“So this is what the rest of my backyard looks like!”
Wounded Veteran Receives New Tracked Wheelchair from Hotes Foundation.
For 12 years retired US Army Corporal Jonathan Merchant hadn’t ventured into his backyard. Confined to a conventional wheelchair, the furthest he could go was a narrow strip of concrete just off his patio. Resigned to the situation, he thought that’s how it would always be, until earlier this month when three volunteers from the Hotes Foundation showed up at his house in Burleson, Texas, with a brand new track chair.
The Hotes Foundation is delivering 100 track chairs to qualifying veterans. Jonathan is the 75th recipient. Not wasting a moment, the Hotes volunteers helped Jonathan into his chair and then watched as he fearlessly climbed over the curb on the sidewalk in front of his house. Nodding his head in approval, he spun around, bumped back down over the curb and back up again. Turning to face the volunteers, you could see a dawning realization. "Would you guys accompany me,” he asked them, “while I go see my back yard for the first time?" And almost before they could answer, Jonathan turned the corner into his yard, fixed his eyes on the barn at the far end of the yard, and put his chair into gear.
In 1999 Jonathan was back from Bosnia and on leave from Fort Hood when the car he was a passenger in rolled multiple times. Jonathan broke his neck in three places and suffered a T-5 and T-6 spinal cord injury. As a result he has full paralysis of the legs and partial paralysis down his arms and fingers. He was 9 months in a VA hospital recovering and going through rehab. What most people don't realize is that release from official rehab is only the beginning of the recovery process for injured veterans.
“I had to learn how to do everything all over again,” he said. “I couldn’t move my right arm at all when I got hurt.”
Jonathan made it through the recovery process, and took the incredible extra step of learning to do everything with no caretaker at home. He now lives alone in a home in Central Texas. Despite his incredible progress, Jonathan, like many injured vets, continues to miss the simple things in life. “Going camping,” he says, “Or sometimes my friends go out to the lake to go fishing and I’ll be like, ‘Oh man, I can’t go. I’d get my chair stuck.’”
“This is going to bring up a whole bunch of opportunities,” Jonathan told the volunteers. “I’ll be able to enjoy life. I’ll be able to go play with the kids at my church, hang out with the youth.”
Jonathan has even bigger plans. “I’m really into shooting,” he says, “and I know there’s a device you can attach to this, so I’ll go hunting with my friends, I’ll do that.”
Before any of that happens, Jonathan has a more intimate trip planned.
“I think I might go explore the rest of my backyard,” he says.
Jonathan served 3 ½ years in the Army. We thank you for your service Jonathan, and thank you for being an example for other injured veterans struggling to gain back their freedom.