Many American families have made tremendous sacrifices in defense of our country in the past 10 years. It is an ongoing reality. Millions of moms and dads and grandparents juggle the demands of a military career – especially in the age of terror.
With the recent departure of Osama bin Laden, the following story takes on even more relevance, since 9/11 impacted our nation in ways almost too complex to understand.
Tracy Shuman is a friend and publishing veteran, having served as project manager for a book publisher. She no longer holds that position, and the following interview I conducted with her explains why she left a job she loved.
This is a story of profound sacrifice and love. It is, I contend, why America still retains a historically unique greatness.
Anyone involved in editorial work with a book publisher knows that while the job can be fun and fulfilling, it is also stressful. Authors will never know the stress that editors endure; publishers, frankly, often don’t care. Serving as a liaison between author and publisher is a skill set that is not all that common. Tracy Shuman has this skill set. As you hear her story, you’ll marvel at her ability and grit.
From the company’s headquarters back east, Tracy had been enjoying her work as project manager, and it came in handy, as her husband’s job was lost to the economic woes.
On November 9, she noticed a message on her cell phone. This message was different, and Tracy often dreaded the phone notification of a message. You see, her son, Zachary, is a Marine. He also was deployed to Afghanistan.
“His accident happened on a Tuesday,” she remembered recently. “There was a message on my cell-phone; a Marine said I needed to call a specific number. Usually we got updates but this was a different number. A friend was with me, and I said, ‘I think something happened, start praying.’ The Marine asked if I was sitting down, or if I was driving. He said, ‘Your son has been in an accident.’ I just wept.”
In a desolate and dangerous area of Afghanistan, a lifetime away from Pennsylvania, Zachary Stinson has stepped on an IED (improvised explosive device). In those first stunning moments after hearing the news, Tracy had no idea just how horrific her son’s injuries really were.
Tracy, before her publishing position, had homeschooled two of her children. Besides Zachary, her daughter, Sarah Stinson, and sons Matthew and Michael all received the blessing of a mom dedicated to bringing them up right. She would need every resource of strength, including a strong husband, Chris, and strong kids to endure what followed that fateful phone call.
“We didn’t hear anything for the first 24 hours,” Tracy recalled. “Then we heard that they had taken his other leg; this message came to us at 3 a.m. Both of his legs were gone, he had no right thumb or middle finger down to the first knuckle. There was also a hole in his bladder and a fractured pelvis. They had to keep his wounds dry and dress them.”
In the midst of this family nightmare, Zach’s wife, Tesa, was pregnant with their first child.
Tracy’s life changed dramatically, as she moved heaven and earth to take care of her son. She recounted those first frantic days: “The first two months at Bethesda, Tesa and I took shifts. I usually took surgery nights. His dad stayed the first two weeks and then came down on weekends. We also did laundry and found time to eat.”
As with many tragedies that stun the body and mind, outside factors added to the stress. Incredibly, not long after Tracy left to care for Zach, she was blindsided by her employer:
“The day I got terminated, I hadn’t had any sleep,” she recalled. “I had turned my phone off and when I turned it back on, I’d gotten notice of my termination via email [a letter was also sent to her home]. I just bawled. But I couldn’t worry about it.”
Isn’t that mind-boggling? Not terribly long after taking leave from her job to care for her mangled son – who’d been protecting the United States – she lost her job. We all understand that work must continue, and in this economy, all employers are nervous. But to let someone go in these circumstances seems unconscionable.
Still, Tracy “soldiered on.” She had been in her position for two years, but remained philosophical about some would call an outrage.
“It was a relief, actually,” she recalled.
She briefly recounted for me how she came to find a position with a publisher: “I love to read, and in 2009, I began reading books published by this publisher. I knew them through friends. I was at a conference and checked my messages. There was a position available, for someone who could multi-task. I wasn’t an editor but had done some writing and had a natural feel about it.”
That’s how she had started. You’ve just learned how that career ended. Let’s pick back up with her narrative involving Zach.
When he’d stepped on the IED, Zach was thrown straight up into the air. Horrifically, among the first medical procedures used to save his life involved slitting his arms, to allow body gases to escape and thus relieve pressure. He had staples everywhere. Fingers amputated.
“Of course, we had to feed him, hold cups,” Tracy remembered. “Four corpsmen had to lift him in order for bandages to be changed. Sometimes it wasn’t so good, because if they touched him in a bad spot, like a skin graft, the pain was unbearable. Even the corpsmen had to leave the room.”
After returning to the States, Zach was at Bethesda, then moved to a trauma unit in Virginia. Currently, he is an outpatient at Walter Reed Hospital, where he’ll remain for two years.
One understands to some degree in visiting with Tracy Shuman that her son is a warrior, as are all the magnificent men and women who serve in the U.S. military. Zach, full of life and newly married, had been a squad leader in Afghanistan from July until his accident.
“In the beginning, I was afraid for him because when he closed his eyes, he could see himself being blown up,” Tracy recalled. “He was in ICU for 10 days, and we were praying also for his mind, because he needed to sleep. After awhile, I could see the breakthrough. He was at rest, at peace.”
The warrior was encircled by a great army of prayer warriors.
It also helped immeasurably to have a strong husband and children, and Tracy keeps that close to her heart: “My husband brought the boys down every weekend to visit. Sarah helped so much with the boys, and family and friends helped. In January my mom came in and stayed five weeks. We had a lot of support. I have so much appreciation for so many things and for what our troops are doing and for their families. I think that what God is calling me to do is tell people how this is affecting lives.”
The tragedy has brought the family close together, of course. And their faith is renewed. Tracy said that “God’s hand was on” Zach. She also wants people to know that “they bring in wounded warriors three days a week” to Bethesda.
Zach’s squad got back in February, and those bonds are life-long; those visits from his men helped in a huge way. There is something else.
Zach’s wife, Tesa, has remained by his side and they are positive about a bright future. Tesa somehow managed to care for her husband and plan for the couple’s first anniversary. She also brought joy into this world when she gave birth to Olivia! Tesa’s constant care for Zach through his injuries has inspired everyone who knows them.
Zach plans to remain in the military, with a variety of opportunities open to him.
“He has a heart to help the warriors coming back,” his mom recalled. “He loves being a Marine.”
Extraordinary. This family’s story is so inspiring, it makes me believe America may yet still have a future worthy of those who have come before us.
As a writer, I work hard not to insert myself into interviews that I do with publishing insiders, but in this one case, I would like to express my gratitude to Tracy and her family. Although I want to be careful how I say this, I am also chagrined that an employer could treat an employee like Tracy in the manner she was treated after Zach’s injuries. Tracy and her family are doing well, but if anyone out there is looking for a highly skilled person, and one with true grit, you should get in touch with this woman.
To Tracy Shuman and her family, I say on behalf of all of us: Thank you!