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NEWS | Nov. 20, 2023

A Soldier’s massive stroke changes a military family’s life, but they are making it work

By MaryTherese Griffin ARCP

Major Jeremy Ditlevson and his wife Jeralyn were looking forward to his retirement next year. After five deployments, four to Iraq and one to Afghanistan, they felt their twenty years of service in the Army was good and were excited to move on to the next chapter in their life together.

“We were planning on retiring. We bought our retirement home, put in a pool while Jeremy was deployed, and thought ok… we are good to go,” said Jeralyn Ditlevson.

Jeremy, at 48 years old, suffered a massive stroke on Jan 17, 2023. “We were having dinner cleaning up, and Jeremy sneezed 15 times, and the stroke happened. We live out in the country, so it took some time for paramedics to get to us. When they arrived, they medevacked him straight to Oklahoma City, 99 miles north of us.”

Maj Ditlevson suffered an Ischemic stroke. “Jeremy was in ICU and on day five spiked a fever, and they had to do a decompression of his skull and removed part of his skull, then he threw a pulmonary embolism, which is another clot that went into both lungs.”

He was transported on day 17 to the Polytrauma unit at the Audie L Murphy VA Hospital in San Antonio, where he spent nine weeks as an inpatient for rehab.

Her once very outgoing husband is not able to speak. “I can read his mood and interpret for him. I know… we've been married long enough,” Jeralyn laughs. “Our family changed a complete 180 since this happened. I no longer work. He has to have care 24/7 for safety concerns.” Jeralyn describes daily life now and how the family dynamic has changed. “He can make a sandwich, but that’s about it. He doesn’t remember when things are hot; he could get burned and fall if he is not watched. He can’t drive and will never be able to work again, so it’s a very different life for us now.”

The field artillery officer began his recovery care at the Soldier Recovery Unit (SRU) in San Antonio, Texas, where he was assigned in April 2023. The Divletsons believe being introduced to adaptive sports as therapy was a Godsend. “I think the adaptive sports program is one of the best. I didn't know anything about any of this stuff, and it truly has helped him. He swims and does indoor rowing with one arm.”

Jeralyn credits the team's hard work at the SRU with adding to his progress. “He can now walk short distances. He still can't use his right arm but discovered adaptive Sports with Lorraine Currow, the recreational therapist at the JBSA Soldier Recovery Unit. It’s improved his stamina.”

Jeralyn shared her thoughts on what Warrior Care means to her as she says it goes beyond the immediate recovery from the crisis they experienced. “I live in my mama bear status. Protecting his career and him is my job. Protecting his physical and mental needs is my job,” she proudly says.

She doesn’t dwell on the hard stuff. She celebrated the victories. “He’s in good spirits. From our research, we see a lot of stroke patients go into depression, but he hasn’t, and I wasn’t going to let that happen. He’ll never be 100%, but he is 100% positive!”

Maj Ditlevson's positive attitude in recovery shines through to other Soldiers in recovery, and his wife says that the recovery journey is an even bigger victory. “Jeremy helps motivate other Soldiers who are less severe than him at the SRU. They get in the pool with him, saying seeing him makes them want to keep going. I mean, he is a man who swims with only half his body. He can now swim 100 meters in two minutes.”

Embracing the future with new goals, she says a little daily progress is a small victory. “He does archery as well. We are working on a mouthpiece for him. It shows he can continue his life past this stroke and the Army. He hopes to make Team Army and Team US to get the Invictus Games in 2025.”

Jeralyn finds this new world of being a caregiver a badge of honor and hopes other caregivers will remember to care for themselves. “Warrior Caregivers need to take time for themselves. Even if they get a sitter and get away for two hours, their mental health is just as important.”

The notion of a positive attitude and hope sustain the Ditlevsons, something they remind other caregivers who face sudden change as they did.

“10 months ago, they didn’t think my husband would survive, yet here he is walking and can communicate a little bit. He progresses every day. You can get there. You have to put the effort in.”