Will Snow will be at Fenway Park Saturday morning with his daughters Teegan and Adair, watching his wife Amber in the Run for Home Base by New Balance. It is her third race. It will be his first. It took a great effort by both of them to be here.
Will Snow is one of ours. He is from Foxborough. Amber is one of ours, too. She is from Attleboro. They met when he was a medic in the elite Army Rangers. Three months later, they got married. Soon, they will be celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary. They have been dealing with the consequences of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) for the last six years. There is unfinished business.
Will Snow is the type of person, Amber said, “who was put on this planet to watch out for other people.’’ He never felt more helpless than when his little sister, Courtney, was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 16 and he could do nothing while watching the life ebb out of her until she was gone at age 21.
Unable to afford medical school, he said, he turned to the Army. His grandfather was military, and he was inspired to join the Rangers, he said, after watching one of those old D-Day flicks in which Rangers scaled cliffs with grappling hooks.
“I thought, ‘If I ever go into the Army, I want to join people crazy enough to do that,’’’ he said.
Amber was eight months pregnant with Teegan in Fort Lewis, Washington, and Will was on his third deployment to Iraq when the Stryker armored vehicle he was riding en route to engage the enemy drove into a 21-foot deep canal and overturned. He sustained head, neck and back injuries. “I tried to walk if off,’’ he said. “I was the only medic in our platoon, and I didn’t want to leave.’’
The plan was to return home for the birth of the baby. The first Amber heard about what had happened in Iraq was when Will called and complained about a headache. “Something happened,’’ he said, using the cryptic language so typical of Rangers. “I’ll tell you about it when I get home.’’
It did not take long for Amber and Will to discover they were dealing with more than a headache. Will had gone to pick up some food at a takeout restaurant they frequented, and called Amber from a roundabout that was on the way back. I don’t know how to get home, he said.
“That was terrifying,’’ Amber said, recounting the story.
The personality changes were even more so. Nowhere to be found was the man who was the life of the party when they met, quick to make friends. In his place was a virtual recluse, one who says he does not remember the birth of his child or the first year or two of her life.
“I thought he’d come home, I’d have the baby, and we’d get back to life,’’ Amber Snow said.
“But I sent one guy to war, and I got another one back. Which I’m very thankful for, but it’s not who I sent.
“I had friends who didn’t get anybody home, so who was I to complain? I had a body next to me in my bed. But you still mourn the person you lost. I lost somebody.’’
Will Snow’s battles did not end in Iraq. He faced a formidable foe back here at home, coping with anxiety attacks, mood swings, depression, sleeplessness—an array of symptoms we have come to recognize as the consequence of TBI and PTSD. There was also the frustration that came from dealing with those who were skeptical of how badly he was hurt, or incapable of offering him the assistance he truly needed.
“He became,’’ Amber Snow said, “the most introverted introvert you could find.’’
Amber Snow recalled a particularly frightening incident after Will had been transferred out of his battalion to another Special Operations facility in Yuma, Arizona, and suffered an allergic reaction to a medication he was given.
“His entire body turned purple, his tongue swelled up, and he was talking nonsense. He was holdings his socks in his hand, asking ‘Where are my socks?’ It got to the point where his skin was falling off.
“When his fever went down, they let him out of the hospital, but when he walked around he felt pins and needles in his feet. That’s when people started taking us seriously and said something was absolutely wrong with him.’’
The Care Coalition, which assists special operations veterans, offered some relief. So did time spent at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. They were still in Yuma when Amber saw an ad for the Run to Home Base. She vowed that when the young family returned to Massachusetts, she would participate.
“I started running that summer (2013),’’ she said. “Running was my therapy to get out and take care of myself. One of us in this marriage has to be healthy. He doesn’t have a choice; it’s got to be me.’’
She ran her first race for Home Base in 2014. Her sister ran, too. They raised a lot of money. More importantly, Amber heard the stories of some of those who had been helped by Home Base. She told Will about the program.
Last August, another round of anxiety attacks struck, accompanied by nightmares. There was also an unexplained weight loss; Will dropped nearly 50 pounds. He picked up the phone and called Home Base. He had decided, Amber said, that he didn’t want to be miserable anymore.
“I didn’t know where else to go,’’ he said, “but once I got there, the place just reeks of competence. You sit down with people, they know what they’re doing. They give you hope that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.’’
The care at Home Base was deeply personal, and dependable. He could text his caregiver, and know that he would get a quick response.
“You walk in, and the second you get in there it makes you feel good,’’ Will said. “I had been in such bad place, but they don’t talk to you in military lingo, they talk to you just normal. They know what they’re doing. We feel lucky to live in Massachusetts and have this place.’’
The progress has been incremental. Will has gotten to the point where he can take the train in alone for his appointments, take to the kids to the grocery store, take them on Saturday to see their mama race.
“The therapy is one of the toughest things I’ve ever attempted,’’ he said. “You basically have to relive the experiences that are impeding your life. They recorded me talking about those experiences over and over until you can put them away in your brain. If you don’t put in the work, you’re not going to get better.’’
Will Snow, the man whose wife says he was placed on this planet to help others, now hopes to speak with other veterans about Home Base, and how they might find hope, too. On Saturday, Red Sox chairman Tom Werner, a driving force in the creation of Home Base, intends to introduce Will and Amber Snow, two very courageous souls.
“We bought a house, we’re moving on as best we can,’’ Amber said. “It’s part of our life. I forget my life is different from anybody else’s, but it is. It’s weird, but it’s all I’ve known for six years.’’
Between the support from their families here back home, and Home Base, Will and Amber Snow know that someone has their backs.
“Give us a minute,’’ Amber said. “Wait for us. We’re going to catch up. We’re going to get there.’’
If you would like to support Amber in her run, the link to her fundraising page is here: http://www.runtohomebase.org/2016RuntoHomeBase/ambersnow. If enough of you are moved to do so, maybe we’ll just blow them away.