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Image of Ed Salau and his service dog, Gabriel.

Ed Salau and his service dog, Gabriel.

There is an old joke about a man about to have elbow surgery asking his doctor if he will be able to play the violin after the operation. “Of course,” the doctor replies. “That’s great,” the man says, “Because I have never been able to play it before!”

Retired 1LT Ed Salau may laugh at the joke now, but he was not laughing seven years ago when a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Iraq led to the amputation of his left leg above the knee. Still, the injury and his subsequent recovery have given him opportunities and opened doors for him (and held doors, too – but more on that later) that never would have been provided had he returned home a non-wounded warfighter.

“Before my injury, I ran for fun, and to clear my mind, and that afternoon in Iraq as I tried to tie the tourniquet on my leg, I kept thinking, ‘I will never run again,’” Ed said. “Three years later, I finished the Army 10-miler, and I am also a certified adaptive snow-ski instructor.”

Add to that his work as Charitable Organizations Program Coordinator for Wounded Warrior Battalion-East at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; his service to the Airlift Research Foundation, which raises funds for research on battlefield injuries; and his regular visits with other wounded warfighters, and it becomes clear that Ed is doing more than just keeping busy – he is making a difference.

“There are people in the world – brilliant people – who are living their lives serving people like me, and they have already figured out the techniques I am using,” Ed said. “Living in a Marine Corps town, like I do, you are always just one degree of separation from someone who knows the answer.”

Encouragement from medical professionals and rehabilitation specialists helped on his road to recovery, but he also gave credit to an unexpected source – the afore-mentioned door holder. About four years ago, at the urging of some friends and co-workers, Ed put his name on the waiting list for a service dog. Told that there could be a two-year wait, he welcomed a new friend in just three weeks.

“Gabriel was trained by Carolina Canines to assist people who have suffered significant injuries,” Ed said of his Labradoodle. “He helps me around the house by opening the refrigerator, getting me a drink, dragging the laundry basket where it needs to be, and holding doors open for me. He has helped me adapt to what I call my ‘new normal.’”

Ed’s first ‘new normal’ consisted of an office job after he took a medical retirement in 2005. However, as he put it, “Cubicles were doing more harm to me than rockets did.” He left that job and found his calling through his work with Wounded Warrior Battalion and the Airlift Research Foundation, in which he meets with local groups and charitable organizations who provide services and support to local Marines and their families. Ed also spends many hours a week visiting with those families, making sure they are aware of the resources available to them. His duties keep Ed busy, motivated, and, most importantly, away from cubicles.

Through his work with Wounded Warrior Battalion and the Airlift Research Foundation, Ed was asked to be a Peer Reviewer for the Defense Medical Research and Development Program (DMRDP) for Fiscal Year 2012 awards. It was an experience he will not soon forget.

“What an incredible setup, and what an honor to participate,” Ed said. “Everyone told me that scientists would be there to scrutinize the proposals, and I was just in awe of their accomplishments and backgrounds. All of them – industry leaders, biostatisticians – wanted to hear from me, which was just so humbling.”

While he may never play the violin, Ed is grateful for being able to help his fellow warfighters and their families. In addition, he said he remembers a valuable lesson that he first realized after his injury, and one that he applied as a peer reviewer.

“I had no idea going in what would happen,” Ed said, “But I learned the real impact patients have if we just know what to say to who, and when to say it.”