One last holiday with his family … that’s all Mike Delancey wanted toward the end of 2003.
“My mother and father separated when I was young,” explains Mike. “And I lived with my father in Pinellas Park, Florida my whole life. I have two younger sisters who I am very close with. So I waited until January to enlist in the Marine Corps – because I knew it might be my last.”
Stepping right out of high school, Mike soon realized he was entering a totally different world.
He laughs thinking back at it now and says, “I got to boot camp and immediately said to myself, ‘Uh-oh – I’m not in Kansas anymore.’”
It was three long months of discipline, exhaustive training, and fierce competition. But that stress turned to excitement when Mike received his assignment to Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe Bay in April 2004.
Paradise Hawaiian style, however, didn’t last long. In November, Mike’s 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines got the call; they were headed to Afghanistan.
“When we got there, we expected more gunfire and explosions. In reality, it took almost two months before anything happened. So we were on edge. But when it finally happened, it’s an adrenaline rush like you can’t describe.”
As the months crept on, Mike survived one adrenaline-filled experience after another – until his luck finally ran out on Sept. 1, 2006 during his second deployment in Haditha, Iraq.
“I was shot by a sniper. The gunshot wound hit the fifth and sixth vertebrae in my spine. It shattered my seventh vertebrae and then hit my right shoulder nerve, finally peppering my right lung. In an instant, I was rendered paralyzed. It felt like I had been punched in the stomach and I couldn’t breathe at all.”
Before Mike knew it, he was on a helicopter. He looked at the pilot, who gave Mike the thumbs-up signal.
Mike was taken to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany; a place he’s convinced has some of the best doctors in the world who saved his life – although he doesn’t remember any of it.
“The thumbs up was the last thing I remember. My next moment of consciousness was two months later. I woke up at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.”
He almost never woke up. In fact, he flat lined three times. He endured 42 days in the intensive care unit. Afterward, Mike transferred to the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, Florida – where he spent the next two years.
It was in Tampa Mike first learned of Wounded Warrior Project™ (WWP).
“You get a level of comfort because many of the men and women at WWP have been in your shoes. They have helped me when the stress of recovery was at its greatest. They provided opportunities for me and my father, who is my caregiver, to get away. We’ve participated in Solider Ride®, had wonderful times on fishing trips, and I even got to meet my favorite baseball players at a Tampa Bay Rays batting practice.”
Mike says WWP is a bond between warriors who understand each other’s experiences.
“You can share what you did, and you both understand each other. Whenever you need someone to talk to, they’re there. A good story about recovery can positively impact your outlook on life.”
It’s that kind of help to “cope with life” Mike says he wants to give to other Wounded Warriors in need.
“I want to motivate our warriors to recover from their injuries the best they can. I tell them your Alive Day isn’t the day you almost died, it’s the day you gave the Grim Reaper the finger.”