When Bob Hoagland read about a seriously injured soldier who graduated from the same high school as he did, the Los Altos chiropractor felt compelled to find a way to lift the young man’s spirits.
“It just tears me up,” Hoagland said of the plight of U.S. Marine Cpl. Farrell Gilliam, who also attended Burroughs High School in Burbank.
Hoagland reached out to the 22-year-old Gilliam, who is recovering at VA Palo Alto Health Care System from multiple injuries suffered in an explosion early this year in Afghanistan.
Hoagland collected donations from fellow Burroughs High alumni and bought Gilliam a bass guitar – a replica of the one Paul McCartney played with the Beatles. Hoagland said the guitar was meant to encourage the ex-Marine during his recovery, though Gilliam is not yet able to play it.
More recently, Hoagland has been teaching Gilliam to fly the Los Altos resident’s 1948 Ercoupe, an airplane not dependent on foot controls.
“(Flying) just gives him something to look forward to,” said Hoagland, who has high hopes for Gilliam’s future in aviation. “He could get a pilot’s license if he wanted.”
Although his road to recovery is far from over, Gilliam has come a long way since being injured Jan. 5 in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. Gilliam stepped on an improvised explosive devise, triggering multiple injuries that will forever alter his life. The blast left a hole in his right side that caused extensive abdominal trauma, left him with limited use of his right arm and required the amputation of both legs just below the knees.
After stays at hospitals in Afghanistan, Germany and Maryland, Gilliam was transported to the VA in Palo Alto in March. Twenty-six surgeries later, he has overcome the abdominal trauma and is eating normally again. He was fitted for prosthetics June 13 and stood for the first time. The doctors’ long-term goal is to get Gilliam walking on his own, a process that can take anywhere from 12 to 16 months.
“It’s been long, painful, frustrating,” Gilliam said of his recovery.
But doctors at the VA are amazed by his progress.
“Considering his injuries, his recovery has been great,” said Dr. Renata Jarosz, a first-year resident. “He’s been a soldier.”
Gilliam’s family has been at his side throughout and expressed gratitude for Hoagland and others who support wounded soldiers.
Hoagland said he hopes to assemble a team of volunteer chiropractors to assist soldiers in Afghanistan or Iraq. For now, however, he provides free medical care to military personnel out of his home.
“I guess it’s reinforcing trying not to be selfish with what I have,” Hoagland said.