TOPICS > Health

Extended Interview: Joseph Briseno Sr.

April 26, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


SUSAN DENTZER: Thank you very much for doing this with us and letting us into your home and your life. Let’s start by talking about your family background. Your family had a tradition of being in the military.

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: Yes. My grandfather was retired U.S. Army. My stepfather is retired U.S. Air Force. I’m retired Army myself. Both of my sisters, they were in the military, and my uncles was in, one of my aunts, and now my cousin, Jay. Jay joined the Army Reserve right after high school to earn money for college. And my wife and I told him that he doesn’t need to do this because we can help for to send him to go to college, but this is something that he wanted to do. I guess it’s because it’s in our blood being in the military. I think that’s what he, you know, he wanted to join the Army Reserve.

There was no argument about him joining the Army. We tried to persuade him that he doesn’t need to join the Army to earn money for college. And my wife and I talked to him and tried to persuade him, you know, he can go to college without joining the military, but this is what he wants and this is what he wants to do. So we supported him. We supported him 100 percent.

SUSAN DENTZER: When did he learn he would be headed to Iraq?

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: He learned that he was going to Iraq back in I think October or November in 2002. His unit was alerted that they were going to training in preparation to go to Iraq, and his name was one of the members of his unit that will be deploying, that he was going to Iraq. And I think it was officially he got told back in December of 2002.

Jay was a civil affairs specialist. A civil affairs specialist, the way he explained to me was a civil affairs job was to help the Iraqi people to rebuild the country, such as bringing food, water, electricity and things like that.

SUSAN DENTZER: How did he feel when he heard he was going to Iraq?

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: Well, of course, he was–mixed emotions. He was scared because he was going to war. And I sat with him, and I asked him that I could try to do something for him to stop going to Iraq, and he told me that this is what I–this is what he wants to do.

SUSAN DENTZER: He wanted to serve his country?

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: I think so. He wants to serve his country, and he doesn’t want me to do anything to stop him from going to Iraq. And I don’t know if there was something that I could do, but I could surely try.

SUSAN DENTZER: So he arrived there right about the time of the war.

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: Yes. He left the country in March, and March 1st was his birthday. I think he was 20–he turned 20, his twentieth birthday, and we brought a cake in his unit, and everybody sang happy birthday for him.

And we waved the bus and, you know, said goodbye for him, and they went to North Carolina, Fort Bragg. And then after about two or three weeks, then, we went to Fort Bragg, also, to see him, to spend a few days with him, until the day he departed to go to Iraq. And we heard the news, the bad news when he got shot in June of 2003. That was June 26th, I think it was, or June 27th of 2003. I was at work, and my boss and I went to get something for the computer. I work with the computer. And it was about 11:30 in the morning, we came back, and there was a message, there was a voice mail message on the telephone. And when I played the message, it was the Army Casualty Reporting Office for me to give them a call.

And being a retired military, you know, why would this Casualty Reporting Office call me for? You know, that’s a single that there was something happened or something wrong, but I tried to ignore it, and I called the Casualty Reporting Office–they call it the CRO–and the guy asked me my name, and he asked me a couple of questions, if I have a son named Joseph Briseno, Jr., serving in Iraq right now, and his age and the unit. And I said, yes, and then he started telling me there was an incident, and Jay was shot in the back of his head.

And I asked him three times was Jay okay, and he wouldn’t answer me, and he just continuously talking to me. And I asked him the second time, was Jay okay, and then my voice started crying, and for the third time, you know, was Jay okay, and he said to me, as we speak at the time, that Jay was in a hospital operating room, and that’s all he could tell me. And that’s how–that’s when I broke down and learned that he was shot.

And being, having a military background, I thought about calling them again just because the Army makes mistakes. They could have called me and given me the wrong information. It could not be Jay. So what I did I called the CRO, again, and asked him Jay’s Social Security number. And when he read the Social Security number, I knew who–for sure that Jay was, it was him.

And my wife’s office was only about 10, 15 minutes away from my office. And my boss drove me there, and during the time, my wife and my daughter was working together, and it was the lunch hour. They saw me in the parking lot, and they were wondering why, what I was doing. I just told them that, oh, I had a flat tire, and my boss brought me here. I just want to say hi.

