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A Quadriplegic Filam Hero

filam-wounded-with-family.jpg WASHINGTON D.C. = US Army Specialist Fourth Class Joseph “Jay” Briseno, Jr., a Filipino American who is one of the most severely wounded soldier of the Iraq war, has returned to his home in Manassas, Virginia, paralyzed from the neck down and blind.
For the past five years Jay was transferred from one army hospital to another to help him recover from his severe wounds and rehabilitation. He has since returned home and now lives with his parents, US Army sergeant (ret) Joseph Briseno, Sr. and Eva Marie Briseno who are both originally from Cavite in the Philippines.
For his sacrifice, Jay has received the Bronze Medal, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal and Combat Army Badge.
Edmund Silvestre of the Filipino Reporter in New York recently interviewed Joseph Sr. who described the extent of his son’s injuries and needs. “Aside from spinal cord and brain injuries, Jay also suffered two cardiac arrests and has been attached to a life support… doctors told us that he would die, that it’s impossible for him to survive his injuries and that it’s best for all of us if he were to die. Paralyzed from his chin down, Jay cannot eat, move, speak or breathe on his own. Although conscious, his ability to communicate is severely limited.” But they have never given up hope.

He said the family still manage to communicate with Jay. “He can only blink, smile or grimace in response to questions like ‘Are you hungry?’” Briseno confides. “If his answer is yes, he’ll blink once. If no, twice.” Then he adds: “We miss him so much. I miss playing basketball with him, even those ‘Hi Dad, Hi Mom’ greetings when he comes home from school.”
At the age of 20, Jay was deployed as a civil affairs specialist after the American invasion of Iraq. On June 27, 2003, while checking security in an Iraqi market, he was shot pointblank at the back of the neck, severing his spinal cord and subsequent cardiac arrests stole his vision and damaged his brain.

Jay was 20 and an army reservist studying at George Mason University when he went to Iraq to work in the rebuilding effort in Iraq. He was helping assess security in the market area in Baghdad when he was shot.

Since Jay came home to their Manassas Park, VA residence, the family has transformed their basement into an intensive care unit where they take turns looking after him.

Silvestre quoted Joseph as saying that he and his wife “have given up their full-time jobs to care for Jay. Though they have hired nurses to look after Jay, there have been times when the family has had to do without outside help.

Retirement is no longer an option. Even vacations for my daughters are out of the question. Even a trip to the grocery store for one of us requires a careful coordination of my family’s schedules.” Jay received $100,000 in compensation from the US military, which also shoulders his medical care. The father told the Silvestre that having him at home has entailed other costs. “All our savings, all our money, was just emptied… the 401(k)s, everything.”

The Reporter continued:
“Various charities, especially Rebuilding Together, raised money to renovate their basement, supply a backup generator for the medical equipment, and install a lift so they can hoist Jay into a chair and bathe him in a handicapped accessible bathroom.”
“If you asked me this from the very beginning, if we can handle it, I wouldn’t lie to you. I would say no, that there is no way that we’re going to learn all these things,” said Jay’s dad. “But my wife and I learned everything. We are the respiratory technicians, the physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, wound care nurse.”

Still, Silvestre said, the Brisenos have no regrets. “We are only thankful,  that our Jay is with us, that he is alive and living and with us, in our home, every moment of every day,” said the older Briseno. “And little by little, step by step, Jay has regained abilities we were told would be impossible, given the extent of his injuries.”

Joseph Sr. has joined the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation which seeks a cure for spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injury. He has become an ambassador for the Reeve Foundation’s Military Outreach Campaign, created to help all active and retired military with mobility impairment from spinal cord injury or a traumatic brain injury.

Briseno said he hopes to promote the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation’s Paralysis Resource Center with other Filipino-Americans, the largest Asian-American group to serve in the US military.

filam-wounded-bronze-star-and-purple-heart.jpg Two years ago, writes Silvestre, Briseno was at Capitol Hill to lobby for support for the Reeve Foundation and for stem cell research. He also attends an annual symposium in Washington, D.C. for top scientists in the world doing research on stem cells. Last month, he was at the Reeve Foundation’s headquarters to address a forum where he shared his and his
family’s sacrifices and love for Jay.

Briseno’s case won nationwide attention after Marilynn Marchione of the Associated Press wrote a series of articles about Jay when he was in Tampa, Florida, for rehabilitation. “The articles touched a lot of people’s hearts and brought us many new friends all over the US and some from other countries like Germany and the Virgin Islands,” Jay’s father said.
Joseph and Eva are graduates of the National High School in Cavite city in the Philippines in 1975 and 76 respectively. After learning of Jay’s fate, the alumni association there, according to Joseph, created a special website called “Freedom Page” as a tribute to Jay.

Briseno was shot in the back of the head at point-blank range in a Baghdad marketplace. His spinal cord was shattered, and cardiac arrests stole his vision and damaged his brain.  As a high schooler, Briseno liked the Discovery Channel and CSI, and wanted to be a forensic scientist or investigator. He was 20 years old, attending George Mason University, when he was called up from the reserves and sent to war.

Various charities, especially Rebuilding Together, raised money to renovate their basement, supply a backup generator for the medical equipment, and install a lift so they can hoist “Jay,” as they call him, into a chair and bathe him in a handicapped accessible bathroom.

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2 Responses to A Quadriplegic Filam Hero

  1. Mary Beth Starrett

    God bless and keep you Jay and family. You are heroic beyond measure.

  2. Stay strong, my brothers, and may God bless you all. From a fellow retired Army Sergeant and quadriplegic. Matt