Soldier overcomes odds close to home

January 22, 2008 9:16:14 PM PST
A local soldier wounded in Iraq is making an impressive recovery after being permitted to seek treatment outside a military facility. We're closing in on the end of the 5th year of war in Iraq, and the 7th year on action in Afghanistan. During that time, more than 17,000 men and women have been seriously wounded. We've seen the work being done at Walter Reed and other military hospitals to get them back on their feet. Now, local hospitals are involved too. For one soldier and his family, it's made all the difference.

Ever since high school, T.J. Hromisin dreamed of a military stint. When he graduated from the University of Scranton T.J. was tops in ROTC, and his major, law enforcement. His big dream was a career in the secret service, but first, deployment to the Gulf.

In late May, 7 weeks after arriving in Iraq, on a hunt for insurgents, the dream and T.J.'s skull were shattered.

T.J.'s brother Patrick says, "The sniper hit him in virtually the only place on his head that was exposed, which was right above his eyes."

"What else I remember thinking is, 'Thank God, I'm alive. But holy crap, I'm messed up," said T.J..

Within minutes, T.J. was on his way to a military trauma hospital. He suffered a severe brain injury and was blinded, but he survived the initial trauma. Now he needed to battle in recovery.

Mary Ellen Hromisin, T.J.'s mother tells us, "From then on, we made him fight, fight, fight, you know. We were there every minute, cheering him on."

The Hromisins knew T.J. needed a special cheerleader. He found him in his brother Pat, who lives in Philadelphia.

In most cases wounded troops are being treated at military hospitals, like Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington or at Veterans Affairs centers. A provision of T.J.'s health insurance allows for private providers so the Hromisins convinced the military to let T.J. recover closer to home at Moss Rehabilitation Hospital in Elkins Park. He's one of the first in this area to be treated in a private hospital.

"I just wanted to find the best place for brain injury that would serve him, and serve us, and we found it here," said Mary Ellen.

Recovering from a brain injury is painstaking, slow work. T.J. has gaps in memory and thinking. He's also adjusting to blindness.

His family says having T.J. closer to home has paid off. His progress is remarkable... but then, that's T.J.. His brother Patrick tells us, "When he was in ROTC, he challenged himself all the time. That's the kind of environment he thrives in, and that's what he responds to."

As the war continues, many more wounded troops will likely get their care at private facilities. It takes at least 2 years after a brain injury to know how complete the recovery will be. T.J.'s family says his sharp sense of humor is back, and that's a very good sign.