So we walked into her office, and I looked for her supervisor, and I said I need a private room. And she asked me was everything okay, and I said, no, Jay was shot. And that’s when I broke the news to my wife and my daughter. And every minute at that time I’d been calling Germany and talking to his doctors to see if Jay was okay because Jay was flown to–from, from Baghdad to Kuwait, Kuwait to Landstuhl, Germany, and then from Landstuhl, Germany, to Walter Reed. He stayed in Germany maybe about five, six days. And we, right away we decided, you know, we were going to Germany to meet up Jay.

SUSAN DENTZER: And so you did.

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: And we did. During that time, none of us had any current passports, and it was Friday. And we called Senator Allen to help us to get the passport, and the next day we got our passport. We went to Washington, D.C., and we got our passports. And that Sunday, we were gone. We went to Germany, and we saw Jay for the first time in Germany.

SUSAN DENTZER: Where was he when he was shot? What was he doing?

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: What I was told by the Department of Army that Jay was on a mission. There were a team of–there were six of them, and they were on a mission assessing an area, a little town in Baghdad. And they were done with the mission, they were on their way back to the vehicle, and Jay was driving the Humvee. He was the driver, and the sergeant waved at him–this is the way he explained it–he waved at him, and he turned around to go back to his ve–to go back to the vehicle. And as soon as he turned around, he heard a shot. His first indication was Jay shot an Iraqi, but when he turned around, he saw Jay on the ground, and that’s when he picked up Jay and took him to the nearest hospital or center in, in Baghdad.

Jay was shot point blank by an Iraqi randomly, I mean, one of the bystanders that shot him because there were a lot of Iraqis in that area. It’s in the market area when he was shot. and the bullet went into the back of his neck and exited here, his cheekbone, and that leaves him a spinal cord injury, C3.

SUSAN DENTZER: Now, meanwhile, it was while he was being taken from Kuwait to Landstuhl that he suffered the cardiac arrests, correct?

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: Well, we were told, when we got to Germany, when he was in Germany, in Landstuhl, in the ICU Unit, the German doctor explained to us that he had two cardiac arrests. I think this happened when he was in Germany. He had some cardiac arrests, and he was gone for a few seconds, and the doctor just able to revive him back. And if he suffer one more heart attack, they may not be able to bring him back again.

And due to that cardiac arrest, Jay suffered, also, anoxic brain injury. That means his brain damaged everywhere.

SUSAN DENTZER: When you saw him in the hospital in Germany, what did you think? What were your family’s reactions?

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: Well, before we get to the hospital, my wife, and I, and my two daughters, I kept telling them, you know, you have to be strong for Jay. He’s going to be, you know, we don’t know what he looks like right now, but we have to be strong. We are going to show him no tears. And I was the one trying to make the family to stay strong.

When we saw him in the hospital, he had a tube in his mouth and wires everywhere connected to him, and he was in a coma, deep, deep coma, and the doctor told us that he doesn’t know if or when he’s waking up because he was comatose so bad. And because I was the one making everybody stay strong, but I was the one that broke down first. He was, he was in bad, bad shape. And the doctor told us to, you know, they put us in one conference room, and they told us to start preparing for his service.

And we, we told the doctors that we were taking Jay home, and he’s going to be fine. And they look at us like you guys are crazy. To move Jay from Point A to Point B, it’s only 10 feet away, it’s almost impossible. How are you going to take him home?

And I looked at those two doctors, and I said watch me. I’m taking him home, and he’s going to get better.

And somehow, I don’t know where all that energy just coming to me, and we kept begging the doctors. They stabilized him, and they–we made it to Walter Reed with no episode. But before that, I think two days they were getting ready him to fly, and they put an external pacemaker, just to want to make sure that Jay can handle the flight. During the process, the German doctor punctured one of his lungs. You know, with all of this [?], and the doctor rushed into me and said, no, you guys cannot go home.

I said, what do you mean we cannot go home?

