A disabled veteran is living a better life thanks to his Labrador guide dogs.
Michael Jernigan says he has gained more than he lost.
Jernigan lost his eyesight and part of his brain in Iraq in 2004 but thanks to two Labradors, Brittani and Treasure, his life is much better today.
Former Marine corporal Jernigan was on patrol with four others on Aug. 22, 2004 on the outskirts of Mahmudiyah when a roadside bomb ripped into their Humvee. The tragic incident killed one soldier and injured most of the rest. Jernigan was thrown 60 feet from the gun turret.
He suffered severe injuries and had to undergo more than 30 surgeries. Southeastern Guide Dogs Inc. reached out to Jernigan’s mom and told her they would have a dog for her son when he needed one.
Surgeons had to remove both eyes, the front of his brain and his forehead – leaving the rest of his brain supported by titanium mesh. His left kneecap was also fractured, and his right hand had to be fixed.
The pain and the ordeal were tough, but according to Jernigan the hardest part of all was being alone. Jernigan lost his confidence, hopes, dreams and independence. He couldn’t even go to games to support his favorite team, the Tampa Bay Rays.
Then a Labrador–Golden Retriever mix named Brittani became his “battle buddy.” The Labrador mix boosted his confidence and independence. The guide dog helped him forget his disabilities and concentrate on his capabilities, he said.
Jernigan and Brittani got a history degree together and even went to the ballpark. The veteran is still learning to get used to large crowds again and Brittani has helped him control anxiety attacks caused by PTSD.
One day when they got caught in a huge crowd and Jernigan became “frazzled”, Brittani immediately went to work.
The dog “started hitting my hand with her cold, wet nose,” Jernigan shared. “I started petting her neck. She was wagging her tail and kissing my face. She realized I was at my breaking point and stopped me and helped me release all that tension to get me to a better place.”
Sadly, Brittani had to retire early this year and is now living with Jernigan’s friend. It took several months to find a replacement who could match Brittani’s speed, gait and size. Then they found a yellow Labrador named Treasure.
“Brittani was the longest and most successful female relationship I have ever had,” Jernigan joked.
The veteran shares that no one can ever replace Brittani.
“It doesn’t mean Treasure won’t have a tremendous impact on my life; just different,” he said.
After training with Treasure for 26 days on Southeastern’s campus, Jernigan graduated in August and has since begun a new chapter of his life.
It was only in the last two or three years that he started to understand how amazing his recovery was.
“What I have been able to accomplish post-recovery is amazing, unbelievable,” he said. “It wasn’t too many years ago I thought I might have to live in a nursing home having somebody take care of me.”
In some ways, “getting blown up was the best thing that ever happened to me because it changed the trajectory of my life. Before, I was a failed student. Wounded, I made a comeback and am a better son now than before,” he said.
Now, Jernigan is writing a book, organizing a motivational speaking tour and working at Southeastern.
“If you used one word to describe Michael it would be inspirational,” said Titus Herman, Southeastern’s CEO. “The fact that he has found the commitment and courage to create a life of meaning is inspirational to all of us. We are in awe of his accomplishments. He pushes all of us to try harder.”
Source: Reading Eagle