Chief Master Sergeant Damian Orslene, or the “Chief” as his friends know him, is a board member of Team R4V, an avid competitor and wounded veteran. Click here to learn more about the Chief.
I love to give speeches, motivational talks. I tell the stories of my life and use them to teach others life’s lessons. Often I get asked if or when I will ever write a book about all that has happened to me and my beautiful Bride; that I have such wonderful stories to tell, that others should hear them too. I always tell them three things: 1. You don’t have to go looking for adventure; it is happening all around you right now. Just be the person who runs towards the house on fire instead of away from it in life and you will have plenty of stories to tell too. Remember we are military; we head to the sound of the guns. 2. Pay attention. Life changing moments happen in an instant and usually when you least expect them. 3. I am going to write a book someday. But nobody is ever gonna believe it. Nobody.
We drove from Pensacola, FL to MS to check on our house; with the plan of getting up Saturday morning; meeting Lori’s friend Carla who would be doing the Half Marathon Relay with her, and then head to New Orleans. Friday night we were standing in our driveway, enjoying a beautiful Gulf Coast evening, when we heard the screech of truck tires, the sickening crunch of a vehicle impacting a human being and the nightmare-inducing scream that can only be produced when one has been the eye witness to a horrific accident.
A blue pickup truck swerved into view and stopped directly in front of our subdivision and the screaming intensified. We immediately moved towards the road less than 100 yards away. When I arrived, I found a man and young girl standing at the edge of the road. “I never even saw them,” he said. I followed his gaze from the jumbled mess of broken glass in the road 30 feet away and back to his feet, and down into a ditch. A dark mass lay in the ditch. “Don’t worry I’ve called 911” he said. “911” I said and the young girl ran down the road screaming.
I jumped into the ditch. I found her lying face down in a puddle of water, not breathing, blood pouring from her mouth, ear and nose. A gash above her eye warns me to move cautiously as I used the light from my cell phone to proceed. Time is everything now; I know this. I dig around her face and get the water and grass away and still get no breathing sounds. We live many minutes away from any immediate rescue, I know this first hand, so getting her to breathe becomes my priority.
I hear the hundreds of hours of Combat Life Saver and Self-Aid and Buddy Care go through my head in an instant. What if she has a neck injury, back injury, head injury? Rule #1: Nothing matters if they are unconscious and not breathing, which she was. I ease my hand under her right shoulder and gently start to lift while supporting her neck and miraculously she gasps. Oh dear God she gasped, and wheezed, and breathed. I immediately put her shoulder back down and a mouthful of blood comes out and a horrible rattling sounds deep in her chest and she quits breathing. Oh $&%$#! I lift her back up. On my hands and knees, alone in a ditch on the side of the road waiting for help, I whispered in her ear. “Just breathe sweetheart, just breathe.” And she does! A horrible raspy terrible breath, one after the other. I have never heard a more beautiful sound in all my life than that little girl breathing when I thought she would not.
My legs went numb, my arm ached from holding her weight, but it didn’t matter. A man jumped into the ditch next to me and grabbed her shoulder and started to turn her over. I pushed him away. “What the #$%* are you doing?” I asked. “She’s my daughter!” he said, “I don’t give a *#$!” I said. “She’s hurt bad, she’s unconscious, and wasn’t breathing when I got here, I just now got her breathing, her lungs are full of blood, rolling her over is the last thing we want to do without paramedics here. Don’t touch her again.” “What should I do?” he said. “Come here and hold her hand, talk to her, and pray. That is what a Father does.” I say. He nods and moves to the front of her and brushes the hairs back from her face, “Her name is Katelyn” he says, “She’s 16.” I nod, my muscles screaming for relief from the odd position they have been in for what seems like an hour but has only been 10 minutes or so. “Breathe Katelyn,” I say…”Just Breathe.”
A third body joins us and I am surprised and pleased to find it is a Domino’s Pizza Delivery Man. In any situation, even Life and Death, there is some room for pizza. I smile at him, “About time” I say, “You’re late.” He laughs. “I’m a paramedic in my other job,” he says. “Oh thank you Jesus!” I say. I tell him exactly what I knew and what I had done. “You know you can’t move until the board gets here right?” and I nod. “You sure you’re ok?” I nod. He smiles. “OK”…breathe Katelyn, just breathe.