I punctured one of his lungs. So I called America, and I said we need your help on this thing happening right now. So what they did, they put another tube. They pulled his tube and wires on his body, and they put another tube on his lung, so his lung can somehow inflate again, and we made it. We made it home with no episode.

SUSAN DENTZER: Let’s talk about how long he was in Walter Reed, and the fact that he was then transferred down to Richmond. And then we’ll talk about how you told the people in Richmond that you, also, intended to bring Jay home, eventually.

But to go back to Walter Reed, let’s talk about what happened at Walter Reed.

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: Sure. I think we arrived at Walter Reed around July 3rd, 2003. And, again, the doctor talked to us, and they gave Jay 30 days. If he can survive this 30 days, the most critical part of his life, you know, he’ll be okay.

And Jay stayed in Walter Reed for about approximately five weeks, until he got stabilized, and they sent him to McGuire, in Richmond, McGuire Veterans Hospital in Richmond for rehab. And when we get to Richmond, and we sat for another meeting, and we told them–they asked if we consider to put Jay in the nursing home, and we told him that Jay will be going home with us, and that’s where he belongs. That’s his home, and that’s where he’s going to stay, and a nursing home will never be an option for Jay, regardless.

SUSAN DENTZER: What did they say?

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: Well, the first time they just said, okay. They were just getting all of the information. But the second meeting that we have at McGuire, and they wanted him to go to the nursing home. And this is after he came home because we had to take him back and forth to McGuire, they wanted him to go to the nursing home. They have all of the intention to do it because they already cancelled the staffing, the nurse staffing. They already surveyed two nursing homes in the area. They got the prices. Oh, they got everything. All they have to do is just send Jay to the nursing home without our consent.

And we told them, no, Jay is not going home–he is not going to the nursing home. He’s going home with us. And I don’t know why they want to, the McGuire Hospital, VA hospital, wants to send Jay to the nursing home without our consent. I guess they’re trying to save money.

SUSAN DENTZER: But you all said absolutely not. He’s coming back home.

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: Exactly. We fought and fought, and we told them Jay will be going home with us. And they keep telling us that it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be hard, and we have to–the ventilator, we have to be familiar and all of this stuff. I said no problem.

And I think in about two, three weeks, we don’t have no nurse whatsoever. It’s just me, my wife and my two daughters taking care of Jay around the clock because McGuire already cancelled the agencies. They have all the intentions to send Jay to the nursing home without our consent.

SUSAN DENTZER: So, literally, the first time you brought him home, there was nobody else here to help you? It was just the family?

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: That’s correct. That’s correct. Well, the first time we brought him home, there was a nursing agency to help us to care for Jay.

SUSAN DENTZER: This was the second time.

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: This is the second time, and the chief of staff of the VA is the one doing all of this and wanting to send Jay home to the nursing home. I think, during the time the director was either he is getting ready to retire or he already retired. I think if he would have been there, it would be a different story because the director of the hospital, McGuire, was very, very supportive for Jay. The chief of staff was the one making all of these decisions for us.

SUSAN DENTZER: Were you and your family prepared for the totality of caring for Jay?

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: As we told them, that we–Jay will never be an inconvenience for us and, regardless, we are ready, how long it would take to care for Jay because he is our son. He’s our child, and being a parent, any parent will do this to, to their child, and there’s no question about it.

SUSAN DENTZER: And I know you were prepared and, more important, committed emotionally, just because of your love of your son, to do this. But in terms of knowing what to do, were you prepared or were you just going to do it whatever it took?

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: Well, we know, during the time, we know very little about his, all his equipment. He has the ventilator machine, the suction machine, and all of this equipment. We have, we’re just familiar how to use it. And we just pray, we just prayed very hard to God to be with us and, if anything happened, just help us, and God walked us through. And we have, you know, several emergencies during the time, and it seems like God is talking to me, here’s what to do, and things like that, and it went fine. Everything is going well.

SUSAN DENTZER: Tell me–tell me more about your religious faith and how this has helped you through this whole process.

