Real Life Hero: Matthew M.

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This guy is amazing. Ian and I met him at a coffee shop in town a while back. He came up to Ian and just asked him about his legs. Why he’d picked those, what he liked about them, etc. We thought he was a newbie amputee and we might be helping him. Come to find out, HE was the pro and was able to shed some light for Ian.

Matthew’s story is amazing. I thought about rewriting his story, but decided against it. I’ll let him tell you the story. You can read all about him below. In his own words. 🙂

He truly is a REAL LIFE HERO!

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“My name is Matthew Melancon, retired Sergeant. I am a motivational speaker and a double amputee. At the age of 18 I joined the Army and served in Northern Iraq from 2009-10 as a Scout/Sniper with the 1st Infantry Division out of Ft. Riley, Kansas. After being stationed in Grafenwoier, Germany, with the 172nd, I got deployed to the Paktika Province in Afghanistan as Machine Gun Team leader. While on a routine patrol in Afghanistan on September 18, 2011, the MRAP I was riding in was hit by an IED; both of my feet were shattered and ankles dislocated. My injuries required two-dozen surgeries over a two-year period, and resulted in my electing to amputate both legs below the knee. I have been honored with awards for my service, including the Combat Infantryman’s Badge and the Purple Heart.” 

On September 18, 2015, Unstoppable Hero, Wounded in Combat Veteran Matt Melancon, penned these words, “Tomorrow (September 18, 2015) is a very special day for me. Tomorrow will be my 4th anniversary of my “bad day at the office.” But that is not what this post is about… Today marks another special day only two years ago. Two years ago today I was sitting alone in an empty apartment. I was less than a month from my first amputation and almost 300lbs. As a result of my pending divorce I had no money, confidence or hope. My chain of command had been convinced I was abusing my wife and thus threw me my DD21 and said get out. It was on this night two years ago I felt the coil of hopelessness wrap itself around me, making it physically difficult to breath. I held my Sig 226, the one I bought myself for surviving an IED, resting against my temple, and I simply saw no other way out. I was a failed soldier, a failed leader, a failed husband and now a cripple. There simply wasn’t any hope left for me. I de-cocked the hammer, and curled into a ball and cried myself to sleep, I wasn’t going to be reduced to a statistic that day. Two years later I am more complete and whole than I ever dreamt possible. I have seen and done things that they alone would have made a life worth living. Everyone sees the “Extrovert Matt” who has it all going for him. But know, I too have my demons, and that all I have to do is turn and see them waiting for me to fail. But I am here today, the man I am, because of love. Not “Initiaves” or “Awareness”!! Do NOT be so naive as to think throwing money at organizations or “projects” will make this stop! Don’t think because you do push-ups and wear an awkward ring make these suicides stop! All your doing is letting emotions line someone’s pocket! Me being aware of your “awareness” is not the reason I’m here today. The love of the dedicated doctors and nurses and physicians is why. The love of those who stuck by and those who have joined me is why. Don’t be a statistic my brothers and sisters! Don’t become a number! Just keep growing! Don’t ever stop growing. It’s never over until you say it is. I love you all.”

The following day, Matt wrote, “On this day four years ago (September 18, 2015), I climbed into my truck and went out on my last mission as United States Army Infantryman. As we pulled through an intersection the IED detonated and the trucks V-hull design saved our lives. Unfortunately there was supposed to be a $20 rubber matt insulating my feet from the metal floor. It’s absence caused the energy transfer to make my heels explode inside of my feet. When we landed I was saved from a TBI and stayed conscious, but running off adrenaline, I leapt from truck to render aid to my driver. The “impact” with the ground drove my ankles through my feet. Breaking and dislocating them.

I would spend the next two years enduring 22 surgeries as I waited for the docs to put me back together again, and grew more angry and disheartened with each setback. Everything changed when MRSA infected my left foot and I was made an amputee. My success completely depended on me, and the work I was willing to put in! I got invited to an event by “Warfighter Sports” called Ski Spectacular and I would meet Team Utah, and witness everything I could become! Champions who were going to represent our country as amputees. That moment changed everything. I would go on to live a year so intensely, my right foot simply couldn’t keep up, and I would have it amputated and begin my therapy over again just so I could keep pursuing my dreams.

