The firefight broke out on a Friday in Afghanistan on October 12, 2012. Sean Pesce of the 75th Ranger Regiment had just secured the rooftop of a compound in the treacherous Ghanzi Province. What Sean didn’t know was that, only 30 feet away a dark figure was quietly making his way up the steps of the adjacent building with a fully loaded machine gun.
The terrorists put Sean, 21, and his friend, Sgt. Thomas MacPherson, 26, in his sights and extended the barrel of the gun out the 2nd story window. The initial burst blasted Sean to the ground. Sgt. MacPherson lay beside him, dead of his injuries. Sean quickly composed himself and radio’d the enemy’s position. His unit responded quickly and an ‘extremely heavy firefight’ ensued. Amidst the heavy fire, the Rangers dragged Sean’s body to a corner to provide cover for their injured brother.
At the time, the extent of Sean’s injuries were unclear, nobody knew how many times he had been shot or where. Once the enemy was dispatched, Sean’s body was transported to the medics to assess the injuries. Sean was still fully conscious and aware.
Sean had been shot 13 times. He was losing blood fast and needed 6 units of blood immediately. With precious minutes of life remaining, Sean’s unit and the medics improvised an on-the-spot emergency blood donation. His brothers lined up, needle to needle, arm to arm, and began direct infusions to keep Sean alive.
I’m not sure what kind of grit it takes to get shot 13 times and survive, you’d have to dig through more than a few medical journals to find somebody who has. Can you even find space in a body for 13 bullets? I suppose if you tried it would read something like this:
- Gsw hit to the left forearm, left thigh, stomach, left flank, and right flank.
- Spleen and right kidney destroyed.
- Damage to his left kidney and the severed tail of his pancreas.
- The bottom lobes of left and right lungs collapsed.
- Two broken vertebrae, one bullet penetrating the canal causing severe nerve damage.
- Paralyzed from L5 down. Surgeries included spinal fusion, rodding.
- Number of surgeries – too many to count.
I spoke with Sean about what it’s like to wake up and find out you’re paralyzed from the waist down for the first time. “You can’t imagine anybody being ok with it, I wasn’t. It sucked. But you deal with it the best you can, I had an amazing support system. My parents were there when I woke up. My girlfriend basically quit her job and never left my side. My unit visited me when they returned from deployment. Also, I was alive.”
On October 15th, Sean was awarded the Purple Heart.
A new chapter in Sean’s life was about to begin. The complications from his injuries were so extensive, he would be hospitalized for nearly a year. The surgeries came and went. He had 3 vertebrae fused. One rodding surgery extended from his shoulder all the way to his tailbone, T12 to L3. Mobility for Sean was now a wheelchair.
It’s been nearly a year now and Sean still hasn’t returned home. And that’s where theCHIVE enters his story.
Sean will eventually learn to live life on his own but for the foreseeable future he’ll be moving back in with his parents, Dan and Gail. Their home in West Haven, CT, is not currently suitable to accommodate Sean’s special needs. Sean’s Dad and his brothers, Tyler and Kyle, have been committed to retrofitting the home for Sean.
The family started taking inventory of the needed home modifications. Sean would require a special chairlift to help get him up the stairs. Sean needed a bigger bathroom, all the doors in the house needed to be widened – they’re currently too narrow for sean to pass through.
The carpeted floors became an issue. The carpeting needed to be replaced with hardwood and tile to create a smoother surface for Sean to traverse. Even the light switches in the home had to be lowered.
The costs piled up at a dizzying rate. Low estimates put the renovations at $60,000. The family started a grassroots fundraising campaign receiving a $10,000 gift from the Pentagon Credit Union and $7,000 from a t-shirt fundraiser. Sean’s father even withdrew $16,000 from his own 401k. The family founded a Gofundme Page and sent the link to friends and family. After a month, they had managed to collectively raise a commendable $45,000. But the funds dried up there. The remaining $15,000 was so crucial but nowhere to be found.
Sean’s mother Gail was searching for more help to bridge the financial gap. Help came in the form of an anonymous message on Sean’s Facebook Page. An anonymous Chiver gave Sean’s mother a link to Chive Charities Grantee Submissions Page with a note, “Contact these people. They will help you.”
Gail already knew theCHIVE well, “Sean was always talking about how theCHIVE got him through deployment. She had even purchased a Military KCCO for Sean. “It was so funny, the neck label on the KCCO reads, ‘Probably Bulletproof’. When I gave the shirt to Sean he laughed, ‘Where was this shirt when I was on deployment??”
Gail contacted Chive Charities on her son’s behalf. The phone rang a few days later and the initiative to get Sean the help he needed began. Talking with Sean I’m amazed that he carries himself with such humor. He constantly reminds me how much others have helped him get through the ordeal, how much he loves his family and his girlfriend, Zuleyma. Sean seems steadfastly optimistic.
I called Gail early this morning. She still had no idea how much help theCHIVE Fund was going to deliver. We started talking about Sean again. Through it all, Gail has never left her son’s side, “Sean… he’s a stong kid. He shouldn’t be alive, but here he is. Life is getting better.”
I asked Gail how the renovations were going?
“They’re going ok, John. I spoke with my husband last night and he’s hopeful we can finish the house in a month. If I’m honest the bills are more than we expected, it’s a little overwhelming but we’ll find a way for Sean.”
That’s when I gave her the news that theCHIVE Fund was not donating $15,000 to help finish the renovation. We were donating $30,000 instead, “Oh… oh my… now you’re gonna’ make me cry. Thank you! Thank you!”
Gail handed the phone to Sean and asked if he wanted to say anything to the Chivers. He paused for a moment and just said, ‘Probably bulletproof.’
Here is Sean’s story…
UPDATE: It appears theCHIVERS have discovered Sean’s GoFundMe Page. Wow.
UPDATE #2: The Chivers have absolutely ignited what was once a stagnate GoFundMe page! A simple link I placed as an afterthought suddenly caught fire. In an hour, you had put the $20,000 goal in your rear view mirror and are currently about to eclipse the $30,000 mark in addition to the $30,000 theCHIVE fund already contributed separately to the family. Unbelievable.
UPDATE #3: $40,000!