The ambulance and Fire Dept arrive almost together, and it takes only a moment for them to work out a plan. I help get the collar around Katelyn’s neck, and they cut the shirt from her back. A quick listen confirms what I had thought: her lungs were full. The board is brought, but the paramedics pause. We are all kneeling in a ditch, not the best place to work on her. They talk through a plan of action. I remember thinking how level headed everyone was and impressed I was. No one was running around halfcocked. Everything was talked through before anything was done. Everyone knew what everyone else was going to do before anyone did it. As I knelt there, holding a rasping girl with my blood stained hands, I thought…These guys are good. Then we did it, 1-2-3, we rolled her over, and they lifted her up and rushed for the ambulance, which everyone agreed was the best environment to work on her.
No longer holding her, I fell to the side and tried to unfold my long ago dead legs…but could not. A very kind gentleman, helped stretch me out and eventually helped me stand up and got me to the back of the Ambulance. There I watched them work on Katelyn for quite a while before they were ready to move. Then the doors were slammed and they, in a flash of light and sound were gone. The cops said they didn’t need a statement from me. So I slowly walked the hundred yards back to my house. Where my Bride was waiting for me.
It took a long time to wash her blood from my hands. The last two nights I have woken up with the scream in ears, her face in my mind…Breathe, Katelyn…Breathe.
Then it was Saturday morning and we were heading for New Orleans and all the craziness of doing our first Marathon. Saturday’s News coverage said she was listed in critical condition. Breathe Katelyn Breathe.
Then it was Sunday and if you had read my earlier blog you know that my Sunday morning didn’t turn out as expected. My quest to start and finish a marathon not yet attained. Breathe Katelyn…Breathe.
It was a frustrating morning, but by afternoon I had slipped into spectator mode and enjoyed myself. It was a good race and I always love seeing my Bride run. Afterwards we headed back to our hotel room to shower, change and then start our four-hour trip back to Florida. With our bags packed and everything ready to go My Bride sat down and asked me how I was doing. “Ok” I said. “Very disappointed, frustrated but, nothing we can do about it. Need to fix the bike and get ready for our 450-mile bike ride this coming weekend. We have a busy week at the house, so…life moves on.” And she started to cry.
Now I’ve known my Beautiful Bride 16 years. She is not a crier. She doesn’t cry at movies, not at cute puppies, in fact I can count on probably one if not two hands how many times in 16 years I’ve seen her cry, and usually it involved somebody dying.
“What?” I asked. “She didn’t make it” she said. “Katelyn didn’t make it.” I sat shocked. “When?” “I got a call yesterday” she said. “And you’re just telling me now?” I asked, and then paused and said, “Of course you’re just telling me now. She nods…“ You were so happy, so excited to race, I didn’t want to ruin that moment for you. I figured it could wait.” Of course. “You’ve been carrying that inside for two days for me” I said. And we cried together. Oh Katelyn, why couldn’t you have just kept breathing?
Suddenly, worrying about the bike and a million other things we had to do seemed trivial. We loaded up and left New Orleans and drove to Ocean Springs in time to make Mass at our church and prayed hard for understanding, wisdom, and strength. Then we got back in the truck and drove two more hours, mostly in silence, each of us lost in our thoughts. How lucky we were, blessed, grateful and how quickly in an instant it could all change. We both sighed deeply, as almost relieved, as we pulled up our driveway to home.
A huge thunderstorm brought with it a huge headache that night so sleep evaded me. Not so sure I would have slept anyways. Her beautiful face, blood and mud covered, was ever present in my mind. Around 0230 I found myself standing in the garage next to my other Recumbent Bike, that up to this point had not been named. It is an Ice, foldable Trike. It’s an amazing bike in its own right, but more of a mountain bike versus a race bike when compared to Ms. Kitty. My Bride always sensitive to my whereabouts came out to find me to make sure I was okay. “What you doing?” she asked. I didn’t respond as much as I just pointed to the Ice, “Miss Kate” I said. “Miss Kate? As in short for Katelyn?” she inquired. And I shrugged. “Ms. Kitty and Ms. Kate…has a nice ring to it.” she said. I thought so too.