Sgt. Michael Sorensen recently stood in front of more than 300 people at the "Reach for the Stars" banquet where Northeast DuPage Special Recreation Association honors veterans who participate in their Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies program.
The program offers free health club membership, use of a personal trainer, and networking events to help injured veterans readjust to civilian life. That night Michael told some of his story and received a standing ovation.
Sorensen is an Iraq War veteran. He was injured four times by improvised explosive devices during his combat stints and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. He has a cracked T-4 vertebra, which needs kyphoplasty surgery to stabilize his spine. For his sacrifices, he was awarded a Purple Heart. He should be in a wheelchair.
Since his service ended in 2009, Sorensen has been admitted to the Hines VA Hospital three times and Lovell Federal Health Care Center twice to help him overcome the effects of his PTSD. Each time, the treatment has failed. At one point, he was prescribed 15 different drugs to alleviate his symptoms and ended up in a medication coma. He became depressed, angry and insolent, not wanting any help.
One day he saw a picture on an HMHB pamphlet of his brother, Danny, a three-tour Iraq vet. He had lost touch with Danny over the past two years and decided to track him down. Danny was now working with his partner, Tony Novak, in a new venture called Bully Barracks, which retrains pit bulls to be companion and therapy dogs for veterans. Danny suggested that a therapy dog might help Sorensen's PTSD. Sorensen trained with a dog named Bane for three months before continuing the bonding process at home. He was still despondent.
In this state of mind, one night Sorensen made a decision to end the suffering. He tried to get Bane into his crate, but the dog wouldn't leave his side. Bane jumped on the bed and lay on the knife he had placed there. Sorensen tried to put his hand under Bane, but the dog wouldn't move. Bane stared into his new master's face and licked it. Sorensen broke down in tears as he realized that this dog cared for him. Since that moment, they have been inseparable.
Every veteran suffering from PTSD has to find his or her own way of dealing with the disorder. Sorensen still suffers from PTSD but now understands that it can be controlled with Bane's help.
NEDSRA's Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies program also helps as Sorensen and physical therapy partner, Danny, work out weekly. The two workout partners and Novak attend HMHB networking events and continue to train companion and therapy dogs for other veterans. They are bonded by their mission to create healthy minds for injured veterans.