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On long road to recovery, a step forward

The Marine who was injured in Iraq last month woke from his coma.

Published August 13, 2005

Christine Cooley got an amazing gift for her birthday Wednesday. She didn't win the lottery, but she felt like she had.

Her son woke up.

A month after he slipped into a coma from injuries endured in a roadside blast in Iraq, Lance Cpl. Josh Cooley opened his eyes and responded to a doctor's commands from his ICU bed in the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

For the Marine's parents and wife, it was a small but momentous step.

"Is he talking, walking? No, he's not," Christina Cooley, Josh's wife and fellow Pasco County sheriff's deputy, told the Times on Friday. "But it's a step in the right direction."

Cooley's family has been with him since he was flown to Bethesda from Germany, where doctors removed part of his skull to relieve pressure from his brain. In the weeks since, he has had multiple additional surgeries.

Surgeons performed a crucial procedure Aug. 3, removing a piece of shrapnel the size of a credit card from his head and also doing skin grafts over the burns on his hands. Some bone fragments were left in his brain because the area was too sensitive to operate on.

Doctors in Bethesda had removed Cooley, 28, from sedation each week to see how he would respond, Christina Cooley said. Usually, they got no response.

They expected it would take the soldier at least two weeks to awake after his most recent surgery. But he started trying to open his eyes the next day, she said. Then, Wednesday morning, he emerged from the coma.

That afternoon, his left eye was able to focus on his family and follow their movements. His right eye sustained nerve damage, and doctors aren't sure whether it will function again.

Cooley also squeezed his family members' hands on command.

"He'll squeeze your hand and rub your finger with his thumb," Christina Cooley said.

Still, the road ahead is long, his wife cautioned. Cooley remains on heavy pain medication and sleeps most of the day. Doctors won't know his long-term prognosis until he is fully awake.

They aim to stabilize Cooley enough to make the trip back to Tampa, where he will be rehabilitated for his head injury at the VA hospital.

Friday, the Marine made another important trip: He moved out of the ICU ward to another floor where soldiers recuperate.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6236. Her e-mail address is

[Last modified August 13, 2005, 01:22:17]

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