We are taught to make plans – five, ten, twenty years into the future – but, what if something devastating suddenly happens and we found ourselves totally helpless? In today’s episode, Captain Leslie Smith shows us that we can heal and overcome challenges and that we are never helpless or alone. She started a remarkable career but suddenly developed a blood clot and was admitted for complications resulting from exposure to a chemical agent or toxin. Leslie lost her left leg below the knee and vision which left her legally blind. Listen to her inspiring story of courage and determination in this episode.
We have Captain Leslie Smith here. Leslie is a retired army captain. She lost the lower part of her left leg and most of her vision during her service and now she helps out vets through multiple organizations including the Gary Sinise Foundation. She has an inspirational story. This is a fascinating look at one person’s survival and what she has done to help others based on what she has learned.
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Healing And Overcoming Challenges with Captain Leslie Smith
I am here with Leslie Nicole Smith who is a retired army captain who has graduated from Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia with a Degree in Communications. She received her commission from the Army ROTC program at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. She was assigned to the Nuclear Biological Chemical Corps and later attended the Army Defense Information School to serve as a public affairs officer for additional duties. She has quite a story and I am going to let her tell that story. Leslie, it is so nice to have you here. Thank you.
Thank you for having me, Diane. It certainly is a pleasure to be here with everybody.
I admire everything that you have done in your service. Thank you for everything that you have done. There are so many people who will find a lot of inspiration from what you have gone through and what you have been able to achieve in the process. I did not want to give insight into the story because it is such a unique story and I want you to tell it the way you want to tell it. Can you give me a little bit of background to the point before you became an army captain and then we will get into your story?
I ended up wanting to serve in the Army because my dad had served, growing up following in his footsteps and I wanted to make him proud. He had an interesting career. He worked for White House communications so we would hear stories growing up and everything. He inspired me with wanting to give back and serving in a capacity bigger than yourself. I ended up at Georgetown University in their ROTC program. It is an amazing program and everything got me on the right track. Luckily, I did not spend a lot of time in the Nuclear Biological Chemical assignment, so to say where my niche was within public affairs. After attending the Army school, I was full speed ahead and had some tremendous opportunities with Military District of Washington serving in different capacities and that type of thing, but ultimately my best and favorite mission and job was serving as public affairs officer in Bosnia as in the Joint Visitors Bureau.
What made it so special to me was that my job specifically was to handle all of the distinguished visitors who came in the country to visit troops that were there during Operation Joint Forge and this would have been in 2001. In fact, we deployed from New Jersey one week after 9/11. When we had those unfortunate attacks in our country, we thought for sure our division, 29th Infantry Division, was going to be rerouted to New York because Fort Dix is in the backyard of New York City. Especially when your homeland is attacked, we wanted to race their immediately. It turned out that we were sent forward a week later to Bosnia. We got there and again I had this amazing job. I had the opportunity to handle when Arnold Schwarzenegger came in the country, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, country singers. It was one of those types of jobs that had you interacting with the local people as well. They would work alongside me and we had to set up logistics and coordination with the visitors for their lodging and for their meals.
For me, I think which just made the whole mission and the claimant so special was working with the local people. One thing I always like to emphasize and make sure that people know, where the readers will know that the people in Bosnia were truly appreciative and genuine to the point they would thank us every day. They would have tears in their eyes and they would say, “Thank you, US troops. Thank you for being here,” because we were there to help them rebuild their towns, their schools, their churches, help them regain that freedom that they once had, and it was emotional. You got attached to these amazingly warmhearted people. They became like family. I was honestly moved by them and the mission that we were doing to give back in helping them, I requested to stay for a second tour. I was excited about that because in my mind I had my whole life planned out as far as five-year, ten-year, twenty-year plan that you have in the military. Two weeks before the end of my first deployment, I developed a blood clot in my left leg. Being a female soldier, I thought, “I am going to hide this. I’m going to ignore it. I am tough. I’ve got to be strong for the guys. I cannot come across as like the weak female.” I muscled through it.
