Injured soldier pushes to recover, build a home for his family
Alice Todd, right, holds the gate open for her husband, Army Spc. Calvin Todd, of Deerfield, following a portrait in their back yard on Tuesday, July 9, 2013. Todd was deployed as a combat medic to Afghanistan and was in the Kandahar Province on October 4, 2012 when he stepped on an IED. He said he was rushing to help aid other soldiers who were hit by a separate IED when the blast caused him to lose his lower left leg and suffer a traumatic brain injury. Todd was on leave for the past week, but heads back to Bethesda, Maryland where he is going through physical training at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. His wife Alice Todd is hoping to raise money to adapt a home to be more accessible for his needs.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
Army Spc. Calvin Todd, of Deerfield, poses for a portrait with his mother Debra and father Mark Todd at their home on Tuesday, July 9, 2013. Todd was deployed as a combat medic to Afghanistan and was in the Kandahar Province on October 4, 2012 when he stepped on an IED. He said he was rushing to help aid other soldiers who were hit by a separate IED when the blast caused him to lose his lower left leg. Todd was home in Deerfield with his family on Tuesday, July 9, 2013, and on leave for the past week, but heads back to Bethesda, Maryland where he is going through physical training at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. His wife Alice Todd is hoping to raise money to adapt a home to be more accessible for his needs.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
Army Spc. Calvin Todd, of Deerfield, and his wife Alice, left, play with their son, Angus, 10 months, on the front steps of their home on Tuesday, July 9, 2013. Todd was deployed as a combat medic to Afghanistan and was in the Kandahar Province on October 4, 2012 when he stepped on an IED. He said he was rushing to help aid other soldiers who were hit by a separate IED when the blast caused him to lose his lower left leg and suffer a traumatic brain injury. Todd was on leave for the past week, but heads back to Bethesda, Maryland where he is going through physical training at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. His wife Alice Todd is hoping to raise money to adapt a home to be more accessible for his needs.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
On Oct. 4 of last year, two weeks after the birth of his first child, Army Spc. Calvin Todd stepped on a makeshift bomb hidden in a field in southern Afghanistan. It was early afternoon and Todd, a combat medic, was rushing to treat a group of wounded soldiers. The device exploded, tossing his body into the air.
When he landed, time seemed to slow. He searched around and realized where he was. His medical training kicked in and he started to assess the damage to his body, touching his arms, his head, his torso. He reached for his legs and felt blood. His left foot and ankle appeared mangled, some parts blown off, others twisting in abnormal directions.
“The first thing I said was, ‘My wife is going to kill me,’ ” Todd, 25, recalled yesterday inside his parents’ home in Deerfield, where he was visiting.
Hours later, he woke up in a field hospital in Kandahar province, and a nurse informed him that everything from his left calf down was gone.
In the nine months since, Todd has made what many would call a remarkably swift recovery. He took his first steps on a prosthetic leg the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. By February, he was running on it. A month later, he was playing lacrosse, the sport which he revered and had excelled at throughout high school and college.
Now, Todd and his wife, Alice, who is 24, have set a new goal: to construct a home in central New Hampshire that is outfitted for his injury. Because of recurring pain, swelling and chafed skin, Todd must at times use a wheelchair or crutches to move around. The couple hopes to raise $150,000 online over the next six to nine months
to finance various handicap additions, including widened doorways, uniform hardwood floors, a wheelchair-accessible bathroom, an entry ramp and an emergency exit in the bedroom. Their online page, titled “Adapt, Overcome, Live,” can be accessed through the fundraising site indiegogo.com.
‘What I was getting into’
After graduating from Concord High School in 2006, Todd attended the College of Wooster in Ohio, where he majored in art and played lacrosse. He enlisted his senior year, roughly a year after his younger brother, Tyler, had joined, and completed his basic training a few months after graduating in spring 2010.
The decision wasn’t a shock to Alice, who had also been an art major at Wooster. Much of Todd’s artwork concerned war and the soldiers who have fought them. Todd had also volunteered with veterans, even flying with a World War II veteran to Washington, D.C., and shuttling him to war memorials – part of a program run through the national nonprofit Honor Flight Network. The experience proved transformative.
“I wouldn’t say I knew what I was getting into,” Todd said. “But I think the greater sense of pride and meeting these people and seeing how much the military had affected them and how it’s lasted through their lives, I don’t know, maybe part of me just wanted to feel that camaraderie and family.”
The couple married in 2010, and by the time Todd deployed to Afghanistan in March of last year, Alice was 21∕2-months pregnant.
