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Hearts open for injured Marine

His dad's youth football team has helped raise about $10,000 to ease the burden for the man's family.

Published October 1, 2006

It has been exactly one month since it happened. Since Mike Delancey and Paula Palmer got the call.

Their son, Marine Lance Cpl. Michael Delancey, 21, had been wounded in an insurgent attack in Iraq. A bullet struck him in the back and tore through his body.

"It was devastating," Delancey said. "I just asked, 'Is he alive?' "

Palmer said she reacted the only way she knew how: "Terror. Fear. A scream."

The two flew from their Pinellas Park homes to the National Naval Medical Center in Maryland to meet Michael, who was being airlifted from Germany.

They were waiting in the hospital's emergency room at 6:30 a.m. on Sept. 5.

"But 6:30 came and went," Delancey said. "Finally, he got here at 10:30."

They hardly recognized their son when he was wheeled in.

"It didn't look like anybody was on the stretchers. We thought it was all equipment, all machines," Palmer said.

They've been at his bedside since.

* * *

Some doctors have promised a full recovery for Michael. Others have said he might not walk for a while or that he might need a wheelchair.

The bullet shattered one vertebra, fractured another, punctured his lungs and damaged nerves around his neck.

Two-thirds of Delancey's right lung had to be removed, and he still has difficulty moving his right arm and legs.

"He's in a real emotional stage right now," his father said. "He looks at his right arm, and I can see it in his eyes: 'Dad, I'm telling it to move but it won't.' "

In the month that Michael has been in the hospital, he received the Purple Heart, he has been visited by Michael J. Fox and was presented a commemorative coin from Gov. Jeb Bush.

This weekend, he's looking forward to enjoying his first football game in months.

"This is the first NFL Sunday and college football Saturday he'll actually remember," his father Mike said, adding that painkillers have kept his son from remembering the other Buccaneers and Cowboys games they've watched together.

Football is big in their family.

The Pinellas Park T-Birds, the youth football team Mike has coached for more than 20 years, has rallied around the family.

The T-Birds have organized carwashes, raffles and donation booths, and they plan to host a spaghetti dinner. This weekend they planned to start selling T-shirts bearing Michael's picture.

"We want to make sure that when Michael comes home, he won't have anything financial to worry about," said Sandra Gens, the head team mom for the T-Birds.

So far, the community has raised about $10,000 in three weeks, but Gens hopes to raise $20,000 to $25,000 so Mike, who works for a fencing company, can take time off from work to care for his son.

* * *

Michael Delancey joined the Marines in January 2003, about a year after he graduated from Pinellas Park High School. He began talking about joining the military shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

It took "a lot of prayers, a lot of hope," but Delancey supported his son.

"As a parent, I've always said we need to get our kids out of there," he said. "I turn on the TV and see what Bush is saying and doing, and it's not getting any better for our kids."

Still, Delancey couldn't have been prouder of his son. He filled his closet with Marines T-shirts and hats and covered his Chevy Avalanche with bumper stickers: My son is a Marine. I'm a proud parent of a Marine.

"I was like a walking billboard," he said. "When we were visiting him in Hawaii, he finally said, 'Dad, you're embarrassing me.'"

It's difficult to tell how Michael's nearly six-month tour in Iraq has affected him, Delancey said. For now, he's just focused on his son's recovery.

"It's been a roller coaster ride, a real bumpy roller coaster ride," Delancey said. "One day he won't have a fever, and the next day it'll be 104. It's always two steps forward, one step back."

When the phone calls began streaming in during the first couple of days, Delancey could hardly talk about his son's condition. He'd say a few words before he had to hand the phone off to his girlfriend.

But it's getting better.

"I have cried myself out of tears at this point," he said. "Anything I cry now is happy tears. As long as I have my son's life, it's happy."

[Last modified October 1, 2006, 07:21:18]

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