Did you even know how you got it?
It is related to the story. I do not have a clear cut story. After about a week, I went to the clinic because I could hardly walk anymore. It turns out I have this blood clot. The next thing, I am in the commanding general’s office with the brigade surgeon almost defending myself and saying, “There is nothing wrong with me.” Physically there is nothing wrong, you cannot see anything. The general was like, “You are out of here, Smith. Pack your bags.” Literally that is one of the last memories I have of walking back to my living quarters completely devastated, but I had to pack up just what I could carry. I was on a plane that night and I was gone, sent back to the stateside. I remember feeling I have let everyone down. I did not complete the deployment and I did not finish the mission. My pride was hurt. I got back to Walter Reed Army Hospital and things started to spiral downward fairly quickly. I had been admitted and it was going bad so rapidly that the Army actually ended up retiring me right there on the spot. My family was called in and the army had what they call it at that time imminent death status. It was more or less paperwork that said, “Captain Smith has 24 hours to live, that is all we expect her to live. Sign off on the paperwork which then put benefits and paperwork in motion in a quick fashion.”
Did you know that it said that or did your family just tell you that later?
They told me that and the doctor said.
Did you know this at that time that you thought you are not going to make it?
No, it was after.
You are focusing on the pain at that time, I wondered if they made it worse by telling you.Anything can happen to anyone at any moment. Click To Tweet
No, they did not. I remember being on a lot of pain meds as they were trying to figure this out and the doctors were frantic as well trying to research and find maybe a similar type of case. They came back to my parents and say, “We can try one last-ditch effort, it is a medicine. It will either kill her on the spot literally and take away any remaining 24 hours to say goodbye or we just do not know.” Like I have said, “Give it to her,” because they actually had already started funeral arrangement as well with the social worker. She sat down with my parents and said, “Do you want Leslie buried at Arlington National Cemetery or are you going to take her body home?” They were that forward-thinking.
I’m curious just because I was a pharmaceutical rep, what was the medicine that they wanted to give you? Do you know?
Is that like an antibiotic?
I think it is an anticoagulation type. It was something I remember in some of the conversation. It is maybe made from leeches. Does that ring a bell at all?
I will have to look that up. That is interesting.
That was the medicine that I got. I survived and I always credit of course to God, the amazing doctors and nurses. I also truly feel in my heart, it was not my time to go. I knew that even though I was out of it. I did not know any of these was going on and I was stubborn and I was fighting. I felt that there was something pulling me, again it was not time to go. They gave me the medicine and it slowed down, what it started happening. They explained my body started to create thousands of tiny blood clots and I had spontaneously bled out inside in my legs. It was moving upward to my vital organs which then prompted the death status because there was not anything that was working except the Refludan to slow it down. It is how they explained it in layman’s term to me. Once I was in a safe zone, I went in to surgery but they could not save my left leg. It was amputated right below the knee. When the doctor said, “We had to amputate your leg,” the first question I asked him is if I was going to be able to wear high heels again. It is crazy what you think. I was not worried about never walking again, I just wanted to know about wearing your high heels.
You are young too. How old are you?
I was 33. When my mom and dad had finally come in the first time I said, “I have been a cheerleader,” and my mom was like, “Now you can be the coach,” which is interesting. It all falls in line with the work that I have been doing since then. In those early days at Walter Reed, you go through many emotions because amputation is not a normal part of life, like death is. We expect that, but the amputation is so different out of the norm, there is no manual or instructions for it. You do go through and I did the, “Why me? My life is over. I am not normal,” and then it started to dawn on me, “Why not me?” because anything can happen to anyone at any moment.
You think you are impervious to anything and then you realize how fragile everybody is.
I started to understand that. I talked about I knew my five-year and twenty-year plan and life was set out, and when I had this rug ripped from me, literally it knocked over and all that goes out the window. I thought, “I cannot fight the fight anymore and wear the uniform, but I have a bigger mission and a bigger purpose.” I just felt that. On those down days where I did not feel like doing physical therapy or I felt more sad or angry, I was like, “You have two choices,” the same choices everybody has with anything. I would say, “You can either give up, roll over and give up and face the wall or you can keep forging ahead and figure this out, this new mission and purpose and make the best of it.”