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: Well, before the incident, I called myself a crisis prayer. I only pray when I’m in trouble or when I need help, but now everything changed, you know. I pray all the time. I pray just to have a cup of coffee and thanking God, just being thankful. I pray before I go to sleep and thanking God that, you know, I’m not sick and most of all, of course, thanking God, before I go to sleep, Jay was there, and when I wake up in the morning, he’s still there.

And I pray for everything now. I pray for asking God for strength, and I pray for, for the support, and I pray to give me the guidance and just, just for everything. And I got closer and getting closer to God every day, and I believe he is with us all the time. He is with us.

SUSAN DENTZER: Tell me what your hopes are for Jay.

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: Well, our hope is, for Jay is, you know, we want him to see the way he was before. Our hope is, when I come home, I want to see Jay sitting on a couch saying, hi, Dad. That’s what he always does when he comes home or I come home, he’ll just say, Hi, Dad, Hi, Mom. That’s what we are hoping for.

SUSAN DENTZER: Do you hope that he’ll walk again?

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: We hope that he’ll be able to walk again, be able to talk, and be able to go back to college and finish his college and have his own family. That’s our hope with him. And everything is in God’s hands right now. And we are continuously praying every day, and that’s–and, also, we’re asking people to include Jay in their, in their daily prayers because he deserves, he deserves a second chance. He’s like us. We deserve a second and third chance because he’s a good Christian, he’s a good boy, and he doesn’t deserve it.

He’s so young. He deserves to enjoy life some more, and that’s what we are asking God. And he’s progressing. He’s surprising a lot of doctors and a lot of people, you know. The first day you see him and where he is now, it’s a very, very slow progress, but he’s progressing, and we’re not giving up our hope.

SUSAN DENTZER: Tell me how you have seen that progress. Give me an example of how you’ve seen that progress.

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: Okay. The first day when we saw Jay, he was in coma. He was just sleeping the first time we saw him in Germany, and like the doctor said he doesn’t know whether Jay will wake up. The first three hours we were on his side, this was the first time in Germany, his muscle twitched. And we called the nurse, hey, did you see that? And the communication was hard because they don’t speak no English. And the nurse is saying, nein, nein. That means, no, no.

I said, okay. Fine. Then, another hour, there were other twitches. Okay. No problem. And then the doctor came, and he wanted us to leave the hospital because he’s in ICU. He doesn’t want any family members to be around Jay. And that time, Jay’s eyes opened. He was in a deep coma. He opened his eyes and maybe two, three seconds, and then he closed back up, again. And then there was a lot of, you know, stuff came out his–that was, he was telling us don’t leave him, again.

So we told the doctor, I don’t care. We’re not leaving our son, again. For about five days, you know, we didn’t take no bath, no nothing, we just stayed there in the concrete with just one or two chairs. I don’t know maybe we all have two, three hours of sleep during the whole ordeal, and we didn’t care, you know. We had the money to buy food, but we can’t–we can’t go anywhere. We don’t know what to say because we don’t speak German, but we survived. We survived and until, you know, from that moment on, we never leave Jay alone.

Wherever he goes, 24/7, my wife, and I and my two daughters we’re there with him because we felt like Jay wanted to be with us some more. He wanted to live. He was gone two times, and he fought for his life to be with us, and he’s telling me, he’s telling us it’s your turn, Dad. Do your part in this. I want to–my whole family is doing. We will never leave him alone. We are one. We are just one.

SUSAN DENTZER: We talked to an expert in family caregiving, such as your family is doing, and she herself is a family caregiver. Her husband has multiple sclerosis and has been deteriorating for years. And she said one characteristic of being a family caregiver, she said is perpetual grief. There is perpetual hope, but the other side of it is perpetual grief, a constant feeling of sadness about setbacks that occur, about thinking of your child, in this case, getting older and what he’s missing.


SUSAN DENTZER: Do you feel that?

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: That is true. That is a true statement because, in the basement, every day tears, laughter, smiles, pain, fear, hope, faith, name it, everything, love in the basement. And everything, every day that’s what’s going on constantly. I mean, he smiles when he’s watching a TV show. That’s where the fun begins when he’s smiling. And each moment that–each moment that Jay can, can share with us we treasure because we don’t know. God can take him away any time. There’s always love there that he showed to us.

