Instead of the traditional Mother's Day gifts - flowers, jewelry, spa days - two Pennsylvania moms have other things in mind: a pair of legs, a motorized track wheelchair, or wounds that heal. Stacy Fidler and Julie Keys are proud moms of wounded warriors. For them, Mother's Day is a time to celebrate their sons' sacrifices, and their solidarity within a group of unexpected heroes themselves.
On Oct. 3, 2011, Lance Cpl. Mark Fidler was on foot patrol in Sangin, Afghanistan, with a belt of live grenades strapped to his waist, when he stepped on an IED. The blast blew off both of his legs above the knee. A fellow Marine frantically carried him to safety, trying desperately to control the bleeding. With lightning speed, Fidler was airlifted to a military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, where surgeons removed both of his legs at the hip in an effort to save his life. At age 22, this strapping young man became another casualty of war, and his mom a caregiver for life.
Stacy Fidler is the mother of four children - two girls and two boys. Both sons of this petite brunette are Marines, and her patriotism and pride are evident to everyone. It's not just the military memorabilia on display in her home, but also her knowledge of history and the well-used copy of the Constitution that she carries at all times and can recite encyclopedia-style.
As a farmhand in the Berks County community of Strausstown, she is the embodiment of countless communities across the nation: solid, unassuming, and accepting of the tremendous challenge life has thrust upon her, simply getting the job done. Stacy has been the rock in her son's life, caring for him full time and focusing 100 percent on his recovery.
Stacy and the other moms at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., serve as advocates and constant companions for their sons and daughters, who are often recovering from physical and psychological injuries.
Sleeping on hard and cramped cots in hospital rooms, meeting with doctors, nurses, therapists, and a slew of well-meaning visitors, Stacy keeps things together like a relentless drill sergeant. At times, she feels tired and frustrated, and that's when she reminds herself that to her, Mark is the real hero. And when the inevitable moment of exasperation strikes, she has a support group that knows what she feels, fears, and needs. The Mighty Moms of Walter Reed band together, support one another, protect one another - much as their children did when serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.
One of those moms, Julie Keys of Whitehall, Lehigh County, knows the power of patience and persistence.
On July 14, 2010, Army Sgt. Adam Keys was severely injured in an IED explosion - the only survivor of the attack.
He suffered brain damage, shattered bones, and a severe infection that spread rapidly into his bloodstream. His extremities were dying and as a result were amputated. Multiple skin grafts were needed to save the flesh ravaged by the infection. Unwavering, his mother was at his bedside throughout.
Julie, a Nova Scotia native, has lived in Pennsylvania for 15 years, working in a medical lab. She left her home and job to take care of her wounded-warrior son full time. Her dedication means not only being present at Walter Reed, but also accompanying him on a recent skydiving adventure and on his first ski trip since he was wounded. After almost three years of her son's rehabilitating at Walter Reed, she hopes they will be able to leave for home by December. His recuperation is her mission; his discharge from the hospital will be her discharge, too. They're a team.
Former U.S. Rep. Connie Morella of Maryland recently met Stacy Fidler and Julie Keys at an awards dinner sponsored by the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress, which is focused on helping veterans.
"As a mother myself, I am in awe of the devotion and strength of the mothers of our nation's wounded warriors," Morella said. "They are also heroes in their own right."
Among those honored at the dinner for their work with wounded warriors and their families was the actor Gary Sinise, whose foundation is building a "smart house" for Adam Keys.
On Mother's Day, in addition to the gifts for your mom, consider a personal note to the moms of wounded warriors. These truly mighty moms will be grateful for the support.