October 29, 2008

Lavoie recounts an awful day in Iraq

One month ago, Bristol native Matt Lavoie lay wounded on the ground in Iraq, his arm shattered and gushing blood, screaming for his buddy Lennox.

"I remember everything getting cold and blurry, real foggy," Lavoie said Wednesday. "I almost died right there."

But Lavoie, a 2005 Bristol Eastern High School graduate, pulled through from his Sept. 30 injuries caused by a roadside bomb.

Though he remains in pain, and can barely walk, he is on the mend at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the nation's capital.

"He's got a long way to go," said his mother, Pam Lavoie, who's been at his side most of the time since he arrived back in the United States on Oct. 4. "It's a very bad injury."

Matt Lavoie, a U.S. Army corporal, said he signed up for the infantry after working a number of dead-end jobs after high school. He said he wanted to be a soldier and fight for his country.

Though he said "I wish I'd never signed that paper," he also said that he would give anything "to go back to my boys in Iraq" because he misses them so much.

Lavoie said he spent "my whole tour outside the wire" in Iraq, going on patrols.

On the day the bomb went off, he said, his unit had gone on a patrol at a fish farm and taken roads that appeared "perfectly safe."

But during the 90 minutes the troops were checking things out, Lavoie said, "one of them little slimeballs" put an explosive device along the road they'd taken.

On the way back, Lavoie drove the lead vehicle, which had a mine roller attached to its front that's designed to set off roadside bombs before the truck itself reaches them.

"It's supposed to blow up before you get to it," Lavoie said.

But about a mile and a half down the road, "I heard the biggest explosion of my life," Lavoie said, and realized that he was six feet in the air.

The truck crashed down at a 45-degree angle and the steering wheel went through his leg, he said.

"I honestly don't know what happened to my arm," Lavoie said, but his right arm was "completely shattered" and bleeding profusely.

"All I heard was everyone screaming" to get out, Lavoie said, but he couldn't move. He did, however, manage to shift around so the gunner could step on his head to escape the wreckage.

"I actually yanked the steering wheel out of my own leg," Lavoie said, and then scooted out himself.

He lay on the dirt, he said, and yelled for his best friend, Lennox, who rushed to his side to help with the bleeding. 

As he began to feel cold and groggy, Lavoie said, he thought about "friends and family back home" and snapped to life again. He said he nearly died three times that day, including once on the 15-minute helicopter evacuation to the hospital.

His parents heard from the Army that their son had suffered injuries to his "lower and upper extremities," leaving them worried about all sorts of possibilities.

Four hours later, Matt called from the hospital in Baghdad.

He told his mother that he had "busted my arm."

She asked if it was in a cast and whether he was OK.

"No, Mom, I'm not OK," he answered, explaining that his right arm was shattered.

"I freaked," Pam Lavoie said Wednesday.

But through 10 surgeries so far – with at least a couple more likely – doctors have begun to repair the damage, putting in a titanium rod, attached muscle and skin from other parts of the body and carving out dead and dying flesh and muscle.

Lavoie's mother said she's been able to be at her son's side most of the days he's been at the hospital because her employer, the Plainville-based Gems Sensors & Controls, has been generous and kind.

"I love being here with him," she said, even though "it's the worst that a mother wants to go through" to see her son in so much pain.

Lavoie said he is "tired of being here" and determined "to work my ass off" to get better so he can leave.

The former high school wrestling team captain said he managed to "walk like a little penguin" for four feet this week to a chair in his room. His next goal is walk to the toilet.

But he's got his eyes set on a full recovery as fast as he can do it.

"I want to be in Bristol," he said. "That's my home."

 Fundraiser to help Lavoie

A fundraiser has been scheduled for Nov. 13 to help Corp. Matt Lavoie and his family cope with the expenses related to his care.

Organized by his mother's boss, Carrie Tonon, the $15-a-person pasta dinner fundraiser is slated for 5 to 7 p.m. at Nuchies.

Lavoie called it a "very nice" gesture.

"I wish I could go," he said, adding that he probably can't.

But Pam Lavoie is hoping they can rig up a webcam so at least he can make some sort of appearance.

State Rep. Frank Nicastro, a former mayor who put in 30 years in the military, said that Lavoie is "a young man who placed his life on the line for his country" and deserves the help of the entire community as he tries to recover.

Nicastro said that it is "well worth the money" for everyone to attend the pasta supper and to lend a hand to a brave young soldier.

"This family could use all of our community support," Mayor Art Ward said.

Tickets will be available at the door or by emailing Tonon at tonon@snet.net or ctonon@gemssensors.com.


Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com


Tim Gamache said...

This is one fundraiser I definitely will not miss.God speed SP4 Lavoie!

Anonymous said...

There shouldn't be any cost for his care - the VA should be paying 100% of his medical care - why the fundraiser?

Steve Collins said...

His care is free -- though there are always some incidentals that patients might want that aren't covered. And the government is putting up his parents when they are there.
But I assume there are travel costs, lost pay and other expenses involved that a fund-raiser can help with.

Bob O'Donoghue (OFR) said...

It's very important for ALL of our wounded Heroes to have the support of family, friends as well as the community. Travel costs for the family are not always covered by the government, for example: staying at WRAMC and if they stay at the Mologne House the lodging and food is not free. Though if they are staying at the Fisher House, the costs are minimal thanks to the Fisher House Foundation.

I make frequent visits to Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda on weekends (from Connecticut) and if you expand that cost to a family staying for months to be there for their loved ones, it adds up quickly.

I will visit with Matt on my next trip to Washington, DC.

Very Respectfully,
Bob O'Donoghue
Director of Special Projects
Operation First Response (OFR)
a 501(c)3 supporting our wounded Heroes and their families