SUSAN DENTZER: Do you–do you think to yourself, as any parent would, if he hadn’t been injured today, he would be doing this–he would be meeting a girl, he’d be getting married?

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: Oh, yes. If Jay did not get injured, he’d probably go to college, having fun with his friends, and just like a normal, average teenagers growing up, and maybe going out dancing. But Jay never smoked and never touched alcohol, and that’s all my kids. We’ve been blessed. We have children like this. And Jay is always quiet, and he just likes to observe. He just likes to observe all the time.

SUSAN DENTZER: He was a good kid as a little kid?

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: Oh, yes. He’s always been a good kid. And when he was growing up, as I said, I was retired Army, and I was gone a lot of times, and when he was six or eight years old, I’d tell him like, Jay, I’m going to be gone for about a month or two months, and you’re the daddy now. You take care of mom and the two dau–the two little girls here, your two sisters. He’d just look at me like, What are you saying, Dad?

But somehow he’ll take care of the whole family. He’ll step up and, you know, being in the military, I’m always gone, and every time I go somewhere, I’ll tell him, Okay, Jay. You’re the daddy now. Okay. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done at home. Make sure your sisters do their homework and do all of this, and he stepped up. He stepped up. He’d take all that responsibility. That’s how good he was.

SUSAN DENTZER: You were working for this computer company. What exactly was your position?

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: It was in a computer company. It’s a K-12 company. It’s a school for home schoolers. Okay. And what I used to do, I was a quality–software quality assurance engineer. I check the software for making sure before it was released to the users, making sure all of the graphics, all the tags are working properly and things like that, make sure the user will be able to see it when they click the icons. It’s, it’s the whole thing of the software, making sure the quality are good, and that was my job.

SUSAN DENTZER: And yet you quit this job about a year ago, just exactly a year ago–


I resigned from my job March 16th of last year, to be exact. Before that, my wife and I couldn’t make a decision–who should stay home her or me, and we come to the conclusion that I must stay home. It’s not because–she is just like me. She knows everything. You know, I can go for days and leave my wife alone here. Not to worry. She knows every little piece of equipment Jay uses.

But we made a decision that I stay home because I can lift Jay if he needs to be taken right away to the hospital, and it’s just like we felt like, being the father, and I can do, I’ll do all the talking like right now and taking care of his medication, ordering his medication, talk to the doctors and talking to the hospitals. And so we decided that I be the one to stay home to continue all of this paperwork and talking to the doctors and hospitals.

SUSAN DENTZER: That was a big financial sacrifice for your family.

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: Oh, yes. You know, anyone’s family, you cut the income in half, it’s, you know, it’ll take a burden, but, on our part, we don’t call it a burden because anything, anything that we do not have, like my income, up there will provide us much, much more, our faith, and he never fails us. We never miss mortgage. We always have food to eat, and somehow his blessing always comes. And I believe in that. And when it’s time for me to go back to work, again, and I know he will tell me or he will provide me when it’s the time and what job that I can be taking. I believe in that.

SUSAN DENTZER: The–for family caregivers like yours, the support of the community is very important. Do you feel that you’ve had a lot of support from people?

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: We have the best community here, from the mayor to the fire and rescue, to the local American Legion, VFW, and our neighbors, my uncles and my relatives around us, our church. Our church comes here, our deacon comes here three times a week, bringing Holy Communion for Jay, and they always pray for Jay, and the whole community is just wonderful. Our mayor, and the principal, the high school principal, and all his teachers came and visited Jay, all his friends. We have the best community support here. We are blessed to be here.

SUSAN DENTZER: How important is that for you?

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: Oh, it’s very important because, to me, let’s say, for example, if I don’t have the support of the church, then I don’t know what would be my fate right now or if I don’t have the support of our mayor because one of my projects is to build another driveway for Jay, so I can back in his van. If I don’t have that support, it would probably take me months or years to get the paperwork done, but the mayor said, if I run into a problem, let him know, and he will take care of it. The American Legion and the VFW, they’re all very supportive, and Congressman Wolf, also–Congressman Wolf.

