Heriberto Vidro is a father, husband and United States hero. Enlisting in the Army Reserves in 1980, Vidro, as his friends and family call him, served our country for twenty-four years.
In 2003, Vidro went to Iraq. A member of the 773rd Transportation Company, his unit was transporting fuel to the 3rd Infantry Division on the front lines when they were ambushed. As he ran to help his fellow soldiers, an explosion threw him into the air. Landing on his back caused Vidro pain and discomfort, but because he showed no outward signs of distress, his case did not seem urgent. In fact, the Army was unaware of the severity of his injuries until the end of his tour in the fall of 2003.
Once home, Vidro began visiting specialists for nerve problems and muscle spasms. He soon discovered his kidneys were affected by the fall, and he had two herniated discs in his neck and two in his lower back. Because the lower herniated discs rubbed against a nerve, Vidro’s left leg became numb and he could not walk. He also began experiencing neurological issues with his left hand. Additionally, Vidro was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Doctors prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) to control PTSD. He has tried morphine, spinal nerve blocks, and various other pain management procedures, all without success. He had hand surgery, but it did not improve his damaged nerves, so he is unable to hold anything in his left hand. Ultimately, Vidro underwent back surgery in 2008. While he cannot stand or sit for long periods, the back surgery has brought some relief. He can walk further now before his back begins to ache and knot up.
Although they weren’t appreciated at the time, Vidro had also sustained head injuries. He frequently suffers from migraines, dizzy spells and blurred vision. He has tinnitus, a condition impairing his ability to hear out of his right ear. He uses a cane to keep his balance. Sometimes he cannot differentiate between hot and cold temperatures. His injuries affected his ability to speak correctly, and have caused short-term memory loss, confusion and rapid mood changes.
Doctors’ appointments now mainly consist of prioritizing his symptoms to make the most of his life. Like the warrior he is, Vidro will not give up. He has learned his own strength in tolerating such pain. In fact, he stopped taking morphine this January because he did not like the way the medication made him feel.
Vidro manages his pain with occupational therapy three times a week and chiropractic visits. While he feels better for a few days following a chiropractic session, the best form of relief comes from constant distractions. Staying busy allows Vidro to block out some of the pain. His favorite new activities include cooking and adapted hunting, skiing and biking.
The Wounded Warriors Project, an organization providing medical and psychological support for the severely wounded, has been an instrumental part of his recovery. For Vidro, connecting with other veterans has been therapeutic. “We have a unique bond. We know and understand what one another are going through, and together we help each other heal.”
Wounded Warrior Projects that have most affected Vidro are the peer mentor program, Soldier Rides, and Challenge Aspen, also referred to as C.A.M.O. or Challenge Aspen Military Opportunities. Riding his recumbent bike, Vidro has already participated in two Soldier Rides, which are three- or four-day cycling events. He also raced in the New England Disabled Sports’ White Mountain Cycling Classic.
Challenge Aspen provides recreational and cultural experiences for wounded warriors with cognitive or physical disabilities. Collaborating with the Wounded Warrior Project, Challenge Aspen helps wounded veterans rediscover their life potential. While in Colorado, Vidro tested the limits of his body through fishing, horseback riding, and whitewater rafting. He felt normal and liked the camaraderie. Being able to joke and laugh with fellow soldiers while learning to support one another was important to him.
A recent and happy addition to Vidro’s life has been Houdini, his service dog from NEADS (Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans). Family, friends and doctors all believe Houdini has helped Vidro reduce his medications from forty pills a day to eleven, and has made him softer, calmer and more engaged in life.
Vidro takes pride in brushing, feeding and walking Houdini. Houdini senses Vidro’s pain. He keeps Vidro stable when standing and helps him around the house by opening doors, answering the phone and picking up fallen objects. To Vidro, his wife and three children, Houdini is part of the family. “He is not a dog; he is my baby, my buddy.”
While amazed by the kindness and graciousness of his community, Vidro often regrets returning from war as a “burden” to his beloved family. He moves forward by appreciating the little things in life, like watching a Mets game and enjoying photography, fishing and music. His new mission is to help others and be with his family.
“I want returning soldiers to know there is still life after a catastrophic injury. My dream is to ride cross-country from New York to California to bring awareness about Veterans’ issues. If I can use my life as an example, then I would know I have made a difference.”