What helped get me over that hump was, I was the second amputee at Walter Reed in 2002. When the newly injured service number started coming in, I was in therapy and I had a prosthetic at that point. I was still new with it, but I would walk through them and they were in their initial stages. I would put my hand out and I will be like, “Hi, I am Leslie,” and they will say, “No, I do not want anything. I do not want to talk or whatever,” and I would pull up pant leg, because I was always in sweatpants. I pull up my pant and be like, “No, I am a soldier too.” They saw my prosthetic and it was an instant connection, like instant bonding. They would fire up all the same questions I had for the doctors or sometimes there would be no questions, I would just sit with them. We would not talk, but they knew I understood. That gave tremendous support to them, but also more importantly to me. I started realizing this was the healing for me, this was therapy for me giving back, like again trying to figure out this new mission and new purpose.
I got out of Walter Reed after about eight months and wanted to obviously continue working with the wounded, ill and injured warriors. I went to work for the USO and did that. I was thinking, life is not so bad and I am helping other people, I am working for the USO, I am still connected to the military, I am just in a civilian capacity now. I thought, “Life is back on track, we are back on track.” Again I hit the next wall. Through the night when I was sleeping, I lost all my sight in my left eye.
Is it like your retina detached or how did that happen?
What happened is I started to spontaneously bleed again, except it was in my eye orbit. This is the doctor’s description, crushed the optic nerve and then cut off the blood flow, the vision was gone.
Is it just one eye or both eyes are affected?
Just the left eye. I am like, “I got back down again,” and I kept on thinking, “I am back on track and I am feeling as normal as possible,” mentally building yourself back up.
Are you not the whole time wanting to know the reason behind all this or are you researching it yet?
Yes, at this point with the vision loss, I was at the VA and they could not come up with any specific answers. It was more or less like, “We do not know, we will send you home.” I remember thinking to make light of it with the doctor, I said, “I have one eye now and one leg, I’ll be alright.” I got one of each so I can survive and keep going, then I am starting to get involve with different organizations supporting veterans, like Achilles out of New York where you do the marathons, disabled sports, wounded warrior project. I am doing events, I am speaking, I am peer mentoring. Again, that bigger mission and purpose is what was driving me forward. I came back on track, but the vision loss exact thing happens again a few years later.
In the other eye, do you mean?
In the other eye. At this point, I am totally blind.
A 100% you lost all your vision?
Correct, I am at Walter Reed. The doctor was sitting at bedside and he goes, “I am sorry to tell you, you are totally blind.” My first exact thought was, I said all the way back in my subconscious I am like, “Who is going to do my hair and makeup?” At first, I was truly embarrassed. I thought how shallow, how vain to be worried about that. Over time I realized, that is just me and probably partly from my PAO background and work. First impression and everything mean a lot in that form of work. Also it was probably out of fear too, because my world it was black as night, that meant I could never see myself.
Was it black or was it like you see nothing? My father was born legally blind and he told me it was like trying to see out of your knee where you see nothing. Do you see black or do you see nothing?
At that point, I saw black. For me what it has done, it fades and it adjusts to where you see nothing. Sometimes I feel like I am going off on a weird tangent, but out of the socket of your eye. It is just not there and it is a strange type of feeling. I am like, “Now what?” because my life plan has gotten off track. It’s like, “I do not even know where to go from here.” I got through the blind rehab and the VA are still trying to figure out answers. Walter Reed has sent me to Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia. I had seen a VA specialist and then I was referred to Johns Hopkins. I get to Johns Hopkins and the doctor comes in. They must have sent my file in case that I have seen the unusual but I cannot understand this one.
