KUWAIT - There are many heroes among us in the 35th Combat Aviation Brigade; as with many American soldiers, we are amongst the few who take the stand to protect our American way of life and the liberties we have back at home. A hero is someone who inspires you, someone who protects you, someone who has disguised courage or abilities; it is a title not to be taken lightly.
But have you ever wondered who are our heroes?
We all have a person in our lives, which have proven to be stronger, more courageous, more determined and more inspiring than any other person we know. This is a story of a heroine, Olivia Grace Wise of St. Charles, Mo.
She has all those qualities of a hero - and then some - and oh by the way, she is only 11 years old. What makes her a hero, you ask? Take this journey into the life of this amazing little girl.
Olivia was your all-American girl next door: active in soccer, did well in school and had a healthy social life. In May 2011, all that changed when Olivia was diagnosed with C4-Complete Immune Deficiency.
“This means her immune system doesn’t recognize certain invaders, it kills the good and the bad,” said Kelley Wise, Olivia’s mother. “We always knew something wasn't quite right. She would get sick off and on, starting with unknown rashes, unknown bruising, high fevers, and [her] lymph nodes would swell. She had trouble digesting almost everything. We tried taking her off certain foods, treating the symptoms. However, after constantly battling infections, things became much worse; she no longer was able to even do the things that she loved. Suddenly there was no more soccer, no bike rides, no sleepovers, and worst of all she wasn't healthy enough, for long enough, to even go to school.”
In the midst of working through the diagnosis and the routine of treatments called intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG), the family suffered a loss within the family. Kelley’s mother, also her best friend, passed away in an unfortunate accident.
“After my mom passed, Liv was very sad; her world was turned upside down. All of our lives were,” said Wise.
Olivia and mom had a conversation about all the hardships they were facing, and trying to understand why this was happening to them. Out of that conversation, Olivia’s inner strength shined, she decided not to feel sorry for herself. She wanted to do something that would not only help her and her family, but others as well; working with another soccer mom, they organized their first blood drive.
The blood drive was a way for people to give and pay it forward for Olivia’s treatments, but also for other sick adults and children that are in need of blood.
“We had over 50 people come over a holiday weekend, 50 units of blood given that day. During a storm, people came out of the woodworks, we ran out of supplies,” said Wise. “The blood drive lifted her spirits; Olivia always finds a reason to smile, even through the worst of times in her life.”
Meanwhile, Olivia’s cousin Chief Warrant Officer Chad Temple, an AH-64D Apache pilot found out about his cousin’s illness and her courage, while deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom – Kuwait with 3rd Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment (Attack).
“Something was really bothering me, I just knew something wasn’t right, I woke at 4 a.m., sent an email and called my St. Louis family,” said Temple. “I wanted to do something to bring joy to Olivia’s life, something to keep her motivated while she was struggling with these major life changes.”
There is a tradition to name aircraft, which was very popular in the Army Air Corps during World War II; it’s a tradition that is associated with the warrior’s desire to decorate their instruments of war. Temple wanted to bring awareness to the illness and give a distinguished tribute to Olivia, by naming one of their Apaches in her honor.
“There was a wonderful coincidence, said Temple. “Olivia’s number for soccer was three and now we’ve got an aircraft, no. 553, which ends with three flying with her name on the side.”
Her inaugural flight was at a firing range with Temple and Chief Warrant Officer Jeffery Wedgewood flying with a mission success of all targets destroyed.
“She shot beautifully, absolutely beautifully,” said Wedgewood. “The bird had no problems with flight and her shot was right on target.”
Please find the video of the dedication at http://youtu.be/Gk04zX3I-Ok.
In addition, to Olivia Grace aircraft joining the fleet of warriors in the sky, the soldiers also collected money to buy Olivia an iPad - with the understanding of the family’s financial constraints due to cost of treatment and the countless medical bills.
“Through all of this Chad has been in the background, lifting her spirits in such amazing ways. Thank you is not even the right words. I am speechless by what this group of men have done, her face lit up when she got the iPad. She uses it every day. She sits at the hospital with it. Totally gets her through a lot, she loves music,” said Wise. “She was simply speechless, when it showed up and then the helicopter. What do you say to something so amazing? We are incredibly touched by everyone's kindness.”
As the family moves forward, the medical bills continue to climb as they discovered their health insurance would not cover the costs of the treatments.
“While dealing with all of this, our bills were piling up, not only from now but from the past two years before she was diagnosed,” said Wise. The family was yet plagued with another hurdle, they lost their home. “We had no choice; the mortgage company would not work us with any longer. We had to make a choice; my house is just a roof. My child's health is my life.”
Since Kelley’s father was now alone, after being married for 40 years, he told Kelley he wanted her family to live with him. Their next chapter starts as they move from their home of 11 years and move forward with Olivia’s treatments.
“Her brothers are going to a new school and having to make new friends, yet they have not made one complaint. They [the three kids] have seen us sell everything we own to help pay for Olivia. We have just about sold everything to raise money to pay for things not only medical but all the kids needs. I have amazing kids,” said Wise.
As of right now Olivia is getting through day by day. There is the Immune Deficiency Foundation to help bring awareness to the disorder; however, Olivia needs blood, so she can continue to be treated.
“Some days are so much harder than others but when you see her smile. It's all worth it, if she can smile anyone can,” said Wise. “I know everyday how lucky we are to have her, to make us realize you have to slow down enjoy the kisses and hugs. We don't always get a second chance.”
Olivia is a hero and warrior to so many people. She has inspired people all over the globe, through others sharing her story.
“Olivia is one of my heroes, absolutely. The things she goes through on a daily basis, I can’t even find the words,” said Temple. “She is pretty special.”
It says so much about her spirit that she has stepped up to the plate to fight this with all her might, but at the same time, inspiring so many to not take life for granted with so much grace and hope in times of uncertainty and desperation.
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