Four years ago I was simply living to check off the list of things you’re “supposed” to do. Today I stand more complete and whole than I ever imagined. I am grateful every single day for that IED and the way it destroyed my world. Two weeks ago I packed up all my stuff in Texas and moved to my home state of Utah, so I can train with those very same people who showed me that anything is possible. I was not a snowboarder, I was not an athlete, I was a boy with a gun and a dream of making the world a better place. Today I am a mentor, counselor, ambassador, and I will do whatever it takes to earn the prestige of being an athlete who wears this country’s colors again!

“What is a seed, but unlimited potential, and possibility. But for it to become anything, it’s shell must crack and its insides spill out, everything about it changes. If you didn’t know what growth was, it would look like complete and utter destruction.”
Thank you everyone for all your support as I faced trial after trial! Thank you for not giving up me, even after all the times I gave up on myself. My life isn’t about proving anyone wrong anymore, it’s about proving all of you right! Thank you, I love you all.”

Matt has been doing amazing things and continues to motivate others all over the country. He is a well-sought after motivational speaker.

Real Life Hero: Jeff J.

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We live in the land of the free because of the brave. Jeff J. is one of the brave.

Jeff is a wonderful husband to Allison and an amazing dad to their two kids (and one on the way.) He’s a go getter, determined to live life to the fullest, with a positive attitude no matter what comes.

Jeff’s story is a tough one to swallow. I’m hoping I can do it justice, keeping the facts straight and his integrity intact.

Jeff was deployed to Iraq from March 2004 through March 2005. During that year he went on over 700 patrols in the slums of Baghdad. During a patrol in May his unit came under heavy fire. A RPG (rocket propelled grenade) pierced his unit’s Bradley tank. His back was broken in multiple places.

God showed him mercy. He recovered and came home to his beautiful wife.

Sadly, ten years later these injuries continue to cause major back problems. Jeff deals with pain daily, and on a normal day his legs go numb around lunch time. Doctors say not much can be done. Despite the daily struggles, however, Jeff never complains. If you see him in public, you would never know the pain he is in.

In addition, eight months of heavy combat are hard to forget. Jeff also deals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can develop after a person is exposed to traumatic events, specifically warfare in Jeff’s case. Symptoms include disturbing recurring flashbacks that can last months or years after the events. He has nightmares once a week to this day.

Although he has sought treatment, PTSD is something he will never fully get over. In addition to nightmares, Jeff also has adverse reactions to loud, unexpected noises. Fireworks on holidays, for example, send his mind back to his days in Iraq. The memories are unbearable.

Learning Jeff’s story has given me a new appreciation for our military servicemen. Their experiences during war are horrific. When they return home, they do not just forget what happened and move on. No. They live with the effects of their experience for the rest of their life. Knowing this about Jeff has helped me realize that some disabilities, although not visible, still have life-changing impact on a person. We should all keep this mind, especially in the case of veterans.

Jeff is a true hero.

He has displayed courage, bravery, and self-sacrifice, in this case, for the greater good of his country. 

We should all be thankful to him for his service and for his willingness to defend this great nation.

Thank you, Jeff, for being a real life hero.

Thank you for being selfless.

Thank you for living your life as an example for us all to follow.

You are appreciated! Your efforts and hardship will not be forgotten.

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This post is part of a series of 31 Real Life Heroes. If you’d like to nominate your hero, please email dwarshak(at)gmail.com.

Real Life Hero: Alana W.

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Jessica met Alana through their kids’ school. She immediately loved her thick southern accent and infectious laugh. The two became great friends. Jessica considers Alana her real life hero and was anxious to share her story. Most of this post was written by Jessica.

