ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) – A St. Louis veteran is given a dose of freedom this Christmas season, nearly 12 years after sustaining injuries that nearly killed him.
Todd Nicely joined the Marines in 2007 and completed a seven-month tour of Iraq in 2008. In 2009 he was reinstated, but this time to Afghanistan. A tragedy occurred six months after the mission.
“I stopped patrol before crossing a bridge and when I was crossing the bridge I stepped on a bomb,” Nicely said.
The explosion tore off parts of each of his four limbs, but none of the 12 men in his squad were injured.
“I didn’t want to do anything to my boys that I wouldn’t do, so I was up front most of the time,” he said.
Nicely said his heart stopped three times immediately after the explosion before it was stabilized in a military hospital.
“I was in the hospital for about a year and a half working on physical therapy and occupational therapy,” he said. “Now at home, I’ll just continue occupational therapy on my own.”
To put it nicely, he was adjusted for prosthetics early on, but the loss of his hands makes it difficult to cope with everyday tasks.
“Learning to have no hands on my own was the hardest part,” he said. âYou take small movements for granted, like pinching your fingers to pick up a chapstick on the floor or a credit card. It’s sometimes very daunting tasks to do on a day-to-day basis, but you learn to do it, struggle with it and be okay when you sometimes can’t. “
A few years ago, he said his social worker raised the idea of ââa service dog through the VA.
“When I saw that they had certain skills, like picking up a credit card from the floor, I thought I needed one,” he said.
Nice contact with CHAMP Assistance Dogs, a local organization that trains assistance animals and provides them to adults, children and veterans.
“It takes approximately two years to fully train the dogs and provide them with a range of skills that we can then add to specifically target the person we are teaching them,” said Pam Budke, CHAMP Executive Director.
With the help of the Kaufman fund, CHAMP was able to mediate Hugo, a 3-year-old black laboratory, with Nicely last week.
“It’s a blessing to have him here to pick up these things or pick up something I’m dropping,” Nicely said. “It improves my quality of life a lot.”
Hugo is able to close doors and pick up a variety of items from the floor, like a credit card, battery, or even Nicely’s prosthetic hand.
“Sometimes it pops off or the battery pops out and it’s really hard for me to grab it unless I physically get out of my wheelchair and lie on the floor,” he said.
Hugo’s trainers, who are employed by CHAMP, will continue to introduce Nicely to additional commands for Hugo, especially in public.
“Hugo made a difference in Todd’s life, it is a wonderful feeling for all of us and we are all happy when someone becomes more independent because a dog is there to help them,” said Budke.
According to CHAMP, it costs around $ 30,000 to train and place a service dog. However, the dog is made available to the recipient free of charge.
The admission of a service dog takes about two years. CHAMP encourages people to come forward to see if they qualify.