In a fraction of a second, Patrick Zeigler’s life changed forever.
On November 5, 2009, Patrick was in a small building with other soldiers; he had only been there a few days after returning to Fort Hood from a tour in Iraq. His coworkers were scrolling on their cell phones, trudging through paperwork, sitting in chairs aligned in five rows or so. Patrick was in the second row.
The gunman -- a former U.S. Army Major and psychiatrist who Channel 6 refuses to name -- stood, yelled ‘Allahu Akbar’ and began shooting.
“I distinctly remember he yelled," Zeigler said. "And I looked up, and they always call them a lone wolf. And that’s exactly what he looked like. He looked like he was howling at the moon when he yelled that. He raised his head and yelled to heaven because he thought he was going to heaven that day. Now he sits on death row, paralyzed from the chest down.”
Zeigler said he was probably the first or second person hit by the spray of bullets. He was shot in the head, an impact so strong it knocked him from his chair; but he was still conscious. He tried to crawl away to safety, but the shooter came and shot him three more times in the back. Zeigler said he passed out after that.
“The paramedics came in and they actually black-tagged me back they thought I was going to die, so they had moved on to help other people who were less wounded – who they thought were going to survive,” Zeigler said he later learned.
But he did survive. It wasn’t without a fight, however.
“Apparently, I regained consciousness and sat up and said ‘Hey, I need help let’s get to a hospital right now,’” Zeigler said.
Doctors removed 20-percent of Zeigler's brain in order to save his life. The right half of his skull is made out of plastic. Zeigler had to relearn how to walk four different times. After each surgery, it was like a reset button was hit, and he had to start from square one.
“Honestly, I think I was the only one that thought I was going to survive, pretty much everyone else was waiting for me to expire," he said. "I just knew I was going to make it. I had faith in God and in myself.”
Zeigler is strong, his faith is strong, and so is his support system.
He told said a key component of that support system is The 22 Project. It was created by Alex Cruz aimed to help Veterans receive the medical treatments needed after they serve.
Cruz is also the President and CEO of Medical Integrative Neuro Diagnostics, a place where special brain imaging technology is used to take MRIs, CAT scans and 3-D SPECT imaging. He realized he could use his equipment to help veterans and thus The 22 Project began. Cruz’s 3-D SPECT imaging equipment, which goes beyond a CAT scan or an MRI, detects changes in the capability of the brain. Cruz took a scan of Zeigler's brain when he first began therapy.
Zeigler's therapy requires him to spend 75 minutes, twice a day, inside of a hyperbaric chamber in Delray Beach, Florida -- the state where he now lives. The chamber pumps 100 percent oxygen into his brain to try and help heal some of the damage his brain sustained on that fateful day in Texas. Cruz runs The 22 Project as a non-profit but he funds 90-95% of the treatment for the veterans he has helped. In total, Cruz has helped change the lives of 30 veterans.
“It’s very easy you just have to lay there and breathe and I get to watch TV or a movie while I’m doing it. After a week of treatments I’m starting to feel some benefits and a little bit of change in my demeanor,” Zeigler said.
Zeigler had been wanting the hyperbaric treatment for years. and he is glad to be back in his home state. He is still fighting through the pain and through the memories but he is getting a little better every day.
“I didn’t lose my personality, I didn’t lose my intellect, sometimes I forget to use it, but I’m doing very well, considering,” Zeigler joked.