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A little more than a year ago, Alana was diagnosed with breast cancer. Knowing she had a difficult battle in front of her, she faced it head on and never lost sight of what she was fighting for-her beautiful family. She had the love and support of her wonderful husband and two children, as well as friends and family all around her.

This is an entry from her Caringbridge.org page. (in Alana’s own words)

After attending the Justin Timberlake concert in New Orleans on August 3rd, I discovered a lump in my left breast after taking off my very uncomfortable strapless bra. Chalking it up to a night of fun and an ill-fitting bra, I carried about my time in New Orleans and then the following week in Mississippi. We returned to Austin and I made an appointment with my doctor. She saw me the next day, August 12th, and then ordered a mammogram for the following day, Wednesday the 13th. To be honest, I was not that worried because the lump was painful and breast cancer is not supposed to hurt. Right? Regardless, I had my mammogram on Wednesday and the radiologist immediately ordered an ultrasound which was done at the same appointment. After the ultrasound, the Radiologist asked to meet with me in private. Uh oh. He informed me that the lump had calcifications around it and then a line of calcifications extending 10 centimeters from the lump. He said the lump measured 1.6 centimeters. I asked what all of that meant. His reply was “I am concerned. You need a biopsy right away.” Well crap. I had a biopsy the next day, Thursday, August 14th. However before the biopsy was even done the surgeon told me that I had breast cancer. She was very matter of fact and left no room for doubt. She proceeded with the biopsy. There was a fear that the lump was attached to my pectoral muscle. I was sent home to wait for the results over the weekend. The longest weekend of my life. I was convinced I had stage 3 cancer and was worried I wasn’t going to be ok. On Monday the 18th, I found out I had Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, Poorly differentiated. I was devastated. I did learn, however, that it didn’t appear to be attached to my pectoral muscle and that I most likely had caught it early. The pain was from the tumor pressing against my muscle, causing soreness. I breathed a little sigh of slight relief. My cancer is fast growing and aggressive. If it had gone untreated, who knows what could have happened! Wearing that strapless bra that pressed the lump into my muscle causing soreness truly saved me! (Thank you, Justin Timberlake for “making” me dress up for you and your concert! ) The next 2 weeks were filled with endless doctor appointments, more biopsies (ouch), more mammograms, ultrasounds, and lots of fear. Today, I’m ready to fight this cancer and come out like a champ. I am positive and ready. I know I have a long road ahead of me, but I also feel confident that I will be ok. My kids are being brave and seem to be handling all of this ok. My husband has been a rock and his faith that I will be healed has never wavered. The Lord promised to never leave me or forsake me. I know He has me in His hands and will see me through this. My prayer has been one of thankfulness and faith. I can’t wait to see what God does through our family and I can’t wait to see how He delivers us from this nasty thing called cancer. We are ready.

 

At the time, she thought it was probably stage two. She was scheduled to go in for a double mastectomy and we had a big going away party for her boobies. She was so strong and brave and always had a smile on her face. Her faith was and still is very strong. That is one of the main things that has gotten her through all of this.

She had the surgery and found out that the cancer was also in 10 of 32 of the lymph nodes they removed. One of them had erupted and which caused it to spread to other parts of her body. She was dealing with a diagnosis of Stage IV, which is incurable.

She had such a difficult battle in front of her.

She went through chemo, lost her hair, bought wigs and hats with hair. She changed her diet completely and gave up so many things that would not be beneficial in her fight. After she finished chemo, she had to have radiation for some spots on her sternum.

The road has not been easy, but she has endured it like a champ.

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Fast forward a year. Alana has been declared NED! That means NO EVIDENCE OF DESEASE! She will be the first to tell you that it is a miracle, that her faith in Jesus is what cured her.

When asked why Alana is her hero, Jessica responded,

She is one of my heroes because she never lost faith or sight of what is important. While she and I have a very different religious and spiritual belief, it has never been an issue. She just has the biggest heart and so much determination. She knew she had to fight and she did it with everything she had and she gave control to God because that is what she felt she needed to do. I am a fighter too and very strongly believe that you always have to try to see some sort of good in everything, in every situation. She believes she was given all of this for a reason, she may not know it yet, but that God has a plan for her. I admire her attitude and her will and her faith.

