Military Family Finds Respite with Easter Seals

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In recognition of Military Appreciation Month, Easter Seals Serving DC | MD | VA tells the story of a Wounded Warrior family who found respite through Easter Seals' unique and impactful services.

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“The Respite Program has given us a chance to focus on our relationship. It gives us quality time to spend with each other while knowing Cameron is in a safe environment and enjoying age-appropriate activities.” - MSgt. Joe DesLauriers

On a Saturday morning last summer, MSgt. Joe DesLauriers and his wife, Lisa, spent a few hours watching “The Bourne Legacy” at the White Flint Mall movie theater in North Bethesda, Md. While this may seem like a typical activity to many couples, it is a pure luxury for the DesLauriers family. This little stretch of respite from their everyday reality has become possible through the Military Family Respite Program of Easter Seals Serving DC | MD | VA.

Life changed for the DesLauriers family on Sept. 23, 2011. Joe was serving his fourth deployment to the Middle East, this time in Afghanistan. While working with a three-man explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) team, he stood above an improvised explosive device (IED) that exploded beneath him. Joe lost both legs and most of his left arm.

“It felt like I got hit in the chest with a sledgehammer,” Joe recalled. “I immediately knew what happened. I looked at my arm and just saw white and red. It was my bones, blood and tissue.”

He lost consciousness shortly after his realization and woke up five days later at Walter Reed National Military Center in Bethesda, Md. Lisa was there when he woke up, as well as both sets of parents. At that point, Lisa collected all of her belongings from the couple’s home in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., and moved to Rockville, Md., where they planned to live while Joe rehabilitated and learned to adapt to life with his new prosthetic arm and legs. Joe was discharged from Walter Reed exactly two months after the injury and moved in with Lisa.

Cameron, the couple’s first child, was born two weeks later (Dec. 8, 2011) just two floors above where Joe was staying at Walter Reed. From the beginning, Cameron was an extremely well-behaved baby, according to his proud parents. “It took me a long time to truly realize we had a baby,” said Lisa. “I was so engulfed with what was going on with Joe. I sometimes looked at Cameron and asked ‘Do we get to keep you?’”

However, balancing the recovery of life-altering injuries to a husband and father, along with the responsibilities of caring for a newborn, and temporary relocation can take its toll on a family. After several months, the parents were in need of respite assistance and Easter Seals was able to deliver.

Sgt. Mark Holbert, who had sustained similar injuries to Joe’s, was also rehabilitating at Walter Reed. Mark offered a compelling recommendation for the Easter Seals “Little Warriors” Program, which his daughter Isabelle had been enjoying. The program provides the highest quality early childhood education, intervention and therapy for families of wounded soldiers, allowing service members to focus on their own recovery.

Another tip about Easter Seals services came the family’s way. This one, from the Yellow Ribbon Fund, led the DesLauriers family to the Easter Seals Military Family Respite Program - a service that helps military families and wounded warriors take “time off” from parenting and specialized support for their children with disabilities, helping create a healthy and stable home environment. Although Cameron does not have disabilities, many children in the program do. The inclusive child care helps typically developing children learn more realistic and accurate views about individuals who are developing atypically and develop positive attitudes toward others.

When Cameron was eight months old, Joe and Lisa were finally able to find time to enjoy each other exclusively. They dropped Cameron off at his first Easter Seals Respite event, held at The Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Inter-Generational Center in Silver Spring, with their hearts in their throats.

“I was pretty nervous about the whole situation when I first dropped him off,” said Lisa. “My mind was quickly put at ease. He gets to interact with children his own age. Respite takes the stress off me as a mom to not leave him with a babysitter.”

After the movie, Joe and Lisa returned later that afternoon to see that Cameron had a terrific time. He enjoyed the Hawaiian luau-themed day, complete with games and fun with children, staff and trained volunteers. Volunteers are matched one-on-one with each child to ensure they have the best possible experience.

Since then, Cameron has enjoyed several days with the Respite Program, including a trip to the pumpkin patch, a Valentine’s Day party and a holiday party.

“The Respite Program has given us a chance to focus on our relationship,” said Joe. “It gives us quality time to spend with each other while knowing Cameron is in a safe environment and enjoying age-appropriate activities.”

More than 160 families have been served by the Easter Seals Military Family Respite Program since 2008 and 250 children received assistance in 2012 alone.

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Andy Krauss
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