SOUTH LEBANON, Ohio -- It was the phone call that’s in every military parent’s worst nightmare.
“The most horrifying thing you can feel,” said William Leininger. “Everything was going through your mind, and from the information they gave us, he wasn’t going to make it.”
Leininger’s phone rang in June 2012 while his son, Lance Leininger, was deployed to Afghanistan.
Lance was just three months into his second year-long deployment, asleep in his tent when he heard gunfire.
“At that point the military training kicked in. I ran outside to go get in my spot,” said Lance.
As he ran, he was shot three times. Grenades exploded, and one blew up in his face.
“It seemed like it was forever, waiting there, bleeding out. I was just ready to put all the suffering away, and that’s when help came.”
His rescue was captured on camera and shown on the National Geographic show “Inside Combat Rescue.” Blood covered his face and most of his body, as combat medics rushed him into the helicopter.
Only minutes away from a Kabul hospital, but medics feared that wasn’t enough as the 23-year-old South Lebanon soldier struggled to breathe.
Medics performed an emergency procedure in flight, to repair damage from bullets that ripped through his vital organs.
But thousands of miles away, his parents sat helpless.
“We were stuck. We didn’t know what to do. We were just waiting on another phone call,” said his father, William. “Everything is running through our head. Is he going to lose limbs? Is he going to survive?”
Lance spent weeks on life support, eventually relocated to a hospital in Washington D.C, where his family saw him for the first time.
“[It was] the scariest thing I’ve ever seen. He was bandaged up. His stomach was cut open, and it was left open,” said William. “He was sedated so bad. He just barely recognized me. He was on a respirator, and you know, it’s like everything was keeping him living but he just wasn’t there.”
For months, Lance laid in his hospital bed and couldn’t move. His parents by his side the entire time as he went through surgery after surgery to repair damage to his stomach, lungs, liver and more.
“You feel helpless. You want to take the pain away from him,” said William.
Barely able to move, but Lance lifted his hand to salute his Commander in Chief, as Barack Obama stood by his bedside.
“I’ve got a picture of him in the hospital on my wall of him with the President,” said William. “ I’m very proud. As banged up as he was, he still saluted.”
And when Lance finally left that hospital bed, blind in one eye, he couldn’t stand.
“When I would walk, I would just crumble to the ground,” he said.
The man who represented this country’s independence, suddenly depended on others so much.
“I had to give him his showers, help him use the bathroom. It was like when he was a baby,” said William. “I was embarrassed for him because he’s a grown man.”
Lance started over, learning again to walk, drink, drive and even carry a plate of food by himself.
“I’d want to do more even though my body wouldn’t let me so for a while it was frustrating,” said Lance.
But for his father, Lance's journey to recovery was nothing short of a miracle.
“The fact that he was almost dead and then two months later, he’s walking. It’s like the biggest miracle you can experience,” said William.
Aside from a few bullet wounds and missing teeth, Lance looks good as new. His challenge now, almost a year and a half later, is finding his next step.
“A lot of the jobs that I’m qualified for, I can’t do being blind, not being able to run distances, not being able to walk long distances, not being allowed to lift heavy stuff,” said Lance.
So he wants to go back to school to be a therapist so he can help others over come their life challenges, just as he’s had to overcome his own.
“He’s my hero. You know, he fought for our country. He tried to help the women there. He worried about them more then he did himself,” said William of his son. “That’s the proudest thing you could do.”
Today, Lance holds his purple heart with pride.
“This is my biggest award. I like it, but I don’t like how I got it.”
It’s a powerful reminder of his sacrifices and the sacrifices of others who weren't lucky enough to come home.
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