Images courtesy: Olivia Hoffman
Only days after her brother lost his legs in Afghanistan, Olivia Hoffman learned that she and her husband were expecting their second child. Already overwhelmed with emotion as her big brother fought for his life, Olivia asked God for strength.
"I cried many nights following that wondering if this baby would ever get to meet (his or her) Uncle Nick," Olivia said in an email to The Unknown Soldiers. Her account of the months since Army 1st Lt. Nick Vogt was nearly killed in a Kandahar province terrorist attack on Nov. 12, 2011, is among the most poignant pieces of writing one will ever encounter.
"Although he only got to meet my other daughter in the hospital when she was born (he deployed two days later) he would always mail her stuff and Skype with us," she continued. "After his brain surgery, his memory is a little rocky, and he hadn't remembered that I had a daughter, but he got to see her through the door at Christmas and he by far gave her the biggest smile."
First Lt. Vogt has undergone countless surgeries since his life was saved by soldiers on the battlefield and doctors in Afghanistan, Germany, and the United States. The amount of blood needed to keep the Army Ranger alive, according to family members, is among the most ever given to a wounded service member.
"His biggest hurdle right now is getting rid of the ventilator," Olivia wrote on Jan. 13.
As I initially worked on this column, Olivia asked me to pause after Nick's condition suddenly deteriorated. According to doctors, Nick almost died on the operating table during surgery on one of his lungs. Even amid a frightening setback, the Vogt family, friends, and thousands of supporters on the "Nick Vogt Family" Facebook page simultaneously dropped to their knees in prayer.
About 48 hours later, their prayers were answered.
"Nick has been very stable these last two days, and doctors are optimistic the surgery was a success in repairing the lung," Olivia wrote.
Nick, who turned 24 in the hospital on Dec. 13, 2011, is the oldest of five siblings. As their brother fights for his life, Olivia, 22, cares for her two younger sisters and brother in Crestline, Ohio, while her parents spend countless hours at Nick's Bethesda, Md., bedside.
"They are up at 6 every morning walking to the hospital and don't leave until around 8 (p.m.)," she explained. "They put on such strong faces for Nick. We always tease mom because she is such a 'crier' and very emotional, but her and Dad have really been Nick's rock throughout this whole ordeal."
The community is not only rallying around Nick because he is a wounded warrior. From relatives to folks who barely know Nick, everyone I've corresponded with says he is a genuinely splendid person.
"Nobody has ever not liked him," Olivia said. "He's also one of the most humble human beings I know."
Even while dealing with unimaginable pain in the hospital, Nick's warm personality brightens the smiles of his caregivers.
"Mom just shared a funny story with me," his sister wrote. "The other day there were four nurses working around him, and one was very cute.
"Nick woke up and mouthed 'you're beautiful,' then realizing he didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings, he mouthed the same to the other nurses," Olivia continued. "That's totally Nick!"
A decision this selfless patriot made earlier in life is also "totally Nick." After being accepted to medical school following his West Point graduation, Vogt chose to first attend Army Ranger School. He wanted to deploy as quickly as possible.
"I want to be a warrior in order to take care of warriors," Olivia quoted her brother as saying.
Even though doctors now take care of him, 1st Lt. Nick Vogt will always be a warrior. And as his next niece or nephew grows up, the child will want to be just like Uncle Nick.
"Despite being stuck in the ICU for two months and still not being able to talk, he will mouth the words 'thank you' to his nurses," Olivia said.
Let's all join together in mouthing those words right back.
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