On October 26, 2008 MSgt. Jonathan R. White will be running the Marine Corps Marathon. His wife, Sgt. Peggy C. White, who is no longer in the Marines, will be running also.
On July 23, 2003 Gunnery Sgt. Jonathan R. White was training for parachute operations with his fellow Marines. Little did he know that later on that day, his life would take a 180 degree turn!
All was fine as he made ready to jump out of the helicopter. He was with a group of Marines making their first jump since their initial training. As a result, he was the designated “stick leader” meaning he would be the first off the ramp. GySgt. White had, in fact, already made well over 20 jumps prior to today’s training operation. Everything was a go, the green light came on, and off the ramp he went.
GySgt. White immediately began checking to see that all was fine as soon as his chute opened, and that’s when he realized all was not fine. Although his equipment was functioning properly and he was able to turn as needed, he was falling much faster than the rest of the group. Not only was he falling faster than the others, he was moving across the landing zone too fast. He checked his equipment again, and then his training kicked in.
He focused on his landing, which is what they had taught him to do. That is the most important part of the jump, the landing. He later would find out that he had gotten caught in a gust of wind, actually a major gust of cross wind, which caused him to hit the ground at about 60 mph. In spite of coming in so fast, he managed to land on his feet, but that is where things went terribly wrong for the rest of his body.
The hard landing caused him to bend over, not at the waist as most people would do, but at
A reservist corpsman, witnessed the landing, and realized that GySgt White was in trouble. This corpsman worked with the NYC Fire Department as a paramedic. Not only that, he specialized in spinal injuries. He immediately told the helicopter pilots to take White to the U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa.
When Jonathan first arrived at the hospital doctors didn’t think any serious damaged had occurred, but it wasn’t long before they realized he not only couldn’t feel his wife holding his hand, he couldn’t feel his feet.
Perhaps it is good that he doesn’t remember much from his accident, but his wife Peggy can recall it all, with absolute clarity. When she arrived, Jonathan was out of it, and the doctors were getting very little information from him.
“He was talking to them, sort of doing the [Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape] thing … he was giving them nothing vital,” Peggy White said. “He was saying stuff like, ‘I want to get back to the drop zone.’
“I had a hold of his hand and a hand on his shoulder and I told him, ‘You’re not wherever you think you are. You need to snap out of this and talk to us.’”
A staff member from neurosurgery was called, who happened to be the head of the department, Lt. Cmdr. Robert Rosenbaum. Remember I mentioned that several things happened that were nothing short of miracles? First the corpsman with spinal injury training being present when the accident occurred, and secondly, the fact that Lt. Cmdr.
Rosenbaum was there at the hospital when Jonathan arrived.
After making an assessment of Jonathan’s condition, Lt. Cmdr. Rosenbaum realized that the prognosis was not good. Jonathan would be a paraplegic as a result of that parachute jump. There was no feeling in his body until they got up to mid-chest level. In order to get a good MRI, the doctor went in with Jonathan, holding his head still. They spent some time literally nose-to-nose inside the machine while the scan was being done.
Jonathan, who is not the type to let life go by unchallenged, asked Lt. Cmdr. Rosenbaum, a question. Remember, they were nose-to-nose inside of the MRI at the time. “He said, ‘Promise me I will walk again,’” Rosenbaum said. “It’s a good rule for physicians not to make promises and Jon really caught me off-guard. He got me emotional to the point where I promised him he would.”
Was that a promise that would soon be broken? After reviewing the results of the scan, Rosenbaum decided to do surgery and move the large bone fragment that was pressing on Jonathan’s spinal cord. He also saw that Jonathan had fractured several of his vertebrae. It was not to be a simple operation.
2 hours later, Jonathan was in surgery, which lasted for 9 hours. The doctor wanted to move quickly and did so to push away the bone chunk pressing on his spinal cord. In addition to that, he inserted 2 twelve inch titanium rods and 6 screws to stabilize his spinal cord. Time would tell if the operation was to be a success and Jonathan would walk again!
As Jonathan awoke from surgery, the Lt. Cmdr. was standing on his right side. Rather unexpectedly, Jonathan’s knee came up and hit the doctor in the face. He took that to be a good sign. After spending 3 days in recovery, Jonathan was flown back stateside to Naval Medical Center San Diego for another surgery.
While enroute, the pain Jonathan was encountering was not dealt with, the hospital didn’t know they were coming, and the nurses had Jonathan sitting semi-upright in bed and even moving around walking a bit. After a second surgery, the doctor’s at Naval Medical Center San Diego were less than optimistic about Jonathan ever being able to walk again. In fact, they asked what VA (Veteran’s Administration) Hospital he wanted to go to. They said he would be in a wheelchair and never walk again. Thank goodness Peggy was at his side as an advocate! The horrors of that trip to San Diego and what he endured there were unbelievable.
“I fought with all the people that tried to medically retire him when he could not say it himself. I was amazed at the people that would want him to sign papers, make decisions, and explain things to him when he was on morphine, etc. His memory from July 23, 2003 to October 2003 is fragmented to say the least. He remembers some things but has no time line reference for them. For the most part, that time is a big blur for him. For me, I remember every detail. The more horrible…the more they stick in my mind.”
When GySgt. White started physical therapy; he asked them what would it take to get him out of there. The reply? Walk around the room.
He spent three weeks in San Diego then went home. The GySgt. was still having trouble with his legs being numb and needed help walking. I think his Marine training must have kicked back in, because he taught himself to walk again with the aid of two canes, and out the door he went! He never looked back either!
Three months later, he was back at work. Four months after that, he was running again. The following May, 2004 he deployed to Thailand, and while there, he secretly planned on taking a PFT when he returned. Why? He had a window of opportunity to advance his rank, and it wouldn’t happen without a current PFT test.
He didn’t just pass that PFT; he ran 3 miles in 22:39, did 13 pull-ups and in two minutes he did 100 crunches, to score 237. He smoked that PFT with a “young man’s first class 237 score. All less than a year after two surgeries and being told he would never walk again.
He not only got that promotion, he is still active duty today, with the Marine Corps. He is stationed overseas with his family. His wife, and possibly his son, also intends to run in the Marine Corps Marathon. The marathon is stateside, so they will be flying back, at their own expense. Why run in a marathon? It has been a wish of Jonathan’s ever since the accident.
He chose the Marine Corps Marathon, because he knew the money he is raising will go straight to the Injured Marines Semper Fi Fund. He is running for his brothers, to help other Marines! He is running because he can do this for THEM!
Peggy White is looking “for a good few men” to donate and help the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund.
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