SAN ANTONIO — “I have gone on multiple deployments, defeated the Taliban; I never thought another American would do this to me,” said Staff Sgt. Seth Pena.
Pena, a highly decorated tactical air control party member, noted for calling in coordinated close support air strikes that killed up to 70 Taliban members in one fight, sat down with a crossbow draped across his lap and a target 25 meters in front of him, reminiscing about the night that changed his life forever.
“Man, I never used to sweat this much,” Pena said. “One thing about losing your leg is that you sweat so much more. Before, I remember dreading going on long runs. Now, I would love to be able to do that again.”
One night while Pena was riding his motorcycle, a drunk driver ran a red light and crashed into him. As Pena was flung from his bike, the driver attempted to flee the scene but was apprehended by a military person who witnessed the accident.
Pena doesn’t recall the incident, as he suffered a traumatic brain injury, multiple broken bones and fractures, and he lost a lot of blood. In addition, Pena died immediately at the scene but was resuscitated once medical personnel arrived.
“I actually died twice,” Pena said with a sobering tone. “I also died in the helicopter ride to the hospital. The doctor had all my co-workers come into my hospital room and they started screaming my name. Miraculously, my heart started pumping again.”
Pena was in a coma for 20 days before he regained consciousness. The doctor told the nurses and his family not to mention that his left leg was amputated. Since he had suffered severe brain trauma, he was unsure how Pena would accept the news.
“One day as the nurse came in to bath me, she said that she wanted to show me something,” Pena said. “She removed the wrap and I could see my leg was gone. I mean I knew my leg and ankle was hurting and in a lot of pain, but I had no clue until she showed me.”
Six months later, Pena was able to leave the hospital and was transferred to the 59th Medical Wing Patient Squadron at Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.
“The patient squadron has been awesome,” Pena said. “I remember when the general in charge came to greet us during the grand opening. You can tell that he really cared about the wounded warriors.”
Pena described how coming to the patient squadron marked an incredible milestone with his treatment.
“Instead of being an inpatient, you are treated as an outpatient where you get to do your own thing,” he said.
While interacting with others in the patient squadron, Pena acquired a new hobby to occupy some of his free time. Pena started practicing archery for hours each week and is now ambidextrous.
“I injured my right elbow when I fell and they had to freeze it, so I started practicing with my left,” Pena said. “I now shoot left-handed and am more accurate than before.”
Pena has become so accurate that he has been selected to compete in the 2014 Warrior Games, taking place from Sept. 28 to Oct. 4, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He will be competing with other elite athletes from the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard and special operations.
“The amount of stuff that had to happen in order for me to still be here — quick responding emergency crew, dying twice and waking out of a coma after 20 days — my odds of surviving were as slim as winning the lottery,” Pena said. “I thank God I’m still here. I got some adversity now, but I’m learning to live with it.”