U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Patrick Zeigler has been on several tours in recent years, although perhaps not the ones he's expected. After being shot four times, including once in the head, during a shooting at Fort Hood in November 2009, Patrick was still fighting for his life when he traveled to Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus. Veterans, law enforcement officials and well-wishers greeted him with a hero's welcome, escorting him on the final leg of his journey after his fiancée (now his wife), Jessica, worked to get him transferred to Mayo Clinic.
He returned to Rochester in 2011, back in the driver's seat as part of a Ride 2 Recovery tour. In 2012, he was a special guest faculty member with Jessica at Mayo's Brain Injury Conference. And in 2014, he traveled with Mayo's 150th Anniversary mobile exhibit, sharing his story of survival and the role that his Mayo Clinic care team played in it.
Earlier this month, Patrick was on the road again and was one of 47 Fort Hood survivors to receive the distinguished Purple Heart medal during a ceremony at Fort Hood. "This is definitely a high point in the ride, and it's kind of smooth sailing from here," he told Rochester's KTTC-TV of receiving the award. "I don't have to be afraid anymore ... I can say, 'Hey, that chapter is now closed, and we're going to move forward now and we're going to try our best not to look back.'"
His journey hasn't been without difficulties. Last May, Jessica told KARE-11 TV that anyone who's ever dealt with a devastating brain injury like Patrick's knows there are many challenges. "I think it's harder than people see," she tells the station. And while it's not always pleasant to talk, or even think, about the harsh realities and long-term effects of Patrick's injuries, she says it's important to discuss them. "We're not setting people with brain injuries up for success if we're not talking about the unpleasant things," she says, to balance what otherwise might be perceived as a "storybook ending."
But the Zeiglers say they likely wouldn't have had a chance to share any of it had it not been for Patrick's care team at Mayo, who he and Jessica have both credited with saving his life. "They really showed me a lot of love and respect here," Patrick's says of his treatment and rehab at Mayo. "And the feeling is mutual now."
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