Jeromy Dillman prides himself on his eagle-eye vision. The specialist with the U.S. Army National Guard spotted the roadside bomb from atop his gunner’s perch in the lead scout vehicle of a convoy near Balad, Iraq, on Feb. 21, 2007. He yelled to alert his crew and they swerved in an attempt to dodge the bomb, but it hit the wheels on the driver’s side and detonated. Shrapnel tore through his left leg and pelvis as a result of the blast He suffered a closed-head blast injury that resulted in a major concussion and a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Jeromy was stabilized at a Balad hospital, lifeflighted to Germany and sent on to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where he spent the next three months. “I didn’t have a rosy prognosis when I was admitted,” Jeromy shared. “The doctors said I’d probably never move my foot again, or at best, rely on a cane.”
Nebraska State Adjutant General Roger Lempke and Senators Ben Nelson and Chuck Hagel were instrumental in cutting through the red tape and getting Jeromy transferred to Madonna for rehabilitation. “I’ve been very fortunate to have concerned politicians and military personnel supporting my cause,” Jeromy stated.
Gen. Lempke initially told Jeromy about Madonna’s rehabilitation program. He explained that Jeromy qualified for the Community-Based Health Care Initiative Program, which helps soldiers transition back into civilian life. They are referred to a hospital within 50 miles of their home station, which in Jeromy’s case, was Lincoln, Neb. The reservists complete light duty at their home station between medical appointments.
This gives the soldiers time with their families and the stable order of a familiar military environment. “I’ve seen soldiers with TBIs who didn’t get treatment for up to a year post-injury, which compromises your recovery. I’m so thankful not to be in that category,” Jeromy emphasized. He was admitted to Madonna’s outpatient rehabilitation program in June 2007.
One of his primary goals was to get movement back in his left leg and foot, despite the grim diagnosis he’d previously received. Another scan on his foot held more positive results and his therapists set up a program to address movement issues. Working aggressively in therapy sessions five times a week paid off; he can now walk unassisted.
Jeromy also worked hard in rebuilding both his speech and vision. “When I began therapy, it was an effort to even hold a conversation. Karen (Kenyon) and Gail (Finsand) taught me strategies to reduce the excess dialogue going on in my head,” Jeromy said. In the past few months, his speech has become more focused and he’s less apt to head off on a tangent.
“Jeromy is making great strides in organization, planning, and time management. He is strongly motivated and is working hard to balance personal, community, and work responsibilities,” Finsand shared.
Jeromy’s vision concerns were addressed by his therapy team with exercises using prisms and the Dynavision 2000. He proudly points to a patch on his military uniform that identifies him as a Squad Designated Marksman. “You can’t obtain that level without precise accuracy,” Jeromy explained. His vision has experienced a dramatic improvement during his rehabilitation. Jeromy plans to return to Army marksmanship school in Little Rock, Ark., and eventually become an instructor.
Madonna ProActive was a catalyst in Jeromy’s recovery. Soldiers injured in the line of duty and completing therapy at Madonna are eligible to continue independent rehabilitation at ProActive. Jeromy was the first soldier to elect this option. Amber Herrington, outpatient therapist, outlined a regimen of exercises and accompanied Jeromy on his initial visit.
“ProActive is a beautiful facility and working out in that environment proved so beneficial for me,” Jeromy said.
Nearing the end of his program at Madonna, Jeromy’s therapy sessions have been pared down to twice a week. He’s working part-time at his military unit in Lincoln and his children Hope, 11, and Nathaniel, 8, are happy their father is back spending time with them. Jeromy has set up long term goals to finish his bachelor’s degree, possibly teach junior high history one day, and finally, to achieve running two miles in 15 minutes.
Jeromy frequently shares his positive experience at Madonna with other injured soldiers. “At every opportunity, I try to get the word out about the wonderful program here at Madonna,” he said.