Thursday, October 30, 2014

FEATURE >> 16-pound burden

By Airman 1st Class Scott Poe
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Tech. Sgt. Jason Caswell, a 19th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, loves spending time with his wife and kids as well as playing rugby. 

At age 28, Caswell was an athlete who was well on his way to becoming an Air Force rugby player. From there, his dream was to take the next step of joining the USA rugby team. 

During his third season of playing, however, his dream came to a bone-shattering halt. 

While stationed in England, Caswell was playing rugby when he wasn’t on the flightline working as a crew chief. 

While playing in a match, Caswell was tackled to the ground. According to Caswell, the opposing player intentionally tried injuring him by sliding into his leg.

“After I was tackled, I kept trying to get up and run but I kept falling over,” said Caswell. “I could not figure out why I couldn’t stand up.”

Caswell was suffering from a compound fracture. Every time he tried to get up, his tibia, which was protruding out of his right leg, was digging into the ground. He needed medical attention immediately.

While paramedics debated over whether to transport him to the base or the local hospital, Caswell was slowly bleeding out. His teammates, who were by his side, did not realize they were kneeling in a six-foot-wide pool of blood. After more than an hour of lying on the rugby pitch, Caswell was taken to the base hospital in an ambulance. During the ride he flat-lined twice.  

Since the disastrous event, Caswell has gone through eight surgeries to repair his leg. After most of the surgeries, Caswell was back to work in less than a month, sometimes as soon as two weeks. Over the course of four years, Caswell and his family moved from place to place and hospital to hospital, continuing the procedures and enduring the disappointment and lack of progress of each one. The Caswell family was mentally and physically exhausted and Jason was still in pain. 

When Caswell came to Little Rock Air Force Base, he decided it was time for a new approach. He met with his new doctor and in Sept. 2014, the Caswell family had made a very important and life changing decision. It was time to remove his leg. 

Caswell was tired of feeling like a burden to his family. Every step he took, sharp, stunning pain shot up his leg. 

 “After four years of doing this, four years of difficulty, pain and surgeries I asked myself, ‘am I letting everyone down?,’” said Caswell hesitantly. “These doctors, nurses and therapists have worked so hard trying to fix my leg and now I am just going to cut it off.”

Caswell’s wife, Tami, reassured him that he was doing the right thing.

“I told him, ‘you fought as hard as you could, your body has made this decision, not you,’” she said. “Your leg has said ‘enough’.” 

Oct. 17, 2014, Caswell was prepared for his ninth, and hopefully last surgery.

“Nobody ever wants to lose a leg, but after four years of pain, four years I will never get back with my kids, I know it’s time,” he said. “You don’t get back time, so why wait? Why give up extra time trying to fix something that is not fixable? I am ready for a better quality of life.”

Tami gave her husband a kiss and told him she would see him in a bit, a tradition that they have carried alongside all the surgeries they had been through together. As Caswell rolled toward the operating room, he had a big smile on his face knowing he was making the right decision for his family and himself.

Two days after the amputation, Caswell was already playing and racing the kids in the living room using his walker. His daughter Raevyn, and son, Charlie, are looking forward to going hunting with their dad and being able to play with him again.

“It’s a relief,” said Caswell, joyfully, as he moved his bandaged leg around. “The other night I was doing pushups and back leg lifts. I was having fun because I can do this stuff now and it doesn’t hurt. The doctor took a 16-pound burden off of me.”  

Caswell is thankful for all the support he received from his wife and children, but also the support he received from the Air Force Wounded Warrior adaptive sports program. 

“I participated in the Warrior Games and that’s when I met a lot of guys who were going, or had gone through some rough times,” said Caswell. “That’s when I realized I was not alone. I knew I could get through this. The adaptive sports program taught me that your life is not over, you just have to adapt and overcome.”

Looking into the future, the Caswell family is ready to start a new chapter in their lives and make new memories. While the surgery was successful, the family still has a long road ahead of them. Caswell has hopes of being fitted with a prosthetic leg by the end of November, and will undergo therapy until he is able to walk with his new leg. 

“I can’t tell you what I’m going to be doing in the future because everything is open now,” said Caswell. “I would love to go back to being a crew chief again and do my job. The sky is the limit.”

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