How a guide dog changed one veteran’s life

How a guide dog changed one veteran’s life

BY SUE ERWIN – United States Marine Corp veteran Michael Jernigan will be the keynote speaker on Thursday, March 30 at 2 p.m. at the Boca Grande Community Center.

The event is part of the ‘Lessons Learned from Living’ series offered by the Friends of the Boca Grande Community Center. The programs are facilitated by licensed clinical social worker Grace Ott.

Jernigan will discuss how a guide dog transformed his life and talk about the Southeastern Guide Dogs organization in Palmetto, Florida.

Guests are invited to come and hear his inspiring story about his recovery after the tragic loss of his sight.

Jernigan enlisted in the Marine Corps on his 24th birthday, sworn in by his father and fulfilling a lifetime dream of becoming a third-generation Marine. While he was deployed in Iraq, a roadside bomb threw his body, mangled his hand and knee, crushed his forehead, destroyed his eyes and injured his brain. He is the first service member to lose both eyes in the global war on terror. He went through 30 major surgeries in 12 months and spent 16 months in hospitals and rehab facilities. He received a medical discharge in 2005 and was awarded the Purple Heart and Combat Action Ribbon for his service.

“Michael is one of our graduates who helped to start our Paws for Patriots services for veterans after he returned from Iraq, having suffered the loss of both eyes and other tragic injuries when his vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb,” said Ruth Lando, manager of media relations at Southeastern Guide Dogs. “His guide dog Brittani literally saved his life and enabled him to finish college and forge a career helping other visually impaired veterans and those living with PTSD.”

Brittani helped Jernigan regain his independence and helped him manage the anxiety he felt because of combat-related PTSD. With Brittani at his side, Jernigan finished his degree from the University of South Florida and began a civilian career. Brittani is now retired, and Jernigan is waiting for the perfect match in a new guide.

“Michael inspires audiences with stories of intercepting challenges and overcoming adversity. He also provides peer-to- peer counseling for other veterans and has remained active in veterans’ affairs,” Lando said.

This series addresses the experience of illness, loss, trauma, survivorship and the inspiration that can follow. From coping to surviving to living and thriving, educational information is provided at each session.

A question-and-answer period will take place after the discussion.

Southeastern Guide Dogs Associate Director of Philanthropy Amber Watt said when she spoke to Friends Program Director Debbie Frank last summer, she immediately thought of Jernigan to be a guest speaker.

“I shared some of the inspiring stories of transformation that have come from our guide dog graduates. And I shared Michael’s story specifically, and let her know that he would be available to speak about how a guide dog has changed his life,” Watt said.

There is no charge to attend this lecture, but preregistration is required.

To sign up, call 964-0827 or visit friendsofbocagrande.org.