December 23rd, 2011
05:26 PM ET
Jeff Mitchell of Braselton, Georgia, was 26 years old when he went to war in 2003. In 2007, he was forced to leave the Army through medical retirement after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. After years of futile attempts at treatment, Jeff’s condition began to improve a few months ago after a group called Paws4Vets paired him with a service dog who had undergone her own traumas. Jeff’s mother, Carol, tells what it was like to watch her son struggle.
First, you bargain with God.
Just please let him survive. Please let us see him again. Oh, please surround our son with your protection.
Prayers are answered. He's back. He has survived - he's still at Fort Carson thousands of miles from home, but he's back in the United States and he is no longer being targeted by insurgents.
Little did we know then that an even more insidious enemy was trying to take our son.
We had heard of combat vets who were unable to re-enter the "real" world - those who locked themselves away and self-medicated with drugs or alcohol or even worse, the unthinkable, ultimate escape of suicide. But not our smart, strong, handsome son - never our Jeff.
During his last year on active duty, we became increasingly aware that Jeff was in trouble. He did a great job of protecting us from what he was going through, but a month before he was medically retired from the Army, he could no longer function. He barricaded himself in his room on post - doors locked, blinds closed - a virtual prisoner in his own shattered mind.
He was still “battle ready," still hypervigilant, waiting for the next awful thing to happen. We brought him home naively thinking that being surrounded by his loving family was just what he needed.
But things got worse and in spite of a scary cocktail of prescribed antipsychotics and antidepressants and endless visits to psychiatrists and counselors, he was admitted to the psych floor at the VA hospital - a virtual zombie - barely recognizable as our beloved son.
But then, along the way of this journey, help arrived from out of the blue. We received his Wounded Warrior newsletter and the cover story was about a veteran suffering much like Jeff. His life was changed by the healing powers of a service dog. We were desperate and out of options. Jeff read the story and asked, "How do I get a dog?"
Looking back today, I can see we almost lost Jeff, but a furry white angel saved his soul.
Tazie understood the terror of war. She was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, where she survived by her wits and most certainly by the hand of God. She was desperate and in trouble and so was our son.
Their partnership is nothing short of a miracle. They are saving each other and my prayer is that by sharing their remarkable story, another mother's son will dare to hope that there is life after war.
Watch Jeff Mitchell’s story on “Sanjay Gupta MD,” Saturday and Sunday at 7:30 a.m. Eastern.
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.