For Brad Ivanchan, joining the Marines was a natural choice after high school. “School never interested me much but I got by with average grades. My real passion was sports and I pretty much played every sport I could depending on the season. Soccer, baseball, hockey, rugby, and football. My grandfather fought in the Pacific during WW2 and he was someone I had always looked up to. Other kids my age were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.” So on his 19th birthday, Brad joined the Marines and after boot camp, trained as a machine gunner.
In Iraq in 2009, Brad was a turret gunner providing escort security for an explosive ordinance disposal team. He went on to become a machine gun team leader in Southeast Asia before earning the rank of Corporal in 2012 and becoming a squad leader in Afghanistan for Weapons Platoon with 12 Marines under his command, carrying out combat foot patrols in Helmand Province.
It was during an evening patrol that disaster struck. “On the night of June 13th 2012, my squad of 10 men and an interpreter were tasked with conducting a night patrol just to the south of our base. While we were returning, I stepped on a pressure plate for a 15 lb improvised explosive device (IED). It immediately amputated my right leg below the knee and basically shredded my left leg up to my lower thigh. My left arm and hand were also mangled. While trying to recover me and provide first aid, two other members of my squad triggered a secondary IED about 15 feet from my head. This resulted in multiple casualties, wounding half the squad with fragmentation wounds, brain injuries, and amputations. Unfortunately, it also resulted in the death of my friend Cpl. Taylor Baune. The heroic actions of the squad after the second blast are the only reason I am here today.”
Brad was stabilized in Germany and sent to Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego where he had 6 surgeries to rebuild his left hand and clean out multiple bacterial infections in both legs.
“This was undoubtedly the hardest period of my life. To go from a 23-year-old healthy, athletic guy to having to depend on a team of people just to bathe and go to the bathroom was initially devastating to me. I was also mourning the loss of life and injuries of the other men in my squad who I felt responsible for.”
Brad’s parents took leave from their jobs and went to San Diego to help his recovery. “My mom and dad would take shifts sleeping in my hospital room every night. My dad would stay the nights my pain got really bad. I can remember screaming to the point of tears some nights and there would be nothing the medical staff could do because I had exceeded my morphine allotment. My dad would sit by my bed and squeeze my hand, repeating the Lord’s Prayer over and over again in my ear. I could tell he felt helpless and in these moments he still saw me as his little boy. He didn’t know what else to do so his Catholic upbringing kicked in. It helped me more than he knew.”
A big turning point for Brad was when his case manager told him about other patients who had injuries similar to his. “They were out surfing and climbing mountains. One of them, Mark Zambon, even climbed Kilimanjaro. This reassured me that this injury was not the end of my life and would only define the rest of my life if I let it.” Then, Brad met Tim Medvets, who became a mountain climber after a devastating motorcycle accident and went on to help wounded veterans learn to climb. “Something about being back in danger again would reassure me that I wasn’t a helpless crippled person. I started walking three months after my injury, and five months after that Tim and I climbed Mt. Aconcagua together. I became the first double amputee in history to do so, thus officially proving to myself that my life is not defined by my injury.”
Today, Brad lives in a small home that isn’t set up for someone in a wheelchair. “The house is very small (750 sq ft) and not on a level lot. So to get anywhere outside the house or even to the washing machine there are steps or stairs. The bathroom is so tight that I can’t turn a wheelchair in it and have to back out of it the same way I pulled in. The only parking is on the street. Because of all these issues I have had several falls in the house. Although none of them were too bad, I know that I am only getting older and that won’t always be the case. If there were a period when I couldn’t use my prosthetics I would most likely be restricted to the home because there is no real plausible way to leave without prosthetics.”
“Being awarded a smart home would be a life changing event for me. I would no longer have to worry about accessing certain areas of my house. The simple reassurance to know you have a place that you can grow old in and raise a family in without worrying about all the ‘what if’s’: What if I have to get another surgery and can’t walk in prosthetics? What if I need to leave the house in my wheelchair or if there is an emergency or fire? All these things take a toll on you mentally and physically. Overall, it would allow me to live life to as close to normal as possible.”
The Gary Sinise Foundation looks forward to designing a home for Brad where he can grow old, start a family, and live free from the worry about safely accessing all the parts of his home, inside and out.