When Rosie Babin answered the phone early one morning in March 2003 and heard her son’s unit commander on the other end, she knew it wouldn’t be good news. All she could manage was to jot down some notes.
Alan has been wounded…gunshot to abdomen…medevac’d to field hospital…update as they get more information…
Becoming an advocate for a wounded son.
Information was excruciatingly slow in coming, however. Finally, after five traumatic days, Rosie was informed that her son, PFC Alan “Doc” Babin Jr., a combat medic with the 82nd Airborne Division, was on the medical ship USNS Comfort in the Persian Gulf. Alan had been shot in the abdomen while running to the aid of a fallen comrade in Samawah, Iraq. The bullet tore a hole the size of a football and destroyed 90 percent of Alan’s stomach. His spleen, pancreas and small intestine were damaged and he was paralyzed from the neck down. Alan’s condition was critical.
Rosie’s life in Austin, Texas, as a wife, mother and successful businesswoman would change forever. Alan spent the next two years in four different hospitals across the United States. He endured more than 70 operations and suffered numerous infections.
Alan was unable to communicate so it quickly became apparent that he would need an advocate. I remained at his bedside for the two years he was hospitalized.
Revisiting her plans for retirement, Rosie spent that time in the hospital learning how to become a full-time caregiver for her son. With almost no formal training, Rosie recalls how she “became adept at managing wound vacuums and dressings, ostomy bags, trachea suctioning, bowel/bladder management and how to assist Alan with all aspects of daily living.”
Her life changed radically.
“My husband, Alan Sr., and I were taking dance lessons, preparing for an empty nest, had a very active social life and travelled frequently with other couples,” she said.
Spontaneity and free time may be lost, but that is of little consequence to the Babins. “We are tremendously grateful for Alan’s survival and have adapted to our new life,” Rosie said.
Although in-home respite care is currently not available for Alan, he does have access to 30 days of annual respite care at the VA medical center in San Antonio, Texas. Because he feels safe and comfortable there, the Babins use the program twice a year to spend time as a couple and with their daughter, Christy.
We are tremendously grateful for Alan’s survival and have adapted to our new life.
“I will never forget how I felt the first time I drove away from the hospital,” Rosie said. “My heart caught in my throat; I experienced an emotional and moral struggle as I drove back home.”
But using all available resources is crucial when caring for a loved one with such severe injuries. “To be the best caregiver possible to Alan, I need to be surrounded by a team,” she said. “With the right team, I can focus on being a good mother, wife, sister, aunt and friend which, in turn, makes me a good caregiver.”
Staying connected. Finding support.
As well as finding strength through her faith, Rosie also believes it is important to stay connected with other caregivers. “We not only support each other, we learn from each other,” she said, adding that these are “blessed relationships of no explanation, no expectation and no judgment.”
Giving back to the disabled community has become important to the Babin family. Alan is a member of the Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities, and Rosie and Alan often share their experience with veteran, civic, nonprofit and educational organizations. Their presentations usually end with Alan reminding people to “Never, never, never give up!”
“It was an honor to accompany Alan to Washington, DC, as Paralyzed Veterans of America recognized his service during the 2006 Veterans Day Ceremony,” Rosie recalled. “We are grateful for the work done by the organization on behalf of our nation’s veterans. It has been important to our family to create awareness about the needs of disabled veterans and working with (Paralyzed Veterans) has allowed us to do it on a national level.”
The events that took place in Samawah, Iraq, changed the course of the Babins’ lives forever. But as Rosie frequently reminds herself, “Although the wounds of war are deep, they need not define who we are, nor what our lives will become.”