Thank you, Jessica for sharing this amazing story of a real life hero. Thank you, Alana, for being that hero for those around you! You are a true example of strength and perseverance. You never gave up hope.

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This post is part of a series of 31 Real Life Heroes. If you’d like to nominate your hero, please email dwarshak(at)gmail.com.

Real Life Hero: Laura B.

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{Guest post by my dear friend, Katie K. }

 

It was two weeks before my due date with my second child, our son Rhys.  I thought my regularly scheduled check-up was no big deal and my husband was even golfing an hour away that afternoon.  But when my doctor listened to his hunch and monitored us, he saw that my son was in trouble and needed to be born that day through an emergency C-section.  I was all alone and didn’t even see my husband until hours later when I woke up and he told me that our son was in the NICU.

 

As someone that already had one healthy child, I never expected Rhys’ birth to turn out the way it did. It almost didn’t turn out at all!  But we soon learned that we were going to be spending a lot of time at the NICU, and one of the incredible people that we encountered would soon become our favorite nurse and friend, Laura Blair.

 

When you don’t understand all the processes and medical terminology for things that suddenly start happening in a loved one’s care, a nurse becomes your special insider.  They see everything that happens in between the rare occasions when you get to see and talk with a doctor.  They administer all the medications, monitor vitals, feed and hold these babies around the clock.  They are the lifeline some parents need desperately when their child stays in the hospital but they must return to work or other children at home.  I cannot over-emphasize enough how comforting it is as a parent to see a familiar face and know that someone has been giving your baby love and attention when you cannot be there 24/7.

 

Laura shared positive moments with us and always had a kind word.  She exuded joy in helping others and shared how much her job meant to her.  Laura helped us understand the possible changes and helpfully answered questions.  She was a calming presence and her kindness will always be remembered by both my husband and myself.  On the days when she wasn’t assigned to be with Rhys, we felt like a friend was missing.

 

They must give serious treatment to these nurses in order to teach them to be encouraging but not give false hope to families.  Some of the nurses told us stories of babies that had been in the NICU for over a year, celebrating each milestone with the nurses that grew to love and cherish them.  Our extended stay (almost 6 weeks total) was an emotional rollercoaster.  One day things would be improving but the next day they were heading back in the opposite direction.  Doctors would talk to us about doing an invasive procedure but then decide it was best to keep waiting.  We saw specialists, did a million tests and felt torn every day that our baby wasn’t home with us.

 

I truly believe that it takes a very brave person to be a NICU nurse.  To see  the tiniest, most fragile patients and not lose faith.  To look at scared parents longing for hope and tell them that you will be there to do all that you can.  Laura comes from a big family where she was always helping take care of kids.  She has such a giving heart and sees her job as a blessing.  Even now, her husband is deployed to Afghanistan and she is serving as a nurse in El Paso.  Laura is a hero to us for the blessing she was to our family and we know she will do the same for many more families in the future!

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This post is part of a series of 31 Real Life Heroes. If you’d like to nominate your hero, please email dwarshak(at)gmail.com.

Real Life Hero: Lenzie D.

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Today’s post is a continuation of yesterday’s. The amazing woman I’m writing about today is Jaxon’s mother.

Many people are inspired by Lenzie Davis. I’m glad several asked me write about her, although I would have written about her anyway.  🙂

Lenzie is a dear friend of mine. Knowing her has always been a blessing, but it was our struggles that brought us a deeper friendship in recent years. I believe she is a gift from God to me and to many.

Lenzie is married to Cory. She is the mother of five babies. Two of them are in heaven, she lives with two, and she has one on the way. Cory and Lenzie have a solid marriage. They’ve lived through a lifetime of heartache in a short few years. They love and support each other even on the toughest days.

