by Hope Hodge – JDNews.com
When James and Brandy Kushto’s house burned down in January, they had already experienced a year’s worth of troubles in a month’s time.
James, a Marine sergeant with Camp Lejeune’s Military Police Company, Headquarters Battalion, had returned from a deployment to Afghanistan in December. Days later, he began to complain of migraine headaches, severe fatigue and hearing loss — all symptoms of a taxing and debilitating illness that dozens of doctors have been unable to diagnose, even nine months later.
In January, Brandy Kushto discovered she was pregnant, happy news for a couple that had suffered four miscarriages and undergone in-vitro fertilization in their efforts to have another child. But on Jan. 16, Brandy miscarried again.
Later that day, while on the couch together watching television in their house on base, the couple saw smoke coming from the kitchen. In the time it took for James to find a fire extinguisher, the fire had spread to other parts of the house. All he could do was make sure his family got outside safely; and together they watched their belongings, including brand-new Christmas presents for the Kushtos’ three children, go up in flames.
“If we owned it, it was destroyed. If not by fire, then by smoke,” James Kushto said.
The family moved into a hotel, where they would spend the next three months while their home was rebuilt. But for them, the worst was not yet over.
At a follow-up doctor’s appointment, Brandy was told her miscarriage had led to an extensive infection that necessitated a complete hysterectomy, forever ending the family’s dream of conceiving more children.
Meanwhile, James traveled regularly to specialists in hope of getting help for the mystery illness that continued to hobble him, mentally and physically.
“He now has a walker and can’t be left alone, can’t drive, can’t dress himself or remember things from one day to the next,” Brandy said. “James has been to 47 doctors, been admitted to the hospital over five times and has been prescribed 57 medications that haven’t worked.”
A few credits away from completing a bachelor’s degree, she dropped out of school to become his full-time caregiver.
On a trip home from a Durham hospital in July, the Kushtos were involved in a car accident that paralyzed a nerve behind Brandy’s right eye, permanently impairing her peripheral vision, and crushed her fourth and fifth vertebrae. Now, both Brandy and James face doctor’s visits and physical therapy for months to come.
The family’s view of their hard-to-believe year of hardships is matter-of-fact.
“Any one of those things would make someone pick up the keys and walk out the door,” Brandy said.
But in spite of loss of health, hopes, possessions and finances, the couple said their year of trials had strengthened them. They expressed gratitude for support and care from James’ unit, for a physician patient advocacy group that had assisted the couple in gaining access to care and for family and friends.
“Me and my wife are very happy people. We don’t feel like we’ve been victims of anything,” James said. “Everybody that has touched our lives has been amazing.”
One more development lay in store for the Kushtos; however, this time it was a very good one.
James’ unit reached out to the Indiana organization Wish for Our Heroes, which immediately took an interest in the family’s story.
“I think anyone that would read their story would feel compelled to do something for them,” Kristen Stonecipher, the organization’s marketing director, said. “What we like about them is they don’t have that kind of helpless mentality where they’re throwing their hands up in the air. I think the positive attitude they have is really inspiring.”
The organization paid several bills for the family and gave them a $600 gift card to Walmart, so they could purchase necessities like food and clothes. Then Stonecipher set up a special Walmart gift registry, a checklist of essential items that were lost in the fire. The registry went live earlier this month and will stay open until December to allow people from across the country to help the family out, Stonecipher said.
Already, she said, about 15 items on the list have been purchased, some of them by past Wish for Our Heroes wish recipients.
“If they were helped, they kind of want to pay it forward,” she said.
For the Kushtos, they are just hoping to return to the life they used to have, and perhaps to help others through their story.
“It is actually my hope for people to know that they can overcome absolutely anything,” James said. “Lose everything; then you actually find out how strong someone really is.”
To contribute to the Kushto’s wish list, visit wish4ourheroes.org/kushto-caring-page.