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Walking wounded

"Walking wounded" Continued...

Standing on the sidewalk near the hospital’s emergency unloading dock, Tori was warned by doctors it was as close as she could get. But when Smith arrived Tori went to him and held his hand for a brief second, kissed him, and told him she loved him. He gave the thumbs up sign before being whisked inside the hospital.

Tori has seen Smith every day since then. She slept in a chair during his stay in the intensive care unit even though doctors and nurses told her she was not supposed to be there. When Smith almost died at 3 a.m. one morning due to complications, Tori alerted the nurses. Soon four or five doctors surrounded Smith, his vital signs crashing. They wheeled him back into surgery.

Smith has had more to deal with than the loss of his legs. Shrapnel from the explosion ripped through his groin and slashed apart his abdomen. Infection almost killed him. He lost his abdominal muscles on his right side. Doctors performed 15 surgeries on his intestines.

More than once Smith would be discharged from the ICU only to be sent right back after vomiting up large amounts of blood or having a fever as high as 105 degrees or a heart rate hitting 200.

“Doctors would keep saying ‘this is interesting’ whenever they examined Andrew,” Tori explained. “In a hospital, you never want to be an interesting case.”

Released from the hospital in June, almost three months after Smith was hit by an IED, or Improvised Explosive Device, the Smiths’ new home is an apartment in Tranquility Hall, a 315,000-square-foot facility for amputees on campus that houses 153 two-bedroom suites. Smith says that every apartment is occupied.

Smith’s apartment on the fifth floor looks like a newly renovated three-star hotel room. Two framed picture collages hang on the wall. One before Smith’s injury includes wedding photos and a uniformed Smith surrounded by family at his basic training graduation, and one taken after the IED shows the Smiths at a Washington Nationals baseball game and at such D.C. monuments as the World War II Memorial.

In the den that separates the two bedrooms, Smith’s Purple Heart rests in a case on a ledge behind the couch. On the same shelf is a pair of pictures, one of Smith and the other of his grandfather who served in the Merchant Marine during World War II. They stand almost exactly alike, their feet spread slightly apart. Both are wearing their uniforms.

There’s a handicap-accessible kitchen where Smith, who only in recent weeks has been able to eat regular food, likes to prepare meals for his wife. His specialties include chicken and vegetables, steak and onions, or spaghetti. In the freezer of their apartment is a whole chicken that Smith is saving to roast for when his stomach heals. They spend their time when Smith is not seeing therapists or doctors watching baseball on television. Smith salivates at every pizza commercial.

“I’m almost thankful about this injury,” Smith says. “If I wasn’t injured I’d still be in Afghanistan right now, which would be fine, I’d be doing my job. But now I get to spend every day with my wife, which is awesome. It is kind of hard to think, ‘Man I wish I wasn’t injured so I could still be in Afghanistan sleeping on the ground and being shot at.’ It is just really cool being able to be with her every day.”

Ask physical therapist Kyla Dunlavey the secret behind Smith’s recovery, she gives a quick answer: “Tori.” Then she adds, “And their strong faith.”

Tori and Andrew were best friends in college. On the day Smith left for Army basic training in early November 2010, he turned to Tori before getting on the bus and said: “I love you.”

Tori didn’t know what he meant. She had to endure the mystery for several weeks because Smith couldn’t talk to anyone during boot camp.

When instructors gave him a two-minute phone call on Thanksgiving Day, Smith reached Tori. “I figured out then what he meant by ‘I love you,’” Tori said.

With Smith barred from using computers during basic training, they started dating the old-fashioned way:  through letters. Tori, then working as a manager at a Target store in Cleveland, Tenn., wrote every day, including homemade crossword puzzles. They decided to hold “prayer dates” where every night at 9:00 they would both stop what they were doing and separately pray.

“We wanted to do something that reminded him to put God first no matter how much he got yelled at,” Tori said.

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