If you read yesterday’s post, you know that Lenzie’s son, Jaxon, passed away almost three years ago. Although the death of a child is difficult, Lenzie and Cory know that Jaxon is in heaven free from pain and sorrow now. When referring to Jaxon, Lenzie will say:

Some people never meet their hero… I gave birth to mine.

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Courtney nominated Lenzie as her hero. She met Lenzie in January 2012 when they were both in the hospital with loved ones. Lenzie’s son Jaxon and Courtney’s brother both had brain cancer. In the short time they’ve known each other, Courtney has been inspired by her.

When asked why she is her hero, Courtney replied,

Lenzie wakes up ready to continue to share her son’s legacy. She is one hundred percent transparent about the emotions and daily struggles that come with the death of a child. She shares the victories and defeats with the grace of a woman and not the grief of a mom. Her faith in God remains her strength. For Lenzie being a mom isn’t just about feeding and clothing children, it is about teaching them to be amazing people who are the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. In five short years she impressed that upon a child who was a servant of God until his dying day, and who continues to unite those who loved him to continue his work.

Lenzie continues her son’s legacy through Jaxon’s FROG Foundation. She spends time giving back to children who have cancer and their families. Knowing first hand what that is like, she is sensitive to their needs and understanding to each situation. Cory and their two children are all involved, too. The FROG Foundation is a family affair!

Lenzie Davis is a real life hero for many reasons. She is an example of a strong wife and mother, always looking out for her family’s best interest. She is an example of a firm believer in Christ, trusting completely in God’s plan for her life. She loves to serve and give to bless others. She is an example to us all.

I cannot fathom the pain she must feel after losing a child. I’ve heard the saying that parents should never have to bury their children. She did. I’m proud of Lenzie for waking up every morning and getting out of bed. I’m proud of her for keeping the faith and continuing to live life to the fullest. Although she couldn’t control what happened to Jaxon, she can certainly control how she chooses to move forward. She is making Jaxon and the rest of us proud by just being who she is. And, for most of us, she truly is a real life hero. Love to you, dear Lenzie!

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This post is part of a series of 31 Real Life Heroes. If you’d like to nominate your hero, please email dwarshak(at)gmail.com.

Real Life Hero: Jaxon D.

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(A variation of this post appeared on Alamo City Moms Blog.)

Today’s hero is a child. A child whose five years on earth made an impact on more people than most of us ever will. Read and be encouraged.

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There are people who come into your life whom you don’t ever forget. Their smiles are etched in your mind long after they’re gone from view. You get a fuzzy warm feeling inside just thinking about them. You know you are a better person for knowing them.

Jaxon Davis is one of those people.

At the six-week ultrasound, his parents were fascinated by their baby’s heart beating. It was the first thing they fell in love with. Little did they know just how special this heart would be.

Jaxon came into the world on May 23, 2007. Everyone who laid eyes on him immediately adored him. His smile was big and contagious. Wherever he went, an aura of joy surrounded him. Jaxon was an active boy, exploring and loving every minute of life.

Jaxon had a seizure when he was three-and-a-half years old. This took everyone by surprise. Doctors diagnosed him with epilepsy and started medication. However, the seizures did not stop. Three months and several hundred seizures later, doctors revealed Jaxon had a brain tumor. The Davis family was heartbroken, as were their family and friends. Although they were discouraged, they had hope that God would heal Jaxon and use their situation for good.

After considering their options, the Davis family decided they would move to Houston for seven months to provide Jaxon the best treatment possible. Family and friends far and wide prayed for complete healing for Jaxon. The Davis family received donations, meals, gift cards, and toys for the hospital. God provided every need during this hard time.

During his treatment, Jaxon looked to God for strength. Joshua 1:9 in the Bible says:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

This became Jaxon’s motto. He knew he could be strong and courageous with God’s help. Jaxon went through the treatments, no matter how tough. He wouldn’t give up. He was always brave and ready for the next thing.

