Just a few months ago, Army Sgt. 1st Class Dale Smith Jr. had no problem walking. Or running. Or seeing. Or carrying on a conversation.
That hasn’t been true since July 15, when the 1999 Clovis High graduate sustained a gunshot wound to the head during battle in Afghanistan. But family members are pleased that since then, he’s regaining the ability to walk, and eat solid food, and say, “I love you,” in small conversations with family members.
“He’s been doing very well,” sister-in-law Cassie Smith of Clovis said. “He’s made lots of progress, more than was predicted when he was first brought to the states. We just try to stay positive and we focus more on the progress he’s making. Nobody’s ever been under the impression that it’s a quick fix.”
Now at James A. Haley VA Hospital in Tampa, Fla., Smith has made enough improvements that family members were told he could possibly be moved to outpatient care in San Antonio, Texas, or Tampa, in a few months.
His mother, Cindy Smith, said doctors are trying to stress small improvements following multiple surgeries, including an Oct. 11 cranioplasty at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda.
His family hopes his vision could return with later surgeries, and he’s starting to regain movement of his left side after he suffered a stroke. He’s able to move during rehabilitation, Cindy Smith said, but it’s more, “left foot shuffle, right foot step,” than walking. During rehabilitation sessions, he solves simple math problems and is asked to recall basic details like names of relatives and his military services.
“He’s talking,” Cindy Smith said. “He can still do the thumbs up. He talked to us on the phone from Tampa the other night. It’s stilted conversation, but he is talking.”
Throughout the process, Cindy Smith said, he’s received plenty of national support. He was awarded a Purple Heart while he was in a coma, with the award given to his daughter Cadence. His Wounded Warrior Wing received visits from President Obama and Medal of Honor recipient Leroy Petry at Walter Reed. While in Tampa, visitors have included Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleaders and players, including quarterback Josh Freeman.
While Dale’s wife Lindsey is with him in Tampa, family members are taking care of daughter Cadence and son Sage.
“We try to lean on each other and lift each other up,” Cassie Smith said, “stay strong for him, and take care of his kids the best we can.”
Cannon Federal Credit Union still has the Dale L. Smith Jr. Medical Fund open for donations at its branch locations and via mail (PO Box 2080, Clovis, NM 88102; information 791-3353). Cassie Smith said financial help has always been there, but people also look out for the family.
“We would still say thank you (to the community),” Cindy Smith said. “Where my husband works, they’re doing fundraisers. Church groups are sending cards and letters. It’s just been overwhelming.”