Project Hero: "Miracle Man" Posted by: McQ
on Saturday, June 21, 2008
Here's a story of courage. Indomitable courage. But the type of courage of which we all too often don’t spend the time it deserves talking about. That’s because it is a quiet courage that comes in the face of overwhelming odds and is usually dealt with out of the sight of others. It is a courage that comes of character and heart.
On April 11th 2008, a Marine Sergeant died unexpectedly while undergoing surgery in San Antonio, Texas.
The Marine had been stationed at Camp Pendleton, and Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, knowing the Marine’s story, announced that the state Capitol’s flags would be flown at half-staff in his honor, saying the sergeant’s “courage and unfailing loyalty serve as an inspiration to Americans everywhere.”
What was the courage Gov. Schwarzenegger was talking about as he referred to Marine Sergeant Merlin German? Who was Sgt. German?
The son of immigrants and born in New York City, he joined the United States Marine Corps in 2003 after his high school graduation. He was proud to be a Marine, and had risen to the rank of Lance Corporal in the two years he’d been with them.
On February 20, 2005, while on patrol, an IED exploded underneath LCpl German's humvee in Fallujah. He was blown out of the turret but he was on fire. After some very brave Marines got to him and put the fire out on their buddy, Merlin was left with 3rd degree burns over 97% of his body. The soles of his feet and the top of his head were the only areas not burned.
As most of you know, no one has survived burns that extensive. The shock to the body is so overwhelming that it simply shuts down. The end is almost inevitable. That was an accepted truth before Merlin German came along. He refused to let his body shut down and he fought for his life with a will and a strength that amazed all who came into contact with him.
Dr. Evan Renz, a critical-care surgeon who treated German said, “This young man was clearly showing us signs he was going to fight through this from the very first minute. There was consensus he was going to be the someone who would probably break some of the previous expectations about survivability. If someone was going to survive, he was going to be that individual. He beat all odds and then on top of that continued to serve as an inspiration and motivator for others.
Burns are a horribly painful injury to treat. They require a treatment called debriding, in which the damaged tissue is literally scraped away daily to allow the new tissue to form. German underwent that for over 17 months at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.
Doctors removed his burn wounds and covered him with artificial and cadaver skin. They also harvested small pieces of German's healthy skin, shipping them off to a lab where they were grown and sent back.
Doctors took skin from the few places he wasn't burned: the soles of his feet, the top of his head and small spots on his abdomen and left shoulder.
Once those areas healed, doctors repeated the task. Again and again.
In all, he underwent over 100 surgeries, amputations and grafts. He learned to live with pain, to stare at a stranger's face in the mirror. He learned to smile again, to joke, to make others laugh.
At Brooke, he designed a T-shirt that he sometimes sold, sometimes gave away. On the front it read: "Got 3% chance of survival, what ya gonna do?" The back read, "A) Fight Through, b) Stay Strong, c) Overcome Because I Am a Warrior, d) All Of The Above." D is circled.
German was often asked by hospital staff to motivate other burn patients when they were down or just not interested in therapy.
"I'd say, 'Hey, can you talk to this patient?' ... Merlin would come in ... and it was: Problem solved," says Sgt. Shane Elder, his therapist. "The thing about him was there wasn't anything in the burn world that he hadn't been through. Nobody could say to him, 'You don't understand."'
After 17 months, with the help of the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, Sgt. German and his family moved into their new home in San Antonio.
The donors of IMSFF helped the German family with a handicap van, helped Merlin's mom and dad afford to stay at his bedside keep their home in the Dominican Republic and they purchased a mattress recommended by his physical therapist. They also helped with furniture for a temporary apartment and provided great assistance with Merlin's new house.
More than a year after Sgt. Merlin German nearly died in a roadside bombing in Iraq, his hands burned into nubs and his body in a wheel chair, he resolved to walk into his San Antonio church on his own two feet.
His mother, Lourdes German, who had been “his hands and feet” since that day in February 2005, worried but knew it would be so. “Everything he did, he did himself,” Mrs. German, said. “That parish was just overjoyed. The pastor even stopped preaching to welcome Merlin.”
At this point in the story, you’re saying to yourself,” what a phenomenal young man.” He beat the longest odds you can imagine, did it with courage and grace and, as Dr. Renz said, inspired others during his ordeal.
But that wasn’t enough for Merlin German. The young man who had willed himself out of his wheelchair and onto his feet so he could walk into church had more work to do.
Known by those who treated him as “Miracle Man”, Merlin German had a vision to help burned children and their families. He wanted the foundation to be named “Merlin’s Miracles”. Sgt. German understood how critical the support he’d received from charities like the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund and Soldier’s Angels had been to his recovery, and he wanted to provide the same type of support for children who were burn victims.
The donations would be used to assist burned children and their families to take vacations, trips, outings or anything the families needed to make life a little easier. Merlin loved to travel and knew how difficult it was for him to endure long lines at amusement parks or the frustration of not being able to do certain things because of the heat or being able to go to certain places because of special transportation needed.
It was his dream to be able to grant these families their wishes no matter what the request was. The grants would not be limited to trips and outings but also to help the families in their own homes to make it more comfortable for the burn children.
And so was born, Merlin’s Miracles - dedicated to making life easier for burned children.
Someone said the measure of a life is not how long one has lived, but what that person has done with the time they had. Sgt. Merlin German was given 22 years on this earth. And with that 22 years he touched more lives than most do in 3 times that number. He redefined courage. He gave dignity and grace new meaning. He showed us what a caring spirit was and he very beautifully demonstrated that when put to the test, the human spirit can be a very hard thing to defeat.
I met Sgt. German many times on the burn ward at BAMC(ISR). Even had a chance to speak to his parents at the Fischer House. Good folks. And the day he passed I never saw so many tears. Every nurse and medic I saw saw had tears in their eyes. His passing was just such a terrible shock after the months of surgeries and recovery. And he was looking so much better.
Sgt. German was a great guy. We would joke about if California was better than New York as I am from California and he was from New York. We were in the same unit in Iraq. He was my roomate for a while as well. More importantly, he was my brother in arms and fellow marine. God bless you German and my your spirit live on and guide Marines into battle. You have touched many peoples lives and had an incredible impact on all who ran across your path.