Battling Bruin: Dennis

Posted April 2013

Miraculous recoveries are one in a million, as is this Battling Bruin, Dennis Peel. Dennis enlisted in the Army in March of 2001, and in 2002 was deployed to Saudi Arabia as a Petroleum Specialist. There he had the duty of managing fuel storage and distribution at Riyadh Air Base. Six months into his stay in the Middle East, on March 3, 2003, Dennis was in a car accident when returning to the Air Base. His vehicle rolled several times, and left two of three soldiers – including Dennis – critically injured. The other wounded soldier, 18 year old Pvt. Spence McNeil of South Carolina, died of his injuries shortly after the crash. Dennis, however, was transported to King Fahad Hospital with two broken vertebrae in his neck, a broken jaw, a fractured wrist, a skull fracture, a traumatic brain injury (TBI), and damage to his brain stem which put him into a coma.

This tragic crash occurred two weeks before Operation Iraqi Freedom was to commence. Therefore, Dennis needed to be transported out of Saudi Arabia quickly, or he may never make it out. On March 19, 2003, he was taken to Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany, and from there – still in a coma – he was moved to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. where his family received some disheartening news. Doctors predicted that Dennis would never walk, talk, or even breathe on his own again.

When Dennis was transported to the West Los Angeles Veteran’s Hospital, just minutes from UCLA, doctors encouraged family and friends to visit, stating that brain stimulation may be helpful for him. That is exactly what his support system did. Friends and family of Dennis visited daily, talking to him for hours on hours while he lay still in his hospital bed. After three long months of lying in a coma, Dennis finally woke up. At first it was slow, he simply opened his eyes every once in a while, but eventually he became responsive to his visitors and even managed to speak a few words.

After fourteen months of rehabilitation in the hospital, Dennis – the man who was told he would never even breathe on his own again – walked out of there, chatting with family along the way. Dennis’ road to recovery was not easy by any means, and he faced intense rehabilitation and physical therapy, but anytime he felt like giving up his children and parents were his inspiration to continue to push harder. His daughters Alyssa and Madeline, who were 4 and 9 at the time, were on his mind every moment of his recovery. The endless support from friends, such as the staff of Valley Auto Center, helped Dennis immensely, and he will be forever grateful. His best friend and owner of Valley Auto Center, Steve Rusich, was the man in charge of organizing daily visits to Dennis, which was what ultimately helped him to wake up and recover so well.

This year marks the ten year anniversary of Dennis’s tragic accident in Saudi Arabia, and for the past ten years he has battled to regain his strength physically. After years of recovery the Peel family thought they were finally in the clear; however, when Dennis’s wife, Amy, passed away last year from her own battle with cervical cancer, it was emotional strength that he needed. Amy’s death brought yet another tragedy to Dennis’s family, and again he and his daughters leaned on each other for support.

Today, Dennis continues to heal both physically and emotionally. He has made tremendous progress since his accident – holding a part time job, owning a home, and raising his daughters on his own. The UCLA Spirit Squad welcomes Dennis Peel as our April 2013 Battling Bruin, and we are proud to celebrate the strength of him and his family.

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