- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 11, 2014

MERIDIAN, Miss. — With five children and a house to build, Oklahoma native and former soldier Rusty Dunagan is facing the challenges of life from a wheelchair, but a gift from a highly acclaimed actor and a pro athlete has brightened the summer for him and his family.

On Monday, Dunagan and his family arrived in Mississippi where Dunagan, a triple-amputee, met with retired NFL quarterback and Mississippi native Brett Favre. The family met Favre at the Lauderdale County farm of actress and Meridian native Sela Ward.

At a fundraiser gala for Hope Village sponsored by Ward in 2013 in Meridian, Favre volunteered to donate a training session to the highest bidder. Actor Gary Sinise bid on and won the session then pledged to donate it to a wounded veteran through the Gary Sinise Foundation.

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“I met Gary last year after I retired out of the military. He came down to Brooke Army Medical Center to put on a concert on for the troops,” Dunagan said.

He said Sinise told him he wanted him to have the Favre training session, and so partnering with Ward and her family in Mississippi, the veteran and the athlete met on Monday.

Sinise said he was pleased to be able to bring the two together.

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“I was thrilled last year to be able to support my friend Sela Ward and her outstanding effort with Hope Village by bidding on a generous item donated by Brett Favre and giving it to one of America’s heroes,” Sinise said by email on Monday.

“The meeting between wounded U.S. Army veteran Rusty Dunagan and Brett is a way we can take a moment to give back and say ‘thank you’ to a man who sacrificed so much in service to our country. And by helping Hope Village at the same time it’s a win-win.”

On arriving at Ward’s farm, Favre said although it was billed as a training session, they might just throw the ball around and then go fishing.

“I’m honored to help. Believe me I know how blessed my life, as well as how my wife and I - how blessed our lives have been and the fact that we can help people and touch other peoples’ lives,” Favre said. “We grew up humble, modest. We are very fortunate to have the success that I have had over the years - the things we have been able to do and see and experience is just truly a blessing. This ranks right up at the top.”

Talking with Dunagan’s children, Favre asked the eldest son, Daniel, 14, if he played football.

“He used to,” said Daniel’s older sister Marissa, 16.

“Me too,” Favre said.

Siblings Roque, 11, Annalisa, 4, and Rosalee, seven months, as well as Dunagan’s wife Angie, were along for the fun.

“It’s a blessing just to be out here on this beautiful land, for the kids to play with Brett. It’s something they will remember for the rest of their lives for sure,” Angie Dunagan said.

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