News: Remarkable resilience. Soldier fiercely battles back from injuries
Story by Sgt. Samuel Northrup
HARKER HEIGHTS, Texas -- It was Aug. 26, 2011 and Sgt. Paul Podhorn, a cavalry scout with Troop C, 6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, was deployed in Iraq. He started the day with a call to his wife on Skype.
The internet was in and out and he was not able to say goodbye. He proceeded out to his truck to prepare for his mission.
When he was ready, he headed out with his troops.
The mission, at first, seemed to be going all too well. It was then that Podhorn and his team realized the town was unnaturally quiet. They knew something was about to happen.
What happened next changed his life forever.
Podhorn heard a loud crack. He felt terribly hot and his vision began to tunnel. His environment began closing in around him. The medic began to quickly wrap Podhorn’s head. Podhorn did not realize yet, but he was shot by an enemy sniper.
“I thought I was blacking out from the heat for the first time in Iraq,” Podhorn said. “I did not think that I had been hurt or wounded.”
The doctors at Camp Adder told Podhorn what had happened to him, but he couldn’t comprehend what they were saying. He just couldn’t accept it – he was paralyzed on his right side.
All Podhorn wanted to do was call his wife. He knew she would be worried because he missed their evening call.
“That day I felt like something was wrong, as if something happened,” Karen, Podhorn’s wife, said. “As a spouse, you get that feeling that you know something is wrong.”
Podhorn was eventually able to call Karen and he could tell a huge burden was lifted off her shoulders.
“Once I heard his voice and heard how optimistic he was, I knew that he was going to be ok,” Karen said. “Hearing his voice was the most comforting thing in the world – next to seeing him.”
Podhorn was flown to Germany for further evaluation. While he was there, he was told it could take up to two years before he could walk again, and he may never regain the use of his right hand.
Podhorn was shocked by the news, but he knew he had to be strong for his Family.
Podhorn returned to the United States to start his recovery at the Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, and he was told he would be there for up to a year.
“This was unacceptable to me,” Podhorn stated in an email. “I was, and still am, determined and motivated to recover faster than anyone can predict.”
“In about a week he started walking,” Karen said, happily. “He did not feel sorry for himself. When he is determined to do something, he does it.”
With each step, Podhorn’s confidence grew. Every day he pushed himself a little harder. He wanted to use his right hand, to shave his face and to brush his teeth. He knew he could do it, but that it would just take time.
Podhorn stayed at BAMC for four days before he was transferred to an inpatient rehab facility in Austin. The doctors at the rehab facility told him he would be there for two months. He set his goal for one month, to make it home for his birthday.
Everyday Podhorn set new goals for himself. He would try to give a “thumbs up” one day. Another day he would try to pick jelly beans out of a cup. He would touch each of the fingers of his right hand to his thumb.
These were simple tasks that were difficult for him to perform, but necessary for him to recover quickly.
Twelve days later, Podhorn achieved his goal early when the doctors and occupational therapists agreed he no longer needed to be at the rehab facility.
It has been two years since Podhorn was wounded, and his experience has motivated him to begin a new path in life.
“I’m going to school for occupational therapy,” Podhorn said. “I want to come back and work at the Warrior Transition Brigade. I want to have as much positive impact as possible on my fellow wounded warriors.”
Always showing improvement, Podhorn recently walked a 5-kilometer stretch at Harker Heights Community Park as part of the Texas Sentinels Foundation Warrior 5K Walk, Run or Roll fundraiser.