There is some comment alluding to that because for me fortunately and thank goodness, I was blessed that the total blindness I was given a tiny sliver back across the top of my right eye while I was at Walter Reed. Back on the third day after being totally blind, during rounds when they hold up their fingers to see if you have any vision, I said, “I see a portion of two fingers.” Like your dad, I am legally blind. I have a tiny sliver that is maybe equivalent to 10% vision if that is even a good number. Hopkins kept saying this to me and then I was more or less did not know what to say. He said, “this is from, most likely, a chemical agent or toxin.” I said, “toxin?” because I just was not sure. He said, “yes, the gasses emitted from the mass grave sites in Bosnia” is exactly what he quoted. I am thinking, we were around the mass grave sites in Bosnia.Having eyesight and then losing it is worse than being born blind. Click To Tweet
Did anybody else in your team get this or just you?
That was the next question exactly. I said, “I am the only one that I am aware of,” and he said, “It attacks everybody differently or at different times.” I’m like, “Okay.” I still do not necessarily have a definitive answer, diagnosis, reasoning. They almost right it of as idiopathic because of just unknown. Trying to honestly live with that and understand that, I started using the vet center with the VA, which I highly recommend. It was to help me understand and cope with the unknown because the doctor said, “It will always be in your body. It will lie dormant until it’s time to act again.” Sometimes I am like what I said, I do not have a clear cut story.
It is like you have a ticking time bomb is what they are saying, “Thanks, that is the worst thing you could tell me, right?”
I know. Right after that, since then I have had to learn how to live with that anxiety.
What year was this when he told you that?
This would have been in about 2011 to 2012 timeframe. The vet center was phenomenal. It got me over that fear and anxiety. It is still there, obviously, but not in the capacity it had been. Coping with these things and all these major changes, I was still staying as involved as possible with all the organizations. Sometimes I think, “I guess I was to survive.” I did have a bigger purpose because I am still trying to do more to help other people and from my own experience with what happened because along the way, I have talked to different military service members. There has been an army surgeon general in point, a former chairman and joint chiefs have all indicated that there are growing numbers of more or less like weird strange, unexplained cases or illnesses from those that served in the Balkans. It did not all happen at once, but it is out there and you do not necessarily see or hear about it as much as some of the other injuries. I have run into some other service members that through the years have had some challenges or in different unexplained type issues as well.
That happened to Wes Wesselhoeft who is in this show too, who James Clark, your friend, had introduced me too as well, I believe. I am not sure if I met him through him or through Rich Lofgren, but he had the Agent Orange exposure, same kind of thing.
To me, I am like, “Of all the things that you have to attack in my body, why would it have to be my sight?” When you have to make light of something, I am like, “Why could it not have been my sense of taste so then I would not want to eat every cookie or piece of cake?” Help me out here if you’ll take something from me.
Especially if you always had it, if you are born blind it is different. Many people in my show who have lost their vision, Erik Weihenmayer has been on, Tanner Gers, and it’s different when you have it then lose it, don’t you think?
Yes, it is interesting you say that because sometimes I will say to myself, “I think it is harder this way,” than being born and adopting from the get-go. The hardest part for me has been the loss of being able to drive, being an independent person coming and going as you please. Now having everything that you ever want to do, even a craving ice cream turns into, “How do I get there?”
I had this conversation, I wish my dad had lived to see the times of Uber and all this technology. If you have to be blind at any time in history, this is almost the best time so far, don’t you think? Nobody wants that obviously and my dad, he had an easier time because he was born that way, but it has got to give you at least some autonomy with some of the technology or not?
It is fascinating because I never realized the resources that are available, especially when I did the blind rehab with the VA. I was blown away by all of this stuff, just the stuff, the technology, the techniques. I learned how to do my makeup through a system.
I cannot even do that. How do you do that? I love to know how you do that.
It took practice. I did not learn it in one night. It took me a long time.
You have got a 10% vision so you know if people are telling you the truth or not. You can swear to see it, right?
I can only see in strips so I cannot see my whole head, face or body.
That is how my dad had it. He had to look sideways. They told him 2%, but it is probably similar to what you have. You could look at a certain angle and see certain things, right?
