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Radio talker Sean Hannity had a gentleman named Israel Del Toro on his radio program not long ago. Israel’s a master Sergeant in the Air Force who had been refused entrance twice to the commissary where he’s based because he wasn’t wearing a mask. Now keep in mind, he couldn’t wear a mask because he’s got no ears. He couldn’t have put it on if he did have ears, because he’s only got one hand and it has no fingers. Israel had been so critically injured when an IED exploded under his Humvee in Afghanistan, that he was burned over 80% of his body and ultimately needed more than 130 skin grafts and was in a coma for three months. Hannity wanted to know about the pain and agony Israel had endured and Israel told him it was like this: take a bird’s feather, not even a large bird and just let it waft down and touch his burned skin. And it was pure hell, which he had endured over dozens and dozens of skin grafts for over three years, he couldn’t turn over. He couldn’t sleep without massive doses of meds. A nurse couldn’t change his dressing without it being ungodly agonizing, you get the picture don’t you? Can you even begin to imagine what it must have been like to use the bathroom? Israel remembers the day that changed his life forever:
“And when I got out of the truck, I was on fire from head to toe and that was December, 2005. Now we come to March, 2006. I was in coma for months, and it’s weird not knowing what happened in your life for four months, just completely blank. This is the part where now my wife gets tested with her resiliency. Cause she gets a phone call actually on her birthday. It was December 5th, a great birthday present. I gave my wife a great birthday. She just happened to be at church and her sister was at home. And so her sister went back and told her, ‘Hey, DT’s friend wants to talk to you.’ I woke up in March and I started remember her being there and the docs telling me what had happened. They’re asking me, ‘Do you know where you’re at?’ I’m like, Oh, Afghanistan. They’re like, ‘No, do you know what month it is?’ They, I was like, December something. ‘No it’s March.’ They’re looking at me. And then telling me, you know, 80% of your body is third degree burns. I don’t know to say, why can’t I move? I can’t talk. What’s going on? And they said, you almost died three times on us. And then tell me my diagnosis is still going to be in hospital for another year, year and a half, be on a respirator for rest of your life. You may not walk again. And your military career is pretty much over and they’re all waiting to see what I’m going to say. And I look at it and it’s like, pretty much ‘You can go to hell.’ You know, of course they read my lips. Cause I had a trake from that day, I just kept pushing. I was like, I’m not gonna let this beat me.
I was like, I got, I have a son. I got to show him that ‘Yeah, dad got jacked up, but he’s not quitting.’ That’s not going to let this ruin his life and never throughout my entire ordeal that I wished that I died, uh, except for I call this, uh, my, my darkest hour. When dealing with burn victims they cover the mirrors. They want to ease you into your transition, to what you look like now. And I was going to the restroom. I was getting, having help. You know, I have my wife and my therapist were walking and I like, I slip and I don’t know who grabbed it, my wife or Gary and they pull the tower off the mirror and I see myself, I break down.
I tell him, you guys should have let me die. It wasn’t a vanity thing. For me, it was more that there was 30 something man sees himself and thinks he’s a monster. What’s a three year old kid going to think because no father wants the son to be afraid. I don’t want my son to be afraid of me. He’s my everything. He was my motivation. It was my spark. And to have the fear that he may run away from me when he sees me crushed me. But at that day, you know, after I got out of hospital, I walked in and of course I was all bandaged up. I looked like a freaking mummy. I walked in, I remember some of my teammates being there and my wife, some of my relatives and her saying, you know, Poppy’s home. And he comes around and out and he stops. And I’m like, holy crap. He’s afraid of me. He doesn’t want to come by me. All these bad thoughts of my, that dark hour of mine was rushing back. It’s going to be scared. And he, he tilts his head like this, and said ‘Poppy?’ And I’m like, yeah, buddy. And he just runs up to give me a hug, best hug, the most amazing hug I’ve ever had in my life. You know, all he wanted was his dad.”
Years ago, I covered the Jason Schecterle story for In the Line of Duty Special Issue 11. Jason had been a dark haired, dark eyed, young stud who’d been an officer with a Phoenix PD for just two years when his Crown Vic cruiser was rear ended at 115 miles an hour by a cab driver. The cabbie was an illegal who had not taken his epilepsy meds and Jason was pretty much being incinerated alive…until a fire crew just across the street headed to another call, had witnessed the crash and resulting Inferno. They extricated what was left of Jason Schecterle that night and life, as he knew it was forever changed. He became the only person in history at the time to recover from fifth degree burns and pretty much everything above his waistline was destroyed. No ears, no nose, no mouth and pretty much useless claws for hands and fingers. He was blind for eight months yet through it, all his almost other worldly, spirit and obsession with overcoming made his story. One for the ages. Jason told me about his love of policing, despite it all:
“I’ve wanted to be a police officer since I was about 16 years old, my oldest brother is a Phoenix police officer and he joined the department in 1989. He’s nine years older than I am. And I learned through him what the job was about. I went on a few ride alongs with him, and then I joined the military out of high school and was a security police in the military. Another reason I used to like to ride with Brian at work because he was always very calm. And I was, you know, if I wanted to get angry or if I wanted to yell and scream, I could because I was very temperamental also had a very short fuse and now nothing makes me angry. I can’t get mad if I try. I don’t know why. It’s very strange how that has changed. Nothing makes me angry. And I think it’s because something so incredible to me has happened that everything else is just small to me. Now, I think, you know, if you haven’t gone through something like this, I don’t think you should say, Oh, well my problems aren’t anything, you know, it’s all relative. You know, you have problems in your life and they’re a big deal to you. That’s very respectful and everybody should respect that. But I can’t think of too much worse that can happen to me. So, you know, nothing else happens if I don’t get to, if I don’t meet a deadline that I wanted to meet her, if I oversleep through the alarm or, you know, if my kid decides to draw on my drywall, I’m ‘Good Lord, that’s the biggest problem I’m going to have. I’m going to do just fine.”
It’s all there in Line of Duty’s Special Issue 11. And if you ever get a bit down or a hell of a lot down, I promise you if you’ll spend just a few minutes getting to know Israel del Toro and Jason Schecterle, your vision of yourself, your appreciation of yourself, and even your love of yourself and the gifts God has given you, will take on a dramatically new and, I think improved light. Try it….you’ll like it. By the way, speaking of fantastic people, in September, 2020 Line of Duty online subscribers will meet Jaime Bridges, a police counselor, and longtime veteran cop who got hooked on painkillers. After an accident got arrested, lost her law enforcement career and resurrected her life and a new career helping and counseling, hurting officers. It’s an incredible story. I feel in my heart, every cop will appreciate:
“When I went through a very difficult time in my life. And it was very public. Uh, when I was an officer and I, and I got arrested and I was so ashamed and because of my addiction and I, my, that same coach who had coached me since I was 15, I was mortified when she called and she’s like, she picked up the phone. She’s like, I just wanted you to know that I love you. And you’re still the same person that you were, that you’ve been since you were 15 years old, this is just a hiccup in the road. And you have to keep your head up. You’re a fighter and you need to keep going. And I think it was what, what I’d like in that moment. It really made me realize it was okay to love myself again. Cause the person I looked up to the most could still love me. Then I needed to love myself. And um, so I think it’s just for me, it was somebody that was important that still believed in me and believed that I was a good person. Then pick my head up and keep moving forward.”
Be looking for it online. Special Issue #53–Post Traumatic Stress. I’m Ron Barber and that’s Stuff You Never Ever Learned at the Academy.