I was on the website LinkedIn last week when a users update caught my eye. I don’t know why it did; I was connected to the LinkedIn Member, but did not know her. The post was simply titled “Quilter surprised to receive photo of Marine amputee years later“, and it was written by Susie Wright, owner of Wright’s Typing Services, which serves the private investigation industry.
In the post she describes how she has, for about a decade, volunteered to make quilts for US servicemen amputees. They are specifically designed for use in wheelchairs, and help keep these soldiers warm at the point of their injury. She mentions in the article that this work is completely and intentionally anonymous. No tags, labels or other identifying markers are sewn into the quilts that her group donates. No soldier will know what person or persons made the quilt they are provided. It is a labor of love, and the group makes as many as the hospital says they need. She says, quite frankly, that she follows the Marine adage of Semper Fidelis, and when it comes to quilting for amputee soldiers, “No one will be left behind.”
Of course, many feel that true charity is anonymous to the recipient, and like them she expects no acknowledgement from those who are the beneficiary of her dedication and labor. Still, karma is a funny thing, and at times finds a way to cut through the veil of anonymity and deliver an emotionally charged reward for a job well done. Such was the case with Ms. Wright recently, when someone familiar with her specific custom quilt pattern sent her a photo. It showed a soldier, in full dress uniform, sitting in his wheelchair and wearing a quilt she had made. Standing next to the soldier was none other than the President of the United States, George W. Bush.
I cannot fathom how it must feel to toil in the cloak of namelessness, fully satisfied with the effort itself as your only form of compensation, and then suddenly receive such a significant example of your work in use. Suddenly one recipient had a face and was extraordinarily real, and the company he kept in the presence of your effort made it all the more remarkable yet.
I spoke to Susie for almost an hour last week. She is a pleasant and determined woman, not without her own share of tragedy and personal sacrifice. Her quilting “career” started some time ago, and her quilting clubs first charitable effort was the children's hospital where she had practically lived for many years. You see, Susie had a son born with major medical issues, who endured many surgeries, only grew to a height of 3'11', and succumbed to his illnesses at the age of 21. Still, when Susie spoke of her son it was not with a sense of tragedy, but rather that of love, respect and cherished memories; an admiration and pride for a remarkable young man who pursued a full life despite unrelenting challenges. She spoke of his years as team manager for a high school sports team, and his uncanny ability to wade into a conversation with the skill and aplomb as someone many years his senior. She had suffered a terrible loss, but could only speak of the good her short time with her son on earth brought her.
A remarkable woman doing remarkably humble things in the service of people she would never meet, and whose names she would never know.
There is, as it turns out, so much more to this story. I feel compelled to disclose a little more about that solder in the picture; the man who benefitted from a kind and detailed contribution. I am not revealing any secrets here. Everything is from publicly available news stories. I have linked to the sources where appropriate.
The man in the picture was 22 year old Army Cpl. Shane Parsons, from Fostoria, Ohio. He was just one month from the end of his tour when he was wounded by a roadside bomb in Ramadi, Iraq, on September 30, 2006. He had volunteered for the mission that day, and was driving the lead Humvee in his patrol. He was originally not expected to survive from his injuries. He survived two cardiac arrests, 15 surgeries and multiple infections from soil bacteria. In the picture displaying the quilt Ms. Wright made, he is not just getting a friendly visit from the President. No, George W. Bush was there that day to award him his Purple Heart. The picture was taken December 22, 2006, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Cpl. Parsons, in addition to losing both legs, suffered a severe brain injury; an injury that prevented him from being able to read or write.
Cpl.Parsons was promoted to Sergeant while in extensive recovery, and released from active duty in 2009.
There is more, and while it is sad in it's own right, there is a greater lesson for all in this story.
Sgt. Parsons mother referred to her son as her “Miracle Child”. She and her husband had been trying for 7 years to get pregnant, and had all but given up hope. It was just after her husband was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor that she discovered she was expecting. Her husband received a grave diagnosis, and his doctors did not expect him to live to see his child. He defied them, and made it to that point. He passed away when Shane was just 6 months old.
After his injury, Parsons mother, an emergency room nurse, spent most of her time during the long recovery by her sons side, first in Germany, and eventually Texas. While she was away from home, a water leak in her unattended house caused an outbreak of black mold, and the only home Parsons had known was condemned by the city and destroyed, leaving them virtually homeless. All he wanted to do at that point was “to come home and sleep in my own bed”. Telling him the house was gone was a heartbreaking event for his mother.
But just as a kind woman once selflessly created a quilt to keep a soldier warm, there were other people waiting and willing to help this brave soldier and his mother out.
In 2008, the Coalition to Salute America's Heroes announced that it would “build the Parsons a $130,000 handicapped-accessible, two-story, five-bedroom house on the site of the destroyed home.” And that is exactly what they did. In addition to that generous effort, country music performer “Big Kenny” Alphin, (music duo Big & Rich), donated $10,000 so they could buy furniture for their new home.
As of 2012, Sgt. Parsons was, according to his mother, reading at a first grade level. He was also “involved in a Wounded Warrior Project independence pilot program to regain confidence, and he has been working with a job coach as he aspires to be a junior high school assistant football coach.” She also told a group that, since his injuries, Shane has fished in Alaska, tandem-jumped out of a plane and traveled 130 miles from San Antonio to Corpus Christi, Texas, using a hand cycle. His mother has become an advocate for better government care of our injured warriors.
The situation was beautifully summed up by Shane Parsons himself, when he told Stars & Stripes that the house is a “visible symbol of the bond he feels with the American people”. He said, “It's amazing, all these organizations and people who want to help the soldiers. I got the opportunity to go fight and take care of all these people, and this is them, taking care of me.”
I could not find information on him after 2012. I sincerely hope that his progress continued and he has started reaching his goals.
I may be wrong, but I see some commonality between our quilter and this military family. A strong and caring mother, grappling with the challenges of a son with distinct medical and physical challenges. A son who appreciates what he has, despite tremendous sacrifice and the obstacles those challenges present. And an uncommon desire of all to help others, as well as an appreciation for contributions made.
The most common bond between Susie Wright and Shane Parsons is that quilt, a selfless gesture by one and a comfort for the other, all summarized and captured within a brief moment in history for all to see. But as you learn about the life of Sergeant Shane Parsons, you realize that her quilt was merely one beautiful patch in a much greater piece sewn by a community; a body of caring that reaches out to help, and proves that people can make a difference when their governments have failed those who gave so much.
Congratulations Susie. You are part, willingly or not, of a much greater masterpiece; a patchwork quilt of life, caring, and hope. You expected nothing in return, but fate returned a positive reminder that everything we do, anonymously or not, matters. That is karma, baby.
Update: A commenter, Jaime Moss, directed me to an article providing more current information on Shane Parsons. He did indeed establish a sled hockey team called the Ohio Warriors. It seems the inspiration continues. You can read about it here.