Moving Forward with Independence: Tom Garey
Tom Garey is a Texas native that always dreamed of joining the military and serving his country. While in college he fulfilled that dream by enlisting in the Air Force and was initially stationed at Anderson AFB in Guam before being deployed to Operation Desert Storm the day after Christmas in 1990.
Tom would eventually leave the Air Force after seven years of patriotic service, and continued to live his life doing what he loved: fishing, beach-going, and traveling. Like most veterans, Tom forged strong bonds and friendships with the men and women that he served with. When asked what key takeaway he received from his time in the military, he said, "Brotherhood. I'm still in contact with several people from the military and consider them my brothers. They were there for me while we were in the military and are there to support me now.”
In 2016 Tom was diagnosed with ALS. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a neurodegenerative disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Sadly, there is no cause or treatment for the disease. Studies show Military personnel is twice as likely to be diagnosed with ALS than Civilians.
"…If you serve in the military, regardless of the branch of service, regardless of whether you served in the Persian Gulf War, Vietnam, Korea, or World War II, and regardless of whether you served during a time of peace or a time of war, you are at a greater risk having ALS than if you had not served in the military.” – The ALS Association
Tom’s life changed after the diagnosis. "We didn’t even know about the disease when I was first diagnosed,” Tom said. "One beneficial resource would have been the VA if we knew how to navigate it.” After Tom’s diagnosis, his family’s life turned upside down- He slowly lost the functionalities of his body as his wife and son soon had to start taking care of him. Tom lost the ability to walk on the beach, travel, and attend his son’s baseball games. Amidst a journey of unparalleled difficulty, Tom then received a gift: a full mobility Track Chair.
Moving Forward with Independence
"The Independence Fund graciously provided me with a Track Chair, which is a wheelchair on tank tracks," says Tom. The Track Chair that was given to Tom was a part of the Mobility Program. The Mobility Program provides disabled veterans the chance to get back outside so that they can enjoy the outdoors through a variety of devices that include all-terrain wheelchairs and adaptive bicycles. Tom was a recipient on one of those Track Chairs, which lead to an improvement in his day-to-day life. Tom can now once again go out and fish, he can maneuver through the sand at the beach, and he can travel without worrying about terrain. As a father, one of the most important freedoms that he has regained is his ability to go to his son’s baseball practices and games.
Tom and his family are examples of strength. They are the loved ones that stick by his side. Tom’s wife, Laura, had this to say about Tom and his chair, "Once he sat in his track-chair there was no stopping him. We now go on an almost nightly stroll and roll around the neighborhood and tend to have neighborhood kids walk with us."
"...we have approached the situation head on. We have kept a good sense of humor and worked as a team to overcome any obstacle."
Tom still battles ALS every day, but with the help and support of his family, friends, and Independence Fund community, certain tasks that were once impossible are now a part of his everyday life. "The journey has been difficult," says Tom. "However, we have approached the situation head on. We have kept a good sense of humor and worked as a team to overcome any obstacle."
Often people stop and ask Tom about his track chair and he takes the opportunity to tell his story. He encourages them to look up The Independence Fund and take action to impact another veteran's life through a mobility chair. If you'd like to help ensure veteran's like Tom are given needed assistance, care, and support, make a donation to our Mobility Program today.
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