SUSAN DENTZER: Just this past week, when Jay went through these episodes with the trach tube–one had to be replaced. That one didn’t work. He didn’t adjust well to it. You were back and forth to the hospital two more times after that first trip–what was going through your head? What were you feeling through that whole period?

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: Well, what was going through my head at the time was, you know, looking at Jay, all the distress, I just pray to God to help him an to relieve all the pain and discomfort Jay is having. And it’s not saying, oh, there we go again, you know. It’s not that. It’s just I wish I could do more. I wish I could do something to, to relieve the pain. I wish I could have his pain. I wish I could take his, you know, I would not think twice to put my body where he is now.

And when he was in Walter Reed, I asked the doctor, his doctor, to put me in his place. And he said it’s not possible. So it’s hard. It’s hard, but we have to stay strong. We have to stay very strong for him.

SUSAN DENTZER: Do you ever feel that you can’t–do you get to points where you feel you can’t take it any more?

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: No, and I don’t think I’m–we’ll cross that bridge when that, I cannot take it any more. I don’t think so. I don’t think I’m going to come to that point.

What I’m afraid of is, is Jay, you know, how much pain can he endure more? How much more trip to the emergency can he endure more? How much more trach changes he can endure more? It’s more him, my wife and I thinking and my two daughters. It’s not us. It’s not us. We will never get tired of taking care of him, and we will never say, no, to him. It’s just him. That’s the main concern, how much more he can take because every three months we have to change his trach, and each time they change the trach, it’s a trauma just to change the trach because blood will come out, and he gag, and that is just to change the trach.

The episode that we had last week, it’s another thing that you can, you know, I hate to say that you can expect, but it happens. It can, you know, that trach can have an air leak any time. And it’s more him not us.

SUSAN DENTZER: Do you think you will ever know when he’s had enough? Do you think he would be able to communicate that to you, if that point were to be reached?

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: You know, it’s funny you asked me that question because when I was in Walter Reed, when we were in Walter Reed, we were–I was crying so hard the priest came to me, and he said, Joseph, when the time comes, you will know. When the time comes, you will know.

I think what he meant by that is, when God is ready to take Jay, God will let me know. And, to me, it wasn’t a relief, but I gave it to God’s hand, you know, God, please let me know. I can never be ready. We can never be prepared for this, but when you want to take him, I know he’ll be in good hands. And that’s how I know. From Jay, I don’t know if it come from Jay. I know it’s something that God will send me the message that enough is enough. But we will never say enough is enough regardless.

SUSAN DENTZER: One of the challenges for your family has been getting this nursing assistance, and the VA is paying for round-the-clock nursing care. Even though they are willing to do that, you still have had some trouble getting 24/7 staffing. First of all, if you could tell me that and then tell me how much of a challenge that has been for your family.

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: I think the nursing staffing is–will be the continuously issue for us because we have, nationally, we have a shortage of nurses, and that’s what the agency is having a problem right now to send us–not only nurse, it has to be nurse that specializes, that knows how to do the ventilator patient because there’s a lot of nurse that never had the experience or doesn’t want to care for a patient with a trach, on a ventilator. And the nurse has to be detail oriented and someone that will love Jay, to care for Jay, not only for the money that they’ll be making, and he has to be reliable, and a good Christian and things like this. That’s what we are looking for right now as a nurse..

Presently, Tuesday, and Friday, and Saturday we do not have a nurse at night, and on the weekends–excuse me–daytime we don’t have a nurse. And those are the shifts that the agency is working very hard to fill in the slots.

SUSAN DENTZER: So tell me what a Tuesday night and a Thursday night is like here for your family.

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: Like we know for Tuesday night we don’t have a nurse, we have a schedule. My wife will make up the schedule or I’ll make up the schedule. Okay. You eat dinner at 3 p.m., so you can go to sleep until 6:00, and then you wake up, and she goes to sleep. We take shifts. And when my daughter, of course, she goes to school, high school, and if she doesn’t have any, if she doesn’t have a lot of homework, she can–she helps. She can do, let’s say, 10–8 p.m. to 10 p.m., and then she goes to sleep, you know, after she does her homework. And it helps every one or two hours here and there, it helps.

