When Sgt. Daniel Tsutsumi returned from his second deployment in Iraq in 2006, his family breathed a sigh of relief that their son was safe and was not among the 11 members of his battalion who didn't make it home.
But now, Tsutsumi, 27, is fighting an entirely different kind of battle. After a freak accident last summer that left Tsutsumi a quadriplegic, the Arlington Heights native is readjusting to life in a wheelchair and trying to regain his ability to walk. A fundraiser is planned for this weekend.
The accident is a result of a freak accident, his mother Barbara Tsutsumi said, that happened while he was swimming at North Avenue Beach in Chicago on June 9. Dan Tsutsumi, who was a student at Northern Illinois University, waded into the water and pushed off the ground to go underwater. He hit the ground too hard, snapped the fifth vertebrae of his spinal cord, was instantly paralyzed and almost drowned, she said.
Doctors gave him a 50-50 chance of walking again, but Barbara Tsutsumi said the family is choosing to believe that Dan Tsutsumi will be in the top 50 percent.
"He is a Marine, he is a fighter," she said. "We believe he will walk again and we'll never give up that belief."
Dan Tsutsumi spent four months at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and another month at the Hines VA Hospital before being released last Friday.
He's now sleeping on a bed in the living room in a house that wasn't built to handle his new needs.
That's why the Tsutsumi family said they are so grateful to Designing For Veterans and local nonprofit Salute Inc. for organizing a fundraiser to help them renovate their home to accommodate his special needs.
Tickets are still available for "Raisin' the Roof for Marine Sgt. Daniel Tsutsumi Fundraiser and Silent Auction," which is planned for 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16 at Durty Nellie's, 180 N. Smith St., Palatine. Tickets are $75 and can be bought at designingforveterans.org/Donate.html
Despite Dan Tsutsumi's injury, his mom said she still feels her family is blessed because it could have been worse. Barbara Tsutsumi said a group of Marine moms she keeps in touch with -- some of whom lost their sons during the wars -- help her keep things in perspective.
"We were so blessed he came home when so many of his close friends did not, and even now, we have our son. He is fully cognitive, he has his speech and language skills. He's still Dan and he's alive," she said.
Faith and support from the community have both played huge roles in keeping a positive attitude, she said.
"Every single day over the last five months, people have reached out to help us and lifted us up in every single way," she said, describing the local hairdresser who would come to the hospital to cut his hair, the friends who walked their dog, the Semper Fi fund which helped the family get a wheelchair-accessible van, the churches and schools that have donated money, and the people organizing this weekend's fundraiser for the family to renovate their house.
In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, Barbara Tsutsumi, who has spent years as a volunteer in the community, said it's interesting to be on the other side this year.
"Being the one giving is a much more comfortable position to be in," she said. "We've learned that sometimes you are in a position where you just give thanks that so many people reach out to help you."