MOSUL, Iraq, March 21st, 2006 — “Pop, pop, pop, ting!” As my Humvee filled with smoke from a fire extinguisher that had just been pierced by a round from an enemy AK47, I dropped into the truck from the turret to make sure my head had not just been blown off. I could hear every breath. My heartbeat had moved into my eardrums. The only thing louder was the sound of bullets buzzing past my ears like supersonic bees. I took a deep breath, stood up and manned my .50 caliber machine gun.
In front of me was a well-trained fighter. He was wearing all black and in a Russian style AK squat shooting position. I aimed low and walked my rounds up and into his flesh. From there, everything was a bit of a blur. I took aim at a yellow semi-truck that the enemy was using as cover, unloading in 5 to 7 round bursts. By the time the rest of my unit made it up to my truck, the fight was over. I had killed multiple men. And was miraculously unharmed.
These guys were good. They had hit center mass on the truck. They had shot out our tires. One round even hit the tip of the barrel of my machine gun. My command was nice enough to cut the tip of the barrel off and give it to me, along with a medal for valor. It’s now a glorified paperweight, sitting in a shadow box with the rest of my military ribbons and medals.
It was March 21st, 2006. I was 20-years-old. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was also the very first World Down Syndrome Day. For most of my adult life, this anniversary was met with a lot of booze, relived terror and mixed emotions. I constantly wondered what the families of those men were doing on that anniversary. Did they have children? How were their mothers coping with their violent ends? How can I live with the fact that I killed these people? For 10 years, that was my focus. It was not healthy.
A MIRACLE CHILD
For years my wife and I had attempted to have a child. Then, in 2016, my son was conceived. It was a dream come true. We were finally going to be parents. Like all soon-to-be moms and dads, we had big dreams for our child. He’s going to be athletic, smart, an attorney or a doctor. But, as all parents know, you don’t get to choose your children. What we got was better, even though we didn’t realize it at the time.
At our 20-week-pregnancy appointment we were thrilled to learn if we were having a boy or a girl. That’s the point of this ultrasound, right? We were thrilled when the ultrasound technician told us we were having a boy, but she was not acting normal.
She kept saying “Are you hot? It’s hot in here. I think the thermostat is broken.” She left a couple of times to “fix” the thermostat. I believe she was actually consulting with the doctor. We would soon find out she discovered several markers for Down syndrome.
After the ultrasound, we went into a consultation room to wait for the doctor. He walked in with a somber face. He said “I wish I had better news for you.” He then said “termination.” I couldn’t believe my ears. We just learned we are having a boy, now this doctor is suggesting we kill him.
We learned that this is standard practice. At this point, the pregnancy is considered high-risk. We had appointments with a specialist at least every two weeks. At those appointments we were told where we could still go to get an abortion. We were living in Florida at the time and could get an abortion up to 24-weeks. I remember the doctor telling us we could go to Colorado, Canada and Mexico for a late term abortion.
It’s no wonder somewhere around 90% of all Down syndrome pregnancies are terminated.
My son was born in the fall of 2016. And was extremely healthy considering his Down syndrome diagnosis. I knew he would change my life, but I had no clue how my son was about to help heal the biggest emotional wound of my past.
MY FIRST WORLD DOWN SYNDROME DAY
It was March 21st, 2017. The day was all about celebrating Down syndrome. My wife and I purchased some “silly socks” and we spread the word about our son and the beautiful genetic disorder that made him who he is. You see, Down syndrome is caused by an extra 21st chromosome. While a typical person has only two of each of their 23 chromosomes, a person with Down syndrome has and extra 21st chromosome. March 21st (3-21) signifies the extra chromosome within the numerical date.
It wasn’t until the next day that I realized I went all of March 21st, without thinking of the battle from 11-years prior. It hadn’t even crossed my mind. All of the horror associated with that day was forgotten. I was blessed with a child who, at the very least, cured me of a serious ill.
I can’t wait to see how he blesses the rest of the world.