- Associated Press - Monday, May 26, 2014

ROCHESTER, Minn. (AP) - Patrick Zeigler sits quietly in a traveling museum celebrating 150 years of the Mayo Clinic.

Patrick is volunteering his time at the wounded warrior display. Visitors stop to read the text and view the pictures around him. Some notice Patrick’s Army cap and his service dog Ranger, then extend a hand to thank Patrick for his service.

He smiles. “I’m the only living exhibit here,” he says. “I feel special.”

Special, is Patrick Zeigler even being here.

A woman asks Patrick if his legs were injured. “No ma’am,” he tells her, “I was shot in the head.”

Patrick was at Fort Hood in 2009, completing his paperwork upon his return from his second tour in Iraq. The Army staff sergeant had recently been accepted to officer candidate school and was excited to get started, KARE-TV (http://kare11.tv/1qP0jOb ) reported.

His well-made plans were interrupted when Nidal Hasan, an Army major, yelled “Allahu Akbar” and raised his weapon.

“I could see his laser pointing around and it actually hit me in the eyes,” Patrick recalled. “And I looked right at him, and then he pulled the trigger, and that was it.”

The shot knocked Patrick to the floor. Blood streaming from his head, instinctively, he tried to crawl away. Hasan shot him three more times.

Thirteen people died at the end of Hasan’s gun. Patrick was as close as a man could get to being among them.

When she learned of the seriousness of the injury, while at school in Boston, Patrick’s girlfriend hoped only to get to Texas in time to say goodbye.

“They just said pack a dress for a funeral and get here as soon as you can,” said Jessica Zeigler, now Patrick’s wife.

Jessica left school one semester short of a degree in neuropsychology. She was studying the brain.

Now she holds up a cellphone picture of her husband’s brain scan. It shows a darkened area about the size of an orange. It’s the portion of Patrick’s brain that doctors removed because of damage from the bullet that blew a hole in his skull.

Yet somehow, weeks later, Patrick was on his feet in therapy.

Seven months after the shooting, Jessica arranged for Patrick to be flown to Rochester, her hometown. Her family would be close by to help and Jessica was confident the Mayo Clinic could provide the best possible care for Patrick.

One year later the couple married and life moved on. Jessica gave birth to a son, Liam Patrick Zeigler, now 19 months old.

“Life is awesome,” says Patrick. “It’s incredible how far we’ve come.”

At least that’s the picture Jessica and Patrick have been painting. Part truth, but partly, in Jessica’s words, just what the public wants to hear.

“I think it’s harder than people see,” she says. “Patrick and I have talked about this. I kind of feel like I’ve been running a PR campaign for the last four years.”

Truth is, since the shooting, Patrick has spent nearly 800 days in hospitals.

His mobility has improved to the point that he can walk, but Patrick remains partially paralyzed on his left side.

That’s the easy part - the part with which Ranger can help.

More difficult are Patrick’s mood swings.

“The winter was pretty hard for me and I don’t have the same coping mechanisms that I used to have,” he tells Dr. Kenley Schmidt, one of his Mayo Clinic physicians.

Schmidt runs through a list of a half dozen drugs being used to treat Patrick, some to address the physiological effects of his brain injury and others for pain.

“My shoulder has been hurting a lot, in addition to my head; that always hurts,” Patrick tells his doctor.

Lost in the shooting were the parts of Patrick’s brain that control empathy and patience, parts that help families run smoothly.

“He doesn’t understand why I can’t just jump to do something for him when the baby has needs,” Jessica explains to Schmidt.

Having dealt with severe brain injuries before, the doctor understands. “We’re dealing with some very difficult long term issues, which are very typical,” he says.

Americans crave the storybook ending, where heroes aren’t left at high risk for Alzheimer’s, stroke, and suicide - with cognitive lapses that make staying alone with one’s own child unsafe.

But Jessica has come to believe it’s important that people know the truth about the lingering effects of Patrick’s injury.

“We’re not setting people with brain injuries up for success if we’re not talking about the unpleasant things,” she says. “That’s where I am. Patrick hates it, but …”

Patrick interjects. “I don’t hate it. Sometimes I just don’t like looking at reality.”

Back in that traveling Mayo exhibit, Patrick extends his good arm to greet another visitor.

“How you doing?” asks an older man.

Patrick answers without hesitation: “Awesome.”

___

Information from: KARE-TV, http://www.kare11.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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