Saturday, December 25, 2010
Congratulations to Evelyn Madison, the Hidden Valley Kiwanis Club and the Escondido Kiwanis Club. You brought a Happy Christmas to a very deserving family!
Evelyn Madison hands out gifts to the Dowdley family last week.
by Louise Esola/North County Times . . .
Disabled former Army Sgt. Chris Dowdley and his family have been looking forward to their annual Christmas "tornado of wrapping paper everywhere" this morning, thanks to old-fashioned holiday generosity.
"We were just going to do what we could do this year, and that wouldn't have been much," Dowdley said last week about buying Christmas gifts for his five children. The Army veteran has been disabled with post-traumatic stress disorder since returning from the war in Iraq in 2006.
The Dowdleys expect to celebrate a very merry Christmas despite hard times, thanks to Hidden Valley and Escondido Kiwanis club members and other residents. The two organizations, which heard about the struggling family through a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs liaison, spent the weeks leading up to Christmas gathering gifts for the family.
Last Saturday, two Hidden Valley Kiwanis Club members drove to Dowdley's apartment in Oceanside to drop off large brown boxes of wrapped gifts for Christmas, and, in true holiday spirit, a few early presents for five very happy children ---- a large Mr. Potato Head toy and some colored pencils, crayons, coloring books and paper.
Everything else ---- gift bags and wrapped boxes of all sizes ---- went under the Christmas tree.
"You can't describe what it feels like to see how happy these kids are," said Hidden Valley Kiwanian Lyle Davis, sitting in the kitchen of the family's cozy, two-bedroom apartment.
Dowdley was discharged from the Army after several doctors diagnosed him with severe post-traumatic stress disorder, said his wife, Jamie Dowdley, adding that her husband has been hospitalized twice in the last year for severe depression. She said he receives regular counseling, has been deemed partially disabled by the Veterans Affairs and is waiting to be declared "100 percent disabled."
Medical experts describe post-traumatic stress disorder as an enduring, extreme form of anxiety caused by severe psychological trauma. It can be debilitating for some, experts have said.
More than 400,000 veterans are receiving some sort of compensation benefits for the disorder, according to a Veterans Affairs spokesman. Of those 400,000 veterans, nearly 70,000, or nearly 18 percent, served in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to department data.
For Dowdley, being diagnosed as fully disabled would mean hundreds of dollars more per month to help support his family.
"Every doctor has told him that he can't work right now," said his wife, who is also unemployed and seeking a job as a licensed pharmacy technician. "Every doctor says he shouldn't do anything. Sometimes I think he would have been better off losing a limb."
While her husband deals with his disorder, she said she "runs the show at home," dividing chores among the children, ages 5 to 13. She home-schools three of her sons, one of whom has special needs. Two children attend a local public school.
Jamie Dowdley said it's a noisy, bustling household.
"We make it work," she said.
The last year has been particularly rough, the couple said. They even spent a few days homeless.
Veterans Affairs is still sifting through Dowdley's disability application and letters and recommendations from doctors. Chris Dowdley said he believes it will take the department until "March, maybe May," to act on his application for full disability.
The former soldier trained as an artilleryman but spent much of his time in Iraq serving with the infantry. He said he didn't want to leave the Army, adding that he joined the service in 2004 to help support his growing family. His father, grandfather and uncles also served.
"Joining felt right for me," he said. "I wanted to stay in. I was getting ready to deploy again and they told me I wouldn't be OK after another deployment ---- that it would make (my condition) worse. They called it an 'adjustment disorder.' So I left after (serving) three years."
Nowadays, Chris Dowdley said he not only struggles financially but also with everyday living. He feels uneasy at times, his wife added. Like most veterans with his condition, he doesn't like to talk about the war, especially in front of his children.
"You have your regular life and its regular stresses, and then you have to deal with this thing," Chris Dowdley said. "It gets to be too much sometimes, and I say, 'I can't do this.'"
The Dowdleys said they're very happy and extremely grateful for everything the Kiwanis clubs have done.
"We don't know what Christmas would have been without them," Chris Dowdley said.
Evelyn Madison, the Hidden Valley Kiwanis secretary who helped deliver gifts, said she was happy to see the community reach out.
"We were just so delighted to have all the support of everybody in the club," she said. "This was awesome."
Louise Esola is a freelance writer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2010 North County Times - Californian. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
EPILOGUE: When I showed this cover story in the NCTimes to Evelyn, she was at her bathroom vanity, cleansing her face. I asked her if, now that she was a celebrity did she still want to hang with me . . . or had she outgrown me. She didn’t know what I was talking about until she looked closely at the paper . . . saw her picture front and center, the headline, and then her eyes filled with tears.
I wrapped my arms around her and held her tight, “you deserved it, kiddo. It’s about time someone recognized you for all the things you do.”
Through tears, she said, “I don’t deserve any recognition. It’s just something you do when people are hurting.”
To say she was touched by the beautiful article Louise did was a major understatement. Louise did a fine job of telling a story that moved all of us who were involved.
Merry Christmas to all!