Shortly after doctors removed shrapnel fragments from his left eye, Army Capt. Ivan Castro demanded to know when they were going to remove the bandage. The Army Special Forces soldier was anxious to see his wife again after weeks of living in complete darkness.
Shrapnel from enemy mortar rounds in Iraq had already claimed the vision in his right eye. He was ready to move on with his recovery and return to his family and his unit.
Ivan, however, didn’t know the bandages were already gone, as was his sight.
When the doctor explained how extensive the damage was, Ivan asked for a second opinion, and then a third, at another hospital.
That last medical appointment was nearly identical to the first. The doctor shined a light into the soldier’s eyes and delivered the same prognosis: he was blind. His eye could not be fixed.
Only then did Ivan accept the reality of a lifetime of darkness.
“That was it. The doctor walked out of the room,” he said. “I heard my wife cry for the first time.”
Ivan said in that moment, he became aware of the extent of his other injuries as well.
The blast from the mortar round had torn through his body. His left arm and shoulder were destroyed. His nose was broken, his right cheek bone shattered. His right index finger was blown off in the blast and the artery in his neck was damaged. His lungs collapsed. Much of his body was peppered with shards of shrapnel.
Over the coming months and years, Ivan would endure 40 surgeries to repair the damage and hundreds of hours of physical therapy. It would have been easy to succumb to the pain. It would have been easy to quit.
Ivan, did not.
“I had to decide that I was not going to let this take me down,” he said.
“I could still speak and my hearing was good. I still had my mental faculties,” he said. “When you walk into a military hospital, you realize how fortunate you are. You see the other injuries and you tend to stop and think, ‘Wow, I was really fortunate’.”
One day during treatment, he overheard the staff discussing the upcoming Army Ten-Miler and Marine Corps Marathon. That day, Ivan decided he would recover and he would train to run both.
He did. And then he kept on running.
This weekend, five years after an enemy mortar nearly ended his life, he showed others how to live theirs to the fullest.
Ivan ran the Marine Corps Marathon, again, as part of the Operation Homefront team. Since his recovery, he has kept his promise to overcome his injuries. In the past four years, he has run 19 marathons, 10 half marathons, five Army Ten Milers, two 50-mile races, three triathlons and climbed a 14,000 foot peak in Colorado.
“It’s painful, it’s enjoyable,” he said. “What gets me through is not competing. I enjoy challenging myself. I love to appreciate life and every second of it, I try to enjoy.”
Join us next week for Part II, Battle wounds: black, white and gray