The greatest love stories are those that see couples face seemingly impossible odds, fight through it together and ultimately come out on top. Pamela Stokes Eggleston and her husband Army Sgt. Charles Eggleston’s story is one of those great ones. Back in early 2004, she was on cloud nine — happily engaged to the man of her dreams, she looked forward to tying the knot upon his safe return home from his second tour in Iraq. Then, in an instant, tragedy changed their lives forever. Two improvised explosive devices, commonly known as IEDs, struck her husband and his reservist unit. He was the sole survivor, though with extensive back, head and leg critical injuries. Eggleston was then transported to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where he underwent 56 surgeries and spent three years undergoing rehabilitation care.
Eggleston’s journey to recovery took longer than expected because he says he was denied the proper medical treatment in favor of other soldiers. Stokes Eggleston dedicated her life to publicly lobbying for his cause and became his primary caregiver. Their life would never be the same, but it did have new meaning. They took on the hospital, the government and all those they felt were standing in the way of Eggleston getting proper care, and they won. By 2007, Eggleston felt he was finally getting the quality of health care he deserved.
Today, they’re six years into their marriage, and Stokes Eggleston continues to be a strong and vocal advocate for service members, military spouses and veteran families. Her goal is to raise awareness of the challenges military families and veterans face upon returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She currently works with Blue Star Families as Development Director of VeteranCaregiver.com and as a Senior Consultant for the Department of Defense’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program as a grant reviewer. Put simply: She hasn’t stopped fighting, even though her husband is now living a much more normal life. Their bond was only strengthened by their mission and the extraordinary teamwork they showed. We sat down with Stokes Eggleston to find out what their journey has truly been like — extreme inspiration ahead.
ESSENCE.COM: Your husband sounds like an incredibly brave man. How did this happen?
PAMELA STOKES EGGLESTON: After 9/11 everyone got called. He was a reservist based out of Fort Meade in Maryland, and he was comfortable. He was trained as a sniper and he was also in the Special Forces in the Army. That training led him to get called [to duty]. He did two tours in Iraq, and he was injured five times and earned three purple hearts. He was at Walter Reed for three and a half years and had over 56 surgeries while [there]. His spine had collapsed. That was the big injury. That was the one that caused him to have to medically retire. He would have had another tour in Afghanistan. His first tour was in 2003, and the second one was in 2004. He got injured in 2003 and that wasn’t good enough. They sent him back and he got blown up by an IED. He lost everyone in his unit. Everyone was dead including my husband. He was clinically dead, but they brought him back.
ESSENCE.COM: What was it like getting that phone call?
STOKES EGGLESTON: I actually got a call from him — it was so bizarre. They screwed up and called his mother and said, “Your son is dead.” Then he called her 10 minutes later and she thought she was talking to a ghost. He called me and said he was okay because I had been talking to him every day in Iraq. Yahoo had instant messaging, so I could still talk to him. I hadn’t heard from hime in three days and I just knew something had happened. It was in my gut. People would say, “Don’t put that in the universe.” But, I knew something was wrong. He called me sounding disheveled. His mother never came back from that — she’s now deceased. He was still in the Middle East and then finally he came back to Walter Reed and we got caught up in the scandal there.
ESSENCE.COM: When did you decide to fight?
STOKES EGGLESTON: [At the hospital], they were treating soldiers like crap. If you were “active duty,” you received better treatment. My husband was activated to go to Iraq. He was still getting second-rate treatment. He went through all that hell and then had to come back and deal with people who didn’t have the compassion to [handle] PTSD or TBI, which is what my husband suffered from. So, I wrote letters to The Hill telling them how my husband was treated and there were repercussions for that. My husband was told, “You need to shut your wife up.” We came through that. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. The press has interviewed my husband [many times[ and we’ve done newspaper articles. He wanted to be private, but at the same time, he wanted to let people know this was happening. I said, “Are you going to channel this and put this to action or are you guying to let those men who were with you die in vain?”
ESSENCE.COM: How is your husband’s life different today?
STOKES EGGLESTON: I’m his caregiver. My husband now does all of the Wounded Warrior Golf Tournaments. He’s been featured in African American Golf Digest. He’s the State Commander for military orders of the Purple Heart. He does a lot in Atlanta to speak at the chamber down there. He’s a veteran now, and the Army will always be a part of him. He went to college and then he graduated and joined the military — he [did it] to help people.
ESSENCE.COM: How do you remain so positive?
STOKES EGGLESTON: Because of the things we’ve been through, I’ve met a lot of wonderful, wonderful people, and I’ve gotten involved with a lot of great organizations. We also have people who don’t like us because we are passionate and very outspoken about what we do. But, these things happen. You take the good with the bad.