Service Dog Changes the Life of Army Veteran

Army Veteran David Medina and his wife Lymarie have been part of the Travis Mills Foundation family since participating in their first family Retreat last summer. Staff who got to know the Medina family were saddened when they recently learned that the family’s service dog, Lombard, passed away from spleen cancer.

The Foundation not only welcomes recalibrated veterans and their families, we welcome their service dogs too: water bowls and dog beds are happily provided to canine guests.

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In November 2009, David suffered an injury while on a deployment to Iraq.

“It was an IED (improvised explosive device) blast,” David said. “It’s all I can remember to be honest.”

David was a Corporal in the U.S. Army serving as a fire support specialist.

“We penetrate enemy lines up to two miles deep, check out the spot, take down inflammation and activity that’s going on.”

David experienced multiple IED blasts in a stryker that is also known as bell ringers.

“He experienced all the symptoms of a brain injury,” Lymarie said. “He experienced nauseousness, nose bleeds, [and] dizziness.”

However, David showed no visible injuries that could prevent him from completing missions and was sent back into the field. Throughout the rest of his time overseas, he also experienced multiple other brain injuries.

“When he came home is when he suffered,” Lymarie said. “I noticed his speech was off – and he suffered strokes. That put him down for a few months.”

Due to the impact of the brain injuries, David ended up in a three-month, medically induced coma from the strokes he later suffered in May 2013.

Lymarie said this was the most stressful experience she has ever been through.

“At times you feel like it is  your fault because you allow them to go out there,” she said. “But he will never blame anyone for it, it is something he signed up for.”

These times tend to be an emotional rollercoaster for recalibrated veterans and their families.

“It was just a lot,” she said. “The stress that one goes through when you are wondering if your loved one is going to live or not while you are caring for three kids – it’s a lot.”

David experiences many limitations in his daily life including, memory loss, neurological disorders, muscular disorders, hearing loss, and cognitive issues.

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Travis Mills Foundation

A friend of David and Lymarie’s told them about the Travis Mills Foundation – suggesting they apply for the Veterans Retreat.

“It was a beautiful experience,” Lymarie said.

David and Lymarie’s youngest daughter learned how to swim while spending time on TMF’s lake front property on Long Pond in the Belgrade Lakes Region of Maine.

“I guess because she saw all her friends in the water, she wanted to be in the water,” David said. “All I did was watch from a distance.”

David brought his service dog, Lombard, to the Retreat with him.

“I believe there were other dogs there. He always gets to do everything I do. I’m going to say Lombard was a pretty loved, well-rounded animal.”

Lymarie said it was great to have Lombard there with David.

“It gave [David] that calmness. It gave him that mental serenity. Even though we were in a safe environment, it just added that extra cushion for David.”

Many veterans and their families who have service dogs choose to bring them to the Retreat to help comfort the veteran in a new environment.

“Being around other family members who may not have sustained the same injuries, but can relate was absolutely beautiful,” Lymarie said. “We were all there together as one huge family – as a military family.”

Still almost a year later, David and Lymarie have kept in contact with families they met at the Retreat.

“We’re truly grateful for TMF. It’s been an experience we will never forget. We came in as strangers and we left as a family – and it’s forever.”

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Service Dogs

“The very first service dog I had was Lombard,” David said. “He impacted my life tremendously. The trainers at Canine Companions for Independence did an outstanding job with both dogs.”

When David’s first service dog Lombard passed away, he was in a funk and needed constant support. While his family is always there to help, having a service dog gives David a sense of independence.

“The simplest thing of being able to bend over and pick up an item is something not normal for David,” Lymarie said.

The dogs David has been fortunate to receive from Canine Companions for Independence are skill trained – specifically to help David with his limitations.

With the passing of Lombard, David’s new service dog Kellen has fit right into their family.

 “We made a nice bond,” David said. “I think I feel like we are working out the kinks and that’s about it.”

Kellen has been trained to complete tasks such as picking up objects, turning lights on and off, tugging off David’s socks, opening the refrigerator door – he can even grab a juice for David.

David also has 85% bilateral hearing loss from his brain injuries, so Kellen is being trained on ways to help David that will compliment his hearing loss.

“This dog nudges [David] when he hears a sound or if someone is at the door, he literally just walks to the door, letting him know someone is at the door.”

Kellen also helps assist in nightmare interruptions when David is having a bad episode.

“When David’s anxiety is kicking up, especially out in public and he starts shaking, the dog will lay his head on his lap to help calm him down,” Lymarie said. “He’ll also do compressions on him – basically lay on his chest and put that pressure on him if he needs it to help calm him down.”

Canine Companions for Independence breeds its own service dogs. After the puppies are born, they go to volunteers called ‘puppy raisers’ who care for them until they are about 18 months old. From there, they complete approximately 6 months of intensive training.

“You don’t get to pick your dog,” Lymarie said. “They match you based on your disability and what your needs are.”

Even though David has only been connected with Kellen for a few days as of this interview, the two have already formed a bond. Kellen has begun to pick up on what David’s most pressing needs are and fulfills them.

“Being a servicemember, they’ve been independent,” Lymarie said. “They’re trained to do these things and to come home and feel so vulnerable because they’re not able to do it [due to] their disability really knocks them down a lot.”

By having Lombard – and now Kellen, David is able to gain another sense of independence that he would not have otherwise.

Lymarie, David’s caregiver, also said that by having a service dog for David, it gives her an opportunity to have time to herself

“We’re always there to help him, but it’s the little things that we take for granted,” Lymarie said. “If I’m in the bathroom, I don’t have to rush out. He can easily tell the dog ‘Hey pick this up for me.’ It’s so much more than having to depend on me 24 hours, seven days a week.”

“This dog is giving me my time as well as giving him his independence.”

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About the Travis Mills Foundation

The Travis Mills Foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports post-911 veterans who experienced life changing injuries while in service to our country. The Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat offers our nation’s recalibrated veterans and their families a week-long, barrier free, all-expenses-paid experience at its world-class retreat in the Belgrade Lakes Region of Maine. It offers various programs that help these brave men and women overcome physical and emotional obstacles, strengthen their families, and provide well-deserved rest and relaxation. The Foundation also offers the Warrior PATHH Program (Progressive & Alternative Training for Helping Heroes) for combat veterans and first responders, the nation’s first of its kind program designed to cultivate and facilitate post-traumatic growth.  Learn more >>>