Journal of Rehabilitation Research & Development (JRRD)

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JRRD Cover Art Winner 2009,
Andrew Lomeli Chavez

Chavez 01

Andrew Lomeli Chavez is a living testament to the strength and resilience of the human spirit. As an Army Captain serving in Iraq, Chavez suffered serious injury from the explosion of a rocket-propelled grenade fired into the building where his unit was stationed. Dazed and badly shaken by the experience but with no obvious outward injuries, he completed the remaining 6 months of his tour.

Unbeknowst to Chavez, the incident left him with multiple internal injuries that nearly cost him his life. He sustained serious injury to his stomach and related organs. He ultimately had surgery, died on the operating table, and was resuscitated successfully but was left with severe brain damage. “I lost the portions of the brain used for memory, speech, internal balance, and the ability to express myself and even think straight,” explained Chavez.

With no hope of recovery, Chavez was discharged from the military on May 31, 2005. The reason for his discharge—“Severe Brain Injury, Chronic Vegetative State.”

Chavez’s Sangre de Cristo is an acrylic painting of the mountain range bearing the same name, which extends from Santa Fe, New Mexico, into South Central Colorado. The painting brilliantly captures the beauty of the mountains in autumn. According to Chavez, “Autumn is beautiful, it is home, and it is special to me.”

Humbled by the fragility of life, Chavez is committed to living each day to its fullest. “No matter what happens, life’s events are not about you as much. You don’t have to like it, but the best revenge is to live well, prosper, and enjoy the opportunity,” is the advice he gives others. “There is no comparison with death as the alternative. I am happy and enjoying all that I have to be thankful for.”

Chavez 01 Chavez has a lot to be thankful for. “First, they said that I had died and the body was being kept alive on machines. Then they said that I would never come out of the coma. Then they said that I would never have a coherent thought or never function as a normal thinking person. I would never be able to get out of bed, never get out of the wheelchair, never be able to use a walker, and never ever be able to use a Segway mobility device to get around unassisted,” said Chavez.

“I was never supposed to be able to do any of this. Art therapy has shown me what can be accomplished. Thus far, I have surpassed all expectations and left limitations behind, except for the walking-on-my-own thing, but I am working on that and will accomplish that some day.”

Chavez, aged 29, resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he continues to receive various therapies at the Raymond G. Murphy Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He extends his “heartfelt appreciation and many thanks” to Sandi Wright, his longtime art therapist.

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