While Jaxon was at the hospital, he saw a need. Other children with cancer were struggling, too. Sometimes they weren’t as brave or courageous as he was, and he hurt for them. He wanted to lift their spirits and bring smiles to their faces. Soon Jaxon was more interested in helping others than he was in himself. On hard days, helping and encouraging others was what helped him get past his own pain and frustration.

He began raising money to help kids in the hospital. He used the money to buy toys, stuffed animals, pillows, and other items to encourage other kids struggling with cancer. He loved helping others! Jaxon’s heart of gold didn’t stop there. He continued helping and giving to kids with cancer, was recognized by the Pay it Forward Foundation, and became the third inductee into their hall of fame.

Sadly, Jaxon’s cancer returned. Even when it became clear that treatment was ineffective, Jaxon never got discouraged. He continued to raise funds to shop for toys for other kids battling cancer. He never stopped caring for others.

Jaxon passed away on November 25, 2012. Although Jaxon’s cancer was not healed, his parents have hope in God and believe he is healed in heaven.

Even from heaven, Jaxon’s heart of gold continues to touch lives. His parents, Lenzie and Cory, have formed Jaxon’s F.R.O.G. Foundation, a nonprofit organization that continues his ministry of spreading smiles to kids with cancer. Jaxon’s favorite animals were frogs, and the acronym “Fully Rely On God” is a perfect fit. The foundation provides welcome bags for kids arriving for radiation treatment, treats families to outings away from the hospital environment, and delivers smile bags to kids at the hospital clinic. It also invests in childhood cancer research and has sponsored a playroom at the hospital to brighten the days of these young warriors.

Jaxon Davis is a hero. Heroes don’t have to be adults. Heroes are people who inspire us, who motivate us to do better. We love you, sweet Jaxon! Godspeed!

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This post is part of a series of 31 Real Life Heroes. If you’d like to nominate your hero, please email dwarshak(at)gmail.com.

Real Life Hero: Wayne M. (+2)

I’m moved beyond words to share today’s story. Sometimes a person’s act of kindness changes someone else’s life. Sometimes it actually SAVES another person’s life. Although I’m writing about one individual, there are actually three heroes in this story.

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Wayne M. is a family man and a college student. Most days he wakes up at 6am and does the typical things most of us do. He gets up and gets dressed, spends time with his wife and daughter, feeds his dogs and chickens, and is out of his house by 7am. He attends Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and is working on his BS as an Aerospace Engineer. His school day starts at 7:45 and ends about 5pm. When finished, he goes home and does dinner, homework, housework, and feeds the dogs and chickens again. Pretty normal sounding guy, right?

Ten years ago, on September 15, 2005, Wayne was at the right place at the right time.

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The second hero in this story is Yvonne L.

It was a day like any other. She was at a shopping center parking lot. She could never see it coming. A driver high on meth. It was all so fast. The car hit her. Her legs were severed on impact.

Wayne was there. Without hesitation, he ran to her side. A U.S. Marine at the time, the life saving techniques he learned in training camp came into play in a way he never they could.  Wayne was at the right place at the right time.

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Our third hero is James C. He, too, was a U.S. Marine at the time. James, too, was the right place at the right time.

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The two men ran to Yvonne’s side. Wayne took off his belt and applied it as a tourniquet to one of Yvonne’s limbs. James did the same with his own belt. Her blood was all over them, but they did not care. If they hadn’t done this, she would have bled to death. These men saved her life.

Yvonne shared this story with me. She considers these two men her heroes. They didn’t have to help her that day. But they did. She considers them her angels.

Yvonne is in a great place in her life. She is back on her feet. I’ve had the privilege of meeting Yvonne through the San Antonio Amputee Foundation. She has a heart of gold. Her smile is warm and contagious. She, too, is a hero although she would never admit it. When she told me about these men, my thought was,

You are a hero, too, Yvonne! Look at what you’ve been through and you still have love, joy, and peace in your heart! You, sweet lady, are amazing!

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Thank you, Wayne, Yvonne, and James, for being real life heroes! Thank you for being such light in a world that can often feel so dark. You are an inspiration to us all!

 

To read about more real life heroes, go here.