Jay Wilkerson


Hometown: El Sobrante, CA
Age: 41
Date of Injury: 3/28/2006
Hospital: Walter Reed Army Medical Center; Ward 7-D & Menlo Park Division, Palo Alto Veterans' Administration Hospital
Rank: Staff Sergeant, US Army - a gunner & tactical driver, tactical commander & scout
Unit: Multinational Security (Transition) Command, Baghdad, Iraq
Date deployed to Iraq: April, 2004
Location of Injury: Baghdad
List of Injuries: Severe traumatic brain injury, short-term and long-term memory problems, nerve damage on left side of face, multiple injuries to the left side of body: jaw bone offline, left hand index & thumb fingers do not bend.

My Story
Right now, I'm at the Palo Alto Veterans Administration Hospital in their brain injury rehabilitation unit. My routine these days consists of going to therapy everyday, and working on my cognitive and memory skills.

And also they help me with multi-tasking because I have a hard time doing that. I can only concentrate on one thing, and that's it. And they've been helping me with that for a whole year now.

And it's a hard struggle for me. Because what I had to learn how to do was to talk--see I stutter now. I--I never used to do that. And now I have to learn how to concentrate on talking, how to get dressed and how to feed myself, and try to put back all these pieces that are missing. So that's every day.

And it's real frustrating if you're a grown adult who's supposed to be in the prime of their lives now. But I'm not because of my brain injury.

And you feel like you're a six-year-old in a man's body. And when I'm around crowds of people, it scares me because I hear all these conversations, and I don't know if it's towards me or what. So it's frustrating. It's the detail stuff that really can make you just feel like you're nothing.

When I first got here I was a hundred and forty-something pounds. And now I'm up to 183. So that has really helped me a lot. Plus, I'm starting to exercise more. Also they have driving courses you can take. And they test you in everything. I don't have a car right now, but I've been cleared to drive, and I could take the bus now if I want to go to the store I could get on the bus and everything. So that's exciting for me now, to actually do something on my own instead of having my family drive me around.

So they've given me more freedom now to actually be my own person. And you never know how hard that is until it's been taken away from you. They said I could get my own place, but it's gotta be close to the VA hospital, so I can come back and forth to therapy. So that's exciting to just be my own person again.

And I like to write poems. I like to express how I feel every day. That helps me. I going to try to take some college courses online. ‘Cause I don't know if I could handle the classroom environment. So, I could start on-line doing classes, and then if I feel more confident I could probably go into a classroom.

I'd like to try to write a book about how I feel about how it was over there in Iraq, and the people there, and the fear you have over there, because everybody would smile at you, but they hated you at the same time. And it was so weird, you know, it was a weird feeling.

Plus I got two to kids who look up to me and that's my motivation for not just giving up, and just saying forget it, you know. They keep me going. My kids call me every day, and see how I'm doing, which is kinda weird because, I'm the parent. But they call me to make sure I'm okay. [LAUGHS]

What I've found is that every time you're shedding any tears about anything it actually helps you feel like you care about yourself, like you're getting better, and are being successful. So that helps me. Because I never used to cry before, 'cause I'm a soldier. But, I see that it actually helps you.

UPDATE: Jay will be receiving the Bronze Star award on September 6, 2007 at the V.A. hospital in Palo Alto, CA.

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