Local Woman Gives Comfort To Soldiers Injured In Iraq War

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It has been a hard year for Phyllis Schmidt of Payson. First, her husband, Ed, passed away, then she took care of her best friend, Bonnie Kennaly, who was dying of cancer.

"The day after we buried Bonnie, I heard about Sean," Schmidt said.

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Sean Carroll lost a leg and several fingers in an ambush in Fallujah. He is still able to play guitar, which helped him regain dexterity and strength in his hands and arms.

Sean is her 19-year-old grandson, a lance corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps. While serving in Iraq, on patrol in Fallujah, Sean was injured by a dirty bomb in an ambush.

The attack cost the young man a leg and several fingers. He also sustained numerous injuries from shrapnel.

When Schmidt heard of her grandson's injuries, she dropped what she was doing, packed a bag, and flew to Washington, D.C.

"When he was sent by helicopter from Germany, he was given only a 50 percent chance of surviving. When he went into a coma at the hospital (Bethesda), they gave him only a 20 percent chance," Schmidt said. Sean grew up in Idaho Springs, Colo. at an elevation of more than 10,000 feet. Schmidt said the doctors said because Sean had lived at that altitude it made his heart and lungs strong enough to help him survive his injuries.

She stayed by his bedside while he was in a coma, splitting shifts with her son and Sean's father, Michael Carroll, and two of Sean's seven brothers.

But she also took the time to visit with the other young men in the ward.

"I'd walk up and down and do what I could for them," she said. "A lot of them didn't have families who could get away to be with them. They all just called me ‘Grandma,' it was easier," she said.

Schmidt would write letters for them, push them in wheelchairs, and whatever else she could. She said she'd also talk to them about politics, "They all seem to prefer Bush over Kerry. They seem to think he's doing a great job over there. They feel like Bush is leading them in the right direction."

Although she is a retired nurse, she did not provide any actual medical care for the injured soldiers.

"They have a marvelous staff and such modern techniques, you wouldn't dare touch a wound," she said. "It made me feel like my training had been in the dark ages."

Schmidt stayed on the base in the Fisher House -- something similar to the Ronald McDonald House for the families of seriously ill children -- for three months. She said the people at Fisher House, the families visiting the boys at the hospitals and the patients, all become one big, close-knit family, even though the faces were always changing. Helicopters would come in three times a week, bringing the injured from Germany and sometimes there were boys who didn't make it.

Schmidt used her experience as a volunteer with RTA Hospice and Palliative Care for five years, to help the families with their loss when she could.

After staying three months with her grandson at Bethesda, Schmidt came back to Payson for three weeks.

"I had to close up the house and all that, something I hadn't done before," she said. "My neighbors were just wonderful, they took care of everything for me." She said Roy and Nancy Olson and Jim and Marcie Carini even cleaned up after her, "I was eating when I got the call and just left things."

Also helping were her step-daughter and son-in-law, Betty Ann and Mike McClure, who took care of her dogs, a German shepherd and a Shar-Pei, for six months.

Schmidt then returned to Washington, D.C. to stay with her grandson while he was in Walter Reed hospital. The Marines paid her way for the second trip, using airline miles donated to the Fisher House.

Transferring to Walter Reed, Sean continued to recover. He eventually started physical therapy and was fitted with a prosthetic leg. He has since moved into the Fisher House and is in ongoing therapy to learn to use the new leg and its computer components.

"He has good days and bad days. Most of the time he has a good attitude," Schmidt said.

She said her grandson would do it again, "He thinks the Marines are the greatest thing God ever created."

"I feel good about it now too. They stick together, they truly care about each other and their families. They never leave anyone behind," she said. And they are still checking in with her. Schmidt said if they need her, she will go back again.

Once Sean is ready, he will go before a medical board to see if he can continue serving the Marines in another capacity.

"There's lots he can do, but he hasn't decided what he wants to do yet," she said.

Yes, Phyllis Schmidt had a hard year, but like her grandson, Sean, she mostly has a good attitude.

"I can hardly wait for 2005, maybe things will get better," she said.

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