Exactly. The way you held your eye or your head just maximized how you saw exactly. You know what I am talking about and everything.
When you lose it in your 30s, it got to be the worst thing in the world and you are dealing with other people who have gone through similar things. Part of what you do now is helping other people deal, right?
Yes. That is one thing I have never given up on, helping others that even while I was in the rehab or trying to cope and figure things out, I am staying involved. It was feeling in therapy for me and everybody is like a family. The military in general is a big family. When you are connecting with others like you are saying wounded, ill and injured, warriors and their families, that attachment and bond is stronger in ways because we are all dealing with similar things that have happened through our service. The main thing is you regret and there is no anger, every one of us would honestly go back in a split second. We all feel like that guilt when we could not complete the mission and each of us does find our own niche on how we get back to that point of helping others. I have been fortunate that I was involved with the different organizations from the beginning and it progressed. It is interesting because I lost my leg and I was involved and then I lose the sight and I am more involved. I am legally blind and I am doing more than ever I would have ever expected. Probably the one thing that I have for myself that describes everything is piece by piece. The point on the words, for every physical piece of my body that I have lost, my inner peace has just grown, I have become empowered. I am stronger. I am more confident. I am more joyful. I feel more pursued in life, which when you think about it makes no sense.
Did you get that immediately or do you have to get that overtime? A lot of the people I talked to initially did not feel that way at all, but they eventually got to that point.
It did not come to me until a few years after being legally blind and it is when everything settles in and when you can finally take a deep breath and just save yourself like, “I survived. I am still here. I am adopting. I am overcoming.” I found that new normal within the veteran community whether it is visible or invisible wound, it is that adjusting to it and again not letting it make you quit or give up. I’m explaining it too only on military training here as well.
You are drawn to the military because you have that strength. I am thinking for somebody who is going to curl up in a ball, they are not going to sign up in the military. You already know that you are going to be stronger than anybody else to begin with. I was looking at some of the things that you have done, won and contributed to, just a list, you served as the Wounded Warrior Advocate on the Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors established by George W. Bush, then you spoke at the Republican National Convention for John McCain. All these different things that you have done with, you joined Oliver North on the Katie Couric show to discuss your story in his book, American Heroes. You have been portrayed as a veteran in background scenes on Criminal Minds and CSI New York. I watched that. You’ve got into different things with Gary Sinise who I think is awesome, and you have been on Netflix at House of Cards. Those are so many things. Tell me what you do with Gary Sinise in that foundation?
Gary Sinise is an amazing individual with everything that he does and gives back. It’s truly genuine and from the heart, that is why everybody loves him. I always like to say that he takes the time to talk to everyone. He sits down, he wants to hear your story, he wants to meet your family, take pictures, he has a discussion and he will spend time. That means very much and you do not ever forget that. I tell him all the time that you leave that impression. People light up when you say Gary Sinise, and they are like, “I met him or I got my picture from Forrest Gump, Lieutenant Dan and the Lieutenant Dan band.” For me, I had the amazing opportunity to meet him through the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial. He had been serving as the national spokesperson and we crossed path at events in DC and then our friendship just would build through those events. When he was serving as that spokesperson and I was around a lot, he asked me to come to the different events and speak on behalf of the memorial, more or less be a soldier spokesperson, and two other wounded warriors. It blossomed from there that we would do events in DC to raise awareness for fundraising to get this important memorial built.
He started his amazing foundation, Gary Sinise Foundation in 2011 and started the ambassador program two years later. He reached out and asked personally if I would serve as an ambassador, which was the most humbling honor. It’s something I never would have ever expected from way back at Walter Reed. It truly is an honor to represent him and the foundation, and in that capacity since he cannot be everywhere going to an event and speaking on his behalf or doing a presentation on the foundation, all the different programs, the resources, the networking and talking about it. Going and accepting donation checks representing him at Walter Reed, different venues and events all across the country, not just in the Washington, DC area. It captures everything because everything that he is doing to give back, I have told him many times that we, as the warrior community, do not give up because Gary Sinise does not give up on us.
