Eric McElvenny jokes he has five legs.
Four are prosthetics – each serving a unique purpose – replacing the right leg the retired U.S. Marine captain lost to a landmine in the Middle East.
The fifth, he teases, is the left leg he’s had all his life.
The quip illustrates the accomplished athlete’s positive thinking that piloted his rapid recovery after he lost his leg. Within three months, Eric was walking between parallel bars. A short time later he was back on a bicycle. And swimming. Then, the football and baseball standout from Belle Vernon (Pa.) Area High School and the U.S. Naval Academy decided to embark on one of the toughest organized physical challenges known to man.
“I quickly realized that there is a life after a traumatic injury, after an amputation,” said the Marine with the battlefield nickname “Captain Mack.”
Eric deployed to Afghanistan’s violent Helmand province in August 2011. His mission ended when an IED blast knocked Eric on his back. The bomb claimed his right leg below the knee, damaged tissue on his left leg, shot shrapnel into his arm and caused a jarring concussion.
At home in San Diego, Rachel McElvenny struggled to keep calm while awaiting her husband’s return to the U.S. and news on his condition. Their daughter Lupe, then 5, reacted differently – with joy and excitement.
The military sent Eric to Naval Medical Center San Diego for treatment. His parents arrived quickly from Pittsburgh, and were always near him thanks to accommodations at the Fisher House next door.
“When you’re in that situation, you don’t think, ‘Oh, where are we going to stay? How are we going to get there? Should we rent a car?’ That’s not your mindset,” said Eric’s mother, Susan McElvenny. “You’re just, ‘Get me to the hospital – period.’”
Eric says his parents put him at ease. “Every morning I looked forward to my dad coming up with coffee,” he said. “I think what the Fisher House helped provide was a constant presence.”
The McElvennys celebrated Christmas 2011 at the Fisher House with a visit from Santa, Lupe riding a new scooter, and Eric venturing outside his fourth floor hospital room for the first time.
Today, Eric and Rachel are raising three kids. Eric keeps busy with studies in Christian theology. The McElvennys remain grateful for Fisher House’s role in his amazing recovery.
“Fisher House did a service for us that we really, really needed but didn’t even know we needed at the time,” said Susan.