When local police officer Dan D’Eon was deployed to Afghanistan in June, 2010, he knew that leaving his family, friends and career with the WPD behind was going to be difficult.
No stranger to deployment overseas, Officer D’Eon had already served at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in 2002 and 2003 and was fully prepared to serve his country once again.
D’Eon’s wife, Janine, had also spent time serving overseas in recent years and both of them knew the sacrifices and adjustments that their family would have to make. With four children, Officer D’Eon realized that he was going to miss a lot of important moments and events but, at the same time, realized just how critical his duty overseas was.
In December, 2010, D’Eon shared his story with Patch readers and gave us all an insight into what it was like to be away from his family for the holidays. Even then, however, D’Eon did not realize how long the road back to his hometown of Wilmington was going to be.
On February 10, 2011, with approximately 60 days left of his tour in Afghanistan, D’Eon suffered a stroke.
The day started off much like others during his time in Afghanistan but, when he suddenly lost the vision in his right eye, D’Eon knew that it was time to get medical attention. What he never suspected, however, was how serious a medical issue he was facing.
Convinced that the issue was strictly optical in nature, D’Eon finds it hard to forget the moment he learned what was really going on. “The doctor looked at me and said ‘Sgt. D’Eon I really need you to relax - you are having a stroke,” D'Eon recalled.
Absolutely convinced that the doctors were mistaken, D’Eon made a point of arguing that he could not possibly be having a stroke with anyone who would listen. When asked to lay down on a gurney he refused and, eventually, made an unwilling compromise to at least sit down in a wheelchair.
The physician went on to explain that, because D’Eon was more than three hours beyond the first onset of symptoms, they would be unable to administer medication to dissolve the clots. They quickly laid out a plan which consisted of a Medevac flight to Germany for an MRI and, next, a flight to Walter Reed Medical Center.
“Suddenly it dawned on me that Walter Reed was not in Afghanistan,” remembered D’Eon. At this point the doctor’s words were both simple and direct, “The war is over for you Sgt. D’Eon. You are going home.”
The news was shocking to D’Eon. “For a nanosecond I actually thought that I wasn’t going to see my kids again,” he said.
That fear, however, didn’t last long and, because D’Eon began to recover so quickly, the Medevac flight was actually postponed for a day. “The doctors were all coming to the ICU,” he joked, “to see the guy that had just had a stroke and was walking around.”
Despite D’Eon’s stubborn insistence that he belonged in Afghanistan with his soldiers, his doctors were equally stubborn and the long journey home began.
The only thing that was, perhaps, more frightening than being told he had a stroke was D’Eon’s Medevac flight from Afghanistan to Germany. Mechanical problems with the door, blizzard conditions and the threat of an enemy attack because they were forced to fly at such low altitudes made for a trip D’Eon will never forget.
Despite the harrowing conditions, he credits the flight crew with remaining calm and professional until they all were finally able to land safely.
D’Eon’s time in Germany was brief. “I was just there long enough to get an MRI, buy some souvenirs and SKYPE my parents.”
On Sunday, February 13, just three short days after his stroke, D’Eon walked off a plane in Washington, D.C. “As soon as the doors opened,” said D’Eon, “my cell phone signal kicked in and I called my wife.”
D’Eon’s first morning in Washington was eye opening. “I sat at breakfast and talked on the phone to my wife. Every time I looked around I was telling her about ‘wounded warriors’ with missing limbs,” he remembered. “The only thing they were not missing were smiles.”
Once he settled into Washington, D’Eon made contact with the Wilmington Police Department. This is when he learned that another Wilmington officer, Shawn Lee, had been diagnosed with Leukemia. Ironically that diagnosis, along with D’Eon’s stroke, had happened the very same day.
Officer Lee’s announcement, along with the fact that Detective Tom Miller, another veteran WPD Officer, had suffered a stroke at his desk in December had left the department devastated.
For the moment D’Eon decided it was best to keep the diagnosis of his stroke private until he could speak to Police Chief Michael Begonis in person. “I was actually afraid that if I told Chief Begonis right away I might cause him a stroke,” said D'Eon.
Thanks to help from Wilmington’s Veterans' Agent, Lou Cimaglia, D’Eons wife, Janine, was able to join him in Washington a few days later. “If they could give the Good Guy Award to Lou Cimaglia every year,” said D’Eon, “he would deserve it.”
Still convinced that the whole diagnosis was made in error, D’Eon didn’t fully accept that he had a stroke until the head neurologist showed him the evidence on the MRI records. While the stroke was a serious one, the location of it in his brain saved him from suffering any lasting damage.
For the next three months D’Eon remained as an outpatient at Walter Reed Medical. During that time he was able to sightsee in Washington, D.C., with his family, meet Senator Scott Brown, and even tour the White House the day after it was announced that U.S. forces has killed Osama Bin Laden.
More important that all of that, however, was being able to meet and spend time with other ‘wounded warriors’ returning from oversees.
One especially memorable moment came when he met Breinne Travers and Joe Sullivan a couple he had recently read about in a Boston Herald article. The couple had met while serving in the desert between Kuwait and Iraq and married while at Walter Reed. Since that day, the Sullivan’s and D’Eon are close friends sharing a bond that only returning soldiers can understand.
Overall his time recovering was humbling for D’Eon. “I got to see guys there getting awarded their purple hearts,” he mentioned, “and all could do was think that I didn’t belong there.”
On Friday, May 6, at 12:01 a.m., D’Eon was able to leave Washington, D.C., behind and head home to his family. He arrived home in time to enjoy breakfast with his children, celebrate his sixth wedding anniversary, attend his daughter’s First Communion and have Mother’s Day by his wife’s side. Needless to say, it made for a busy weekend but D’Eon was finally back where he belonged.
Almost immediately, D’Eon was assigned to a job at or Community Based Warrior Transition Unit in Concord, Mass. The organization, which oversees community based healthcare for wounded warriors like him, plays an important role in helping soldiers coordinate their ongoing medical care.
Today, D’Eon understands just how lucky he is. “I have never responded to a stroke call where the victim was up and walking around,” he said.
Of course, the fact that he was so lucky doesn’t take away from the seriousness of the situation. “Everyone needs to know the signs and symptoms of a stroke,” stressed D’Eon. “They need to watch their cholesterol and blood pressure and take an 81 mg aspirin a day.”
This week marks both Veteran’s Day and, fittingly, D’Eon’s return to The Wilmington Police Department. He has been fully cleared to return to work and is more than ready to rejoin the department. In some ways his dedication and commitment to the department seems even stronger than ever.
D’Eon can’t wait to pull out the bike and get back to work at events such as the 4th of July celebration and, of course, WHS football games.
“It feels great to be back,” said D’Eon. “I love being a police officer and I truly enjoy what I do.”
As happy as D’Eon is to be back on the Wilmington Police Department and home with his family he does have regrets when it comes to his abrupt departure from Afghanistan. “I never got to say goodbye to a lot of people,” he said. “I left a lot of my heart in Afghanistan.”
As for his future in the military, D’Eon is always prepared to go where he is needed. He is a soldier through and through and his commitment to his country though military service in an enormous part of who he is.
“I want to leave my boots on the field,” said D’Eon. “I’m not being pulled because of an injury.”