Walk into Army veteran Adam Werner’s house, and you’ll find neon post-it notes plastered over every empty surface, all scribbled with reminders to do this and that — remove clothes from washer, pick up kids from soccer practice, Dr. appointment @ 5 p.m. on Tuesday.
He forgets to do it if he doesn’t write it down.
“Living with a traumatic brain injury is…frustrating,” Werner said. “Massive headaches, trembling, sensitivity to light — if I’m outside, I have to wear glasses.”
Living with a traumatic brain injury is frustrating.
The "Broken" Soldier
Werner served over eight years in the U.S. Army as an infantryman, deploying to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait. He medically retired with multiple traumatic brain injuries from blunt force trauma.
“My first deployment in Afghanistan was to a hot zone,” Werner remembers standing outside his camp with a machine gun. He’d wake up, and it was nonstop contact every day — right in the thick of it.
The contact took a physical and emotional toll. He shoved both down.
“I was making the Army a career, so I kept it on the down low,” he said. “Soldiered on.”
Werner wasn’t alone.
“It all hit at the same time,” he said. “I was unstable, mentally.”
He was in the middle of his third enlistment, and after 96 months of service, he’d reached his breaking point.
Isolation. Inexplicable memory loss. Crippling headaches.
He took his emotions out on his family.
"It took my wife and kids leaving for me to seek any sort of help," Werner said.
He found a glimpse of hope in a mental health specialist who pointed him the direction of a TBI clinic and a Service Dog.
“I was skeptical,” laughed Werner. “I thought Service Dogs were a crutch.”
Despite his doubts, he scoured the K9s For Warriors site and filled out the application. Fourteen months later, he was paired with a hound dog named Blaze.
Me & Him
He saved my life.
Werner vividly remembers the day he was paired with his dog. A sigh of relief.
“The moment I met him —he was looking as droopy as ever — I immediately fell in love with him,”
He said his dog senses what he needs before he does himself.
“They told me, ‘When your dog starts acting weird, pay attention to him. He’s acting weird because you’re acting weird.’” He remembers the advice well.
Suffering from multiple TBIs, Werner struggles to process in real-time. Keeping up in conversations can be difficult.
“I tremble and stutter,” he said. “My brain goes faster than I can spit it out.”
It all disappears with Blaze.
“If you use your Service Dog correctly, your mind just goes at ease,” he said. “The problem may not go away, but it doesn’t seem as big as you made it out to be.”
Werner, a father of four, can now be present for his family.
“My kids love Universal Studios and Disney World. Before, I hated going,” he said.
Now, he can confidently navigate the crowded theme parks, Blaze smiling up at him.
"It's just me and him," he said. "I have someone to talk to at all times."
Werner still fights daily TBI battles, but Blaze is by his side through it all.
“He brings me back to life.”
Adam & Blaze’s Graduation Date
He was rescued from Putnam County Animal Control
Blaze was sponsored by Jeff Peterson
The name “Blaze” was taken from the markers along the Appalachian Trail. Blaze’s sponsor, Jeff, hiked over 2,000 miles and blogged his experiences every day, fundraising and awareness for K9s For Warriors.