In 2004, I was working as a legislative assistant in the U.S. Senate when I came across a story about a grievously wounded soldier from Northern Virginia and his devoted parents who refused to give up on him.
The soldier is Jay Briseno. An Army reservist, he deployed to Iraq in 2003 and was shot in the back of his neck, severing his spinal cord. In the course of surgeries trying to save his life, Jay suffered multiple cardiac arrests and severe brain damage.
He has been called the most severely wounded soldier to survive the war, and will likely be dependent on others for his care for the rest of his life.
Someone, I read, told Mr. and Mrs. Briseno that they should institutionalize their son and, in essence, prepare for him to die.
That person didn’t know Joseph and Eva Marie Briseno, their love for their son, or their faith. He didn’t know Jay, either.
The Brisenos upended their lives to care for their son. They brought him home to familiar surroundings. Because Jay needed 24 hour nursing care—something the VA did not provide—they moved the mattress from their bed into the basement where Jay’s hospital bed lay so they could attend to him throughout the night. Both parents were ultimately forced to quit their jobs so they could care for their son, and, in the process, become champions for the needs of disabled veterans.
I’ve been on Mr. Briseno’s email distribution list since 2004. To this day, I continue to receive periodic updates about Jay’s progress, requests for prayers when things are rough, and news about other members of the Briseno family. I treasure each and every note. They are a window into the life of a remarkable group of American heroes—one of whom was wounded in Baghdad.
Since those early days, it seems as though the support of the community has made some things better for the Brisenos. The VA provides more care, local businesses and charities have stepped up to help modify the Briseno home to better serve Jay, and Jay, himself, has endured countless procedures to keep him stable and to improve his quality of life.
But now, almost a decade after his wounding, Jay is still dependent on his Mom and Dad. They continue to care for him. They will always love him.
I learned today that the Brisenos have been selected as one of six finalists for the Pentagon Federal Credit Union Foundation’s “Hero at Home Video Contest.” The public is going to decide the winner based on the number of “Likes” their video gets on YouTube by noon (eastern time) on April 23. The winner will be announced, officially, by 6 PM on that same day.
You can see all the stories of devoted loved-ones here. I’ll be voting for the Brisenos, but you should vote for the care-givers that touch you.
If ever there was a contest where everyone deserved to win, this would be it. And if ever there were stories about patriotism, selfless love, and devotion—these are them; and they deserve to be heard.