PHITSANULOK, Thailand – For parents, a child’s first birthday is a landmark event, but for U.S. Army Pacific logistics officer Maj. Bridget Wetzler this milestone holds far more significance than most.
Her special needs daughter, Copper Rose, turned one years old today.
Although Wetzler couldn’t be with her daughter in person, she celebrated the joyous day across the globe with nearly 400 other special needs children Feb. 18 in Phitsanulok, Kingdom of Thailand.
Wetzler’s daughter was born with Trisomy 18, a diagnosis which generally means a child may not make it to birth, let alone celebrate a first birthday.
“When she was born, we weren’t sure what was wrong,” said Wetzler. “We thought maybe it was irregular growth restriction, and it took the doctors 18 days to do a genetic test. They let us know that she is a Trisomy 18 baby, which is a chromosomal disorder. Most people know about Down syndrome (Trisomy 21), and my daughter is 18. As you go down with the number of a chromosomal disorder, the effects become progressively worse, and life expectancy is shortened.”
While deployed in support of Exercise Cobra Gold 2014, she found a special way to commemorate this extraordinary day.
“I was able to spend her birthday with kids who appreciate people who want to be with them and love them, just like Copper Rose,” said Wetzler, managing a smile veiled by the tears beginning to well in her eyes.
“Today is a milestone,” she continued. “Doctors say children with Trisomy 18 are incompatible with life, and few make it through the first year. But Copper Rose smiles, she laughs, and when you walk in the room, you just smile when you see her. When she smiles, you can’t help but feel alive. She is an incredible child.”
U.S. Army Col. Don Holdridge, the chaplain with Special Operations Pacific, and Maj. Herb Franklin, the chaplain with operations, U.S. Army Pacific, arranged the outreach event as part of CG 14, a multinational annual exercise hosted by the Thai and U.S. militaries in Thailand.
Wetzler, along with a joint multinational group of Thai and U.S. military members, painted the Panyanukaul School for Children with Special Needs in Phitsanulok province and interacted with the nearly 400 students from four different provinces in northern Thailand.
“This is an opportunity for us to connect with the local community,” said Franklin. “To partner with them, not just for the exercise, but to reach out and give them something to say ‘thank you for the hospitality you’ve shown us,’” said Franklin.
“This was a wonderful way for [Wetzler)]to celebrate her daughter’s birthday, and for us to share that with her,” continued Franklin. “It’s beautiful the way that coming out here not only connects people and communities during an exercise, but also to what is going on with people’s lives and families [back home].”
When not deployed, Wetzler is a petroleum and water branch chief with G-4, logistics, USARPAC, at Fort Shafter, Hawaii, and her husband takes care of their daughter full time.
“I have an incredible husband,” she said. “I am very blessed that he stays at home.”
Copper Rose receives additional care and support from the Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii.
“We have two nurses that come to the house, one through the Exceptional Family Member Program,” said Wetzler. “It’s incredibly helpful as it has been a little hard having an extra special child. Tripler has so much support in place, it’s helpful, and my boss is very supportive as well.”
Wetzler attributes her strength and motivation to her mother and grandmother.
“My mother and my grandmother raised me to be strong women,” said Wetzler. “No matter what happens, you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep on going. Have the faith that things are going to get better.”
“Up until I gave birth to Copper Rose, I never really understood enjoying the moment, but with her you enjoy every moment of life,” continued Wetzler. “We have almost lost her a couple of times; thinking that was the last time we had with her. She has made me appreciate every breath, every moment, it’s magnified.”
“Sharing her special day with other kids was perfect,” added Wetzler. “What better way to spend her birthday, if I can’t be with her, than to share the day with kids like her that are so happy. You just want to hug them and dance with them, it just made me so happy.”
Happy Birthday Copper Rose!