Despite severest injuries, soldier, parents hang on

Some say Joseph Briseno is the most injured soldier of the Iraq war.

Published June 25, 2007

TAMPA - He lies flat, unseeing eyes fixed on the ceiling, tubes and machines feeding him, breathing for him, keeping him alive. He cannot walk or talk, but he can grimace and cry. And he is fully aware of what has happened to him.

Four years ago, Joseph Briseno Jr. was shot in the back of the head at point-blank range in a Baghdad marketplace. His spinal cord was shattered, and cardiac arrests stole his vision and damaged his brain.

He is one of the most severely injured soldiers - some think the most injured soldier - to survive.

"Three things you would not want to be: blind, head injury, and paralyzed from the neck down. That's tough, " said Dr. Steven Scott, head of the Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center at the Tampa VA Medical Center, where Briseno has twice been hospitalized for extensive care. Recently, Briseno was hospitalized yet again, this time at the Washington VA Medical Center.

As a high schooler, Briseno wanted to be a forensic scientist or investigator. He was 20, attending George Mason University, when he was called up from the Reserves.

After he was shot, he was flown to Kuwait and then to a military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. His parents and two sisters rushed to his side.

"They told us, 'Prepare for his service.' That's how bad he was, " said his father, Joseph Briseno Sr., a retired career Army man.

In December 2003, he went home, to Manassas Park, Va.

"My wife and I, we learned everything. We are the respiratory technician, we are the physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists ..., " Briseno said.

He can respond to questions by grunting or grimacing, and occasionally can say "mom" or "go, " but not consistently.

They hope to move to Tampa, where they believe their son can get the best care. "We always have hope. One day at a time - that's the way we live our lives, " Briseno said. "We're so lucky to have him."