The first months in Kandahar were relatively quiet, but after about three months, Todd’s unit was moved to a more volatile region. The realities of war arrived quickly – gunfire, blast wounds, fatalities – but Todd learned to repress his emotions.
“When you’re over there, you just flush it,” he said. “You just have to. You can let it bother you for a couple hours, and then when you go to bed you have to flush it because the next day, if you let it get to you, if you don’t pay attention, that could be you.”
Todd’s unit was tasked with locating and destroying improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. On the morning of Oct. 4, he said, while performing a sweep, the group of about 25 American and Afghan soldiers came under heavy fire from Taliban fighters. They were in an alleyway, and he remembers seeing a soldier nearby get shot in the back, though the bullets didn’t pierce his body armor.
The unit fired back and eventually moved into an overgrown field. More gunfire. And then a sergeant up ahead stepped on something, triggering a boom and a cloud of dust. In the moments after, Todd remembers silence, then someone yelling “get up front, get up front.”
“I took off running and made it probably 30 yards and then I stepped and (the IED) hit me in the foot,” he said.
Todd and the sergeant, who was bleeding profusely, were eventually loaded onto a helicopter and airlifted to the field hospital.
“I kind of looked over and saw what was left of his legs,” Todd said. “I just remember grabbing his hand and the medics worked on him the whole time. He lost a lot of blood.”
After waking up from his first surgery and learning of the amputation, Todd was handed a phone. He called Alice but she didn’t answer. He called his father, Mark, who was at work, and told him what happened. Then he phoned his mother, Debra, a school teacher who was also at work.
“He asked me if I was alone, and I said ‘No,’ ” she recalled. “He said, ‘Are you sitting?’ ” I said, ‘What’s wrong?’ I kind of sat down in a chair. . . . After I hung up, the tears started coming. It’s your worst nightmare as a parent, but we kept telling ourselves, you know, he called, he’s alive.”
When he finally reached Alice, she had a similar reaction.
“Every military movie you’ve ever seen, that horrible scene where the sergeant pulls up in the black car and knocks on the door and says that whole, ‘On behalf of a grateful nation’ thing, that goes through your mind,” she said. “And then I realized he’s talking to me and that’s not what’s happening.”
Todd underwent several surgeries in the week that followed, which is typical because doctors often have to treat infections or remove additional bone. He was transported to Germany and then to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. His brother drove through the night from North Carolina to see him. And on the second night, Todd said, after returning from an operation, he finally met his weeks-old son, Angus.
The first month of recovery was a challenge. Todd had suffered a concussion in the blast, and there were residual effects from that. He was having trouble sleeping. His heart rate was irregular at times. And between the surgeries and constant medication, he was losing weight – nearly 40 pounds in the first three weeks, he said.
“It took me about three weeks before I started getting used to it,” he said. “Before I started setting goals and learning to just live with it.”
It helped to be surrounded by a community of fellow soldiers, many of whom knew pain greater than his. One soldier, a quadruple amputee who visited him in his hospital room, left an indelible impression.
“At first you’re in disbelief,” Todd said of having an amputation. “You’re thinking, ‘Oh God, I’m never gonna chase my kid around the yard. I’m never gonna play sports again.’ You don’t know. You’ve had a leg your whole life. And then you see this guy walk through the door, cracking jokes, and it’s, it’s not that bad, it could be a lot worse.”
But perhaps nothing motivated Todd’s recovery more than his son.
“A lot of it had to do with I came home and had a baby,” Todd said. “I thought, you know, I can’t be in a bed, I can’t do this.”
In November, Todd, Alice and Angus moved into a housing complex near the hospital that is for injured soldiers and their families. Todd started attending daily physical therapy sessions and began to gain weight and strength.
There are still struggles. Todd loses energy as the day progresses, often limping because the skin around the injury has worn down. The area routinely swells and shrinks. And there are the phantom foot pains, which he described as “someone’s taking a railroad spike and using a sledgehammer to pound it into your ankle.”
“It’s just an adjustment,” he said. “It’s not the end of the world. Yeah, some things take a little longer, you just have to adapt to it.”
Now, he and Alice hope to settle down. Todd said he would like to find a job coaching lacrosse and eventually teach high school English. He said there are resources for veterans and their families who are trying to purchase or build homes, but they know those are strained.
“There are groups out there that help guys, and we could be helped by them, but (Alice) and I discussed it and, not that we would take away from other people, but there are guys that are a lot more hurt than me,” he said. “And so, instead of clog the system, you know, we figured we could do it ourselves, or reach out to the community around us to do it.”
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)