22 December 2009

In a Christmas miracle, wounded Marine returns home for the holidays

"It's like I'm a famous person or something. I can't believe all of it. But really, I don't understand why people treat me this way. I'm not special. I was just over there doing my job."

- Marine Staff Sgt. John Stanz

Marine Staff Sgt. John Stanz arrives at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport with his mother Sandy and father John by his side Tuesday evening, Dec 15. Photo: Stacy Waite.

A wonderful Christmas story from Kristen Johnson of The Post-Jourmal in Jamestown, NY.
Stanz's homecoming is something of a miracle. Just four short months ago, it wasn't certain whether he'd survive the ambush attack that left him suffering from severe enclosed head trauma, multiple facial fractures, a fractured right hand, a fractured left foot, a dislocated right knee and damage to both of his lungs.

The attack happened Aug. 15, when the vehicle in which he was riding was blown up in an ambush attack by a land-planted improvised explosive device, or IED. At the time of the attack, Stanz was serving with the Marine Special Operations Company F, 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion in Afghanistan.

After the attack, he spent almost two weeks in Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany, the largest American hospital outside the United States. There, doctors placed him in a medically-induced coma and were able to keep the pressure in his brain low enough so he could make the 12-hour flight between Germany and America.

After spending almost a month at Bethesda National Naval Medical Center, Stanz was transferred to Moss Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia.

Doctors were also concerned about the brain damage Stanz sustained in the attack. He has made progress there, too - he has progressed from being unable to communicate to being able to answer yes-or-no questions with gestures to being able to answer open-ended questions and carry on a conversation.

Now that Stanz is home, he will continue outpatient therapy for at least the next year at Erie County Medical Center. But Stanz isn't daunted by the thought of more therapy.

"It doesn't matter," he said. "It's just therapy. I can handle it. 'Bring it on,' that's what I say."

Stanz credited all of the doctors and nurses - but especially the therapists at the Moss Rehabilitation Hospital, with being "just wonderful people."

"Welcome Home Uncle Johnny": Nieces and nephews greet Staff Sgt. Stanz upon his arrival. Photo: Stacy Waite.

His brother, Joe, along with his parents, John and Sandy Stanz - who now live in Hamburg but are formerly of Chapman Street in Jamestown - were at his bedside constantly. Stanz's siblings - sisters Lisa Destro, Stacy Waite and Amy Pavlovich of Hamburg, Tara Archfield of Maryland, Cassie Stanz of Connecticut and Christy Quinter of California, and brother Mike Stanz of Warren, Pa. - have also steadfastly supported their brother.

"You just wouldn't believe it," Stanz said Tuesday. "I mean, I knew I had a great family before all this. But my parents were there every single day from the time I'd wake up until the time I'd fall asleep. They and my siblings proved their love for me over and over and over again. I could never thank them enough."

Asked what he is most looking forward to doing now that he is home, Stanz paused for a moment and said he ''can't wait to eat dinner with my family.''

"I want to have Christmas dinner with my family and all the kids," he said. "I'm home for Christmas and I can't tell you what that means to me. It's going to be so great."

And that's what Christmas is all about, isn't it? God bless this family and all the best to Staff Sgt. Stanz for a full recovery.

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