Thursday, June 11, 2015

In 2011, as Kathleen prepared to finish her college degree, her husband of eighteen months, Aaron Causey, was catastrophically injured while attempting to disarm an IED in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Aaron suffered double above-knee amputations, multiple injuries to his hands and arms, a traumatic brain injury, PTSD and a fertility-threatening wound from the blast. Life and marriage changed in ways yet unknown to Kathleen as she looked at her new husband in the ICU, missing both of his legs, casts on each arm, bandages on this face, and sedated so heavily he later would have no memory of his first few weeks in recovery. Not yet parents, Aaron’s injuries indicated a natural conception would most likely never be possible.

With amazing strength and courage, Kathleen stood by Aaron through surgery after surgery, long lulls in recovery and crushing setbacks. While Aaron spent the next two years at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Kathleen continued to volunteer with the USO, which she loved, and spoke to audiences about her experiences as a young caregiver spouse. In March 2013, USO Metro awarded her the John Gioia Patriot Award. Yet her biggest award that year would come while she and Aaron prepared to pursue in vitro fertilization with the hopes of starting a family. Beyond all expectations, Kathleen learned she was pregnant and in early 2014 she delivered their “miracle” baby. Later that year, Kathleen and Aaron were able to relocate close to family and are building a wheelchair-accessible home. While they work towards that dream, the couple continues their journey of healing, with Kathleen tending to Aaron’s personal and medical needs, and helping him cope with the symptoms of his brain injury.

Having come so far despite great odds, their experience with infertility and conception was captured in the award-winning short documentary, “The Next Part,” and in 2014, Kathleen served on a panel for The Bob Woodruff Foundation’s “Intimacy After Injury” conference, the first of its kind to openly explore the often unspoken injuries and effects of war.

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While their challenges have been formidable, Kathleen and Aaron are both passionate about helping other military caregivers and talk openly and honestly about their journey from the first week in the hospital to the last day of active duty, new life in medical retirement and navigating health care choices. In her role as a Dole Caregiver Fellow, Kathleen hopes to hone her skills for advocating for improvements to policies governing veteran healthcare, and share her knowledge about care for male-factor infertility as a consequence of injury to give hope to others facing similar circumstances.

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