And we have to stay awake to care for Jay because Jay have a history of seizures. Jay could have a seizure at any time, and that’s one thing that’s very important for the nurse now, to stay awake and to keep an eye on him. That’s why we can never leave Jay alone by himself, 24/7.

SUSAN DENTZER: What do you do when he has a seizure?

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: What do we do if he has seizures? We prevent him from, we have this–something for him we put in his mouth so he doesn’t bite his tongue or his lip, and we keep an eye on him very closely. The seizures that he had, previously, was it only last maybe, at the most, three minutes. And we try to calm him down and make him comfortable, as much as we can. And once the seizure is stop, we call–we report it right away to Dr. Fish or any neuro doctors present at the time.

And one time he had I think two or three seizures in a very short period of time, and then they said take him to the hospital right now. And then we have an okay from the VA in Washington, D.C., that if Jay have these seizures or any episode, just go ahead, and we’ve got a green-light signal from them that we can take him to the emergency.

SUSAN DENTZER: This is very hard physical work. As you said, you have to turn him every couple of hours. First of all, if you could say that to me, how hard is this work physically for you, and your family, and your wife?

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: Of course–of course, it’s hard because we have to turn Jay every two hours, and I’m about 5-foot-11, and if my partner, let’s say, my wife, she’s only 5-feet tall, I had to adjust my height to her, and so we would be able to lift Jay. And it takes a lot of strength to, to turn him because we have to turn him towards me, if he will be facing on the other side, and we must protect his neck all the time because of his spinal cord injury.

And not only the turnings and so many sleepless nights that we endure, and like I said, if–you can, you can never get tired when it comes to your child. You know, you just take whenever when you can take a nap to regain your strength and just make sure you take your vitamins. That’s all I can say. And, of course, God–we pray.

SUSAN DENTZER: Your family is going through a very extreme version of what many families across America are going for caring for a disabled loved one and what many more families are likely to be having to do in the future since we are all getting older. What do you think is the most important thing for people to understand about families in your situation, and what do you think families in your situation need the most from government, from society, from public policy, et cetera.

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: What I can say is our government needs to realize that this is the war costing us and be able to help us, like us and other veterans, disabled veterans coming from Iraq or Afghanistan, the government needs to help the VA with the budget. Give more money to the VA, and hire more nurses, hire more doctors, and, and the pharmacy of sending medication and medical supplies. You can always progress, you know, get all of these technologies. How can you make sure that the veterans are getting their medication on time? What happens if the veteran did not receive this medication? What’s the alternative? And things like that.

And what the community needs to do for the people like us, and we have a great community here that is supporting us, and just continue to support the family and continue to pray, and, hopefully, things will get better. That’s what we are asking the American people to include Jay in their daily prayers, and also not only for Jay, for our veterans, and hopefully they’ll come home safe and sound.

SUSAN DENTZER: Do you think the American people have any idea what, as you said, the cost of the war has been on families like you, let alone Jay, but families like yours?

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: I’m not sure, but I think–I don’t think they have any idea that the American people know what we’re going through now, and this is one of the many reasons that we would like to show Jay what we’re going through, so they know, they get the feeling what we’re going through. So this is to educate the public, the American people, so we can ask the President to support the veterans and give more money to the VA so they can do or buy more technology, hire more nurses, and hire more doctors.

SUSAN DENTZER: You showed us a little bear downstairs named Hero.


SUSAN DENTZER: And there are lots of messages around this home calling Jay a hero. And at his birthday party, many people called him a hero. But your family, you are all heroes. Do you believe that?

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: I don’t know because what I have done in the past, and my wife have done, and my two daughters have done, there is no comparison what Jay have done for us and for our country. So I wouldn’t consider ourselves as a hero. I wouldn’t consider that. It’s just we are being a family, and Jay is our family, and he needs care, and we will never give up on him. That’s the way I look at it. And I would not consider it as hero. I’m considering my son, he’s my son, but he is, also, an American hero.

SUSAN DENTZER: But so are you.

JOSEPH BRISENO SR.: Maybe. I’m just doing my best.