On April 13, 2004, 1st Lieutenant Melissa Stockwell’s life changed forever. Deployed to Iraq 3 weeks earlier, she was working as a transportation officer leading supply convoys from one point to the next. On that fateful day, Melissa was traveling on a routine convoy through central Baghdad when her Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb. The bomb, and subsequent injuries, resulted in amputation of her left leg above the knee during emergency, lifesaving surgery at the American hospital in Baghdad. She was soon transported home from Iraq for treatment at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Melissa spent the next year recovering from infections, regaining her strength, learning to walk with a prosthetic leg, and becoming independent again. A positive, motivated attitude helped her to resume a normal life and to dream of even greater things. Once she began walking with a prosthetic leg, her lifelong passion for sports and the thrill of competition drove her to get back in the game. With the help of the Wounded Warrior Project, Disabled Sports USA, and Achilles, it was not long before she was skiing the mountains of Breckenridge, Colorado, and running in the NYC marathon.“I really learned that losing a leg didn't have to stop me from doing anything I wanted to do with my life. In the year after my injury, I had already done more with one leg than I ever would have imagined doing with two legs."
In April 2005, Melissa medically retired from the US Army, earning a Purple Heart Award and a Bronze Star Medal. She decided to return to school to become a prosthetist, learning how to fit other amputees with artificial limbs. Throughout her recovery, her love of sports never wavered. Soon after school started, she learned about the Paralympics, the international competition for athletes with physical disabilities. This was a venue for her to not only compete on the second largest athletic stage in the world (second only to the Olympics), but one in which she could once again proudly wear the uniform of her country. With the support of her family and friends, her hard work and dedication to practicing endless laps in the pool helped her to achieve her dream of making the 2008 United States Paralympic swim team. “Competing in Beijing was one of the most incredible things I have ever done and [I] will take my experiences there with me wherever I go."
After the Beijing Paralympics, Melissa returned home to Chicago to resume her training as a prosthetist and to continue her athletic goals. Soon after she returned, she learned of the CDMRP and took part in her first session as a consumer advocate for the Deployment Related Medical Research Program. “It was here where I was able to vote on the services and programs that I felt were most important to the returning veterans. I was able to influence where the financial resources would go and what programs the government would support dealing with deployments, prosthetic research, and more. It is my hope that people like me could benefit along with all the other returning wounded soldiers. My experience as a consumer advocate was great and I would highly recommend it. I left with a feeling of satisfaction that I made a difference and hoped that others would reap the rewards of the work we all put in and benefit from the choices we had made." Melissa currently serves on the board of directors of the Wounded Warrior Project and loves the feeling of giving back to the organization that helped her on her road to recovery. She also continues to mentor newly injured veterans, hoping that her experiences and knowledge of the recovery process will help them toward a successful future.