shots or fireworks causes a fight or flight feeling go thru my entire body. It is like a gush of blood rushing from my feet up to my head. I also have a poor memory recall at times. I have tried medication, cognitive behavioral treatment, group and Individual treat to help with my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Military Sexual Trauma.
Last year Veterans day I realized I needed help. I was at a celebration for veterans when they had 21 gun salute. I was with a co-worker when I blacked out. I remember hearing one gunshot but not anymore. My co-worker said there were 7 shots. I realized yes I am a nurse but I have to ask for help because I knew something was wrong with my brain. I asked the VA to help me get hyperbaric chamber treatments because of the noises. They said they did not have any data that this would help. So I sought out an outside organization.
I was accepted by the Healing Heroes Network to get 40 hyperbaric chamber treatments. One day when I was at treatment I met a wife of a veteran and she told me about The 22 Project, that they funded a brain scan for her husband and the chamber treatment. I contacted Alex, The 22 Project founder and we spoke. I wanted to get information to help other veterans. He said he could help me and let’s do a brain scan on you and have you see the doctor with them. So I did the results did show TBI and the doctor explained everything to me. This helped me because I knew something was wrong and I wanted to get better.