I am curious if he got interested in this based on doing his role in Hollywood? Was it the other way around that this was his passion and that is why he took the role or are they unrelated?You can overcome any challenge by staying strong. Click To Tweet
He does have a service thing in his family, his dad and grandfather. He comes from a military family and it started with the theater company Steppenwolf that he cofounded in Chicago. They were doing a play based on Vietnam veterans. He truly did have this passion and desire prior. When Forrest Gump came along with the character Lieutenant Dan, he was the person meant to be in this role. After the success and he portrayed the double amputee Vietnam veteran so well, lifelike and real, the impact that he had on the Vietnam veteran, was so well received that he was the recipient at the Disabled American Veterans Annual Conference. The award for portraying an amputee in the Vietnam veteran representation, it could not have been any better. It was like he was embraced. It’s like a bigger purpose. What is that I am supposed to do if there is more? I need to give back more and that pushed him forward.
That energy that he has received and also touring with the USO in the Lieutenant Dan Band that he founded is tremendous. People love him and the band and they play around the world taping, they are lifting the morale and the spirits of our service members deployed and still giving back with the band. They’re playing at Walter Reed and a lot of different military hospitals around the country and the world. All of that together help to create the foundation and also realizing that he cannot be obviously everywhere, the Ambassador Council. Again I am truly honored and proud to be a part of too, to know that I am carrying forward Gary’s message, Gary’s work being that liaison or that conduit when you are talking to veterans or family members, first responders also helped by the foundation, people in need that you can help connect them to a resource or to an organization that can assist with their needs. There is nothing greater than helping, I found this through the years. If you can just help one person, the power in that is so incredible because then you know in your heart that person is going to help somebody and that domino effect is going to keep going around. It does not have to be you help millions and thousands or the masses. It is truly that connection with one person that makes all the difference because it is going to grow from there.
How much of an impact does Isaac had on your life? What is Isaac? What kind of dog?
He is my yellow Labrador retriever mix service dog. I believe we were meant to be together because Isaac’s story, he was astray in Myrtle Beach, picked up by the Humane Society, taken to the shelter and he was scheduled to be euthanized within 24 hours. It is crazy, we both have that 24 hours to live type of connection. They said he was extra unruly at the shelter and people did not seem interested in adopting him. K9s for Veterans was scouting for potential service dogs and they see Isaac, he is a perfect breed. He passed the initial aptitude test and they scooped him up so fast and then they got him into school for a year at Camp Lejeune. I have been blessed, I have been paired with Isaac in 2009 and we are still together as a team. He is probably anywhere from eleven to twelve.
It is old for that age for that dog. They do not live that long. I miss my Labrador. They are the best dogs ever. I had a yellow Lab. He won an award, right?
He did. He received the first-ever annual military service animal for his good work, dedication and loyalty to me. He is literally my lifelong best friend and he is my first service dog. I have not yet been able to find words to describe the bond that I have with him because it transcends anything I ever could have imagined. He is my eyesight too. He helps in that capacity which is on a different type of level in some ways. We were honestly meant to be. We were soulmates. The split second I saw him, I just lit up like a Christmas tree and he went to the left side immediately and it was automatic. It was not a struggle to connect with him. I did not even need to give him word commands, he anticipated and he truly is an angel.
He led the Vets and Pets, tell me what Vets and Pets is?
That is a book that we had a story in there. That was the book about wounded warriors and their service animals.
Did you write this?
No, our story was in there, it was written. The focus of the book was service members sharing their stories about their service animals, and that bond and connection that truly transcends anything you could ever imagine.
What is Paws Off Please, the campaign you are working on?
That campaign is to try to help educate people with the service animal protocol. The biggest thing is that when you see a dog in a vest, like say in a store, not to come up and start petting the dog. I have to understand the people that do that, I know they have good hearts because they are dog lovers. They are drawn to the dog. It is not anything ill-mannered, it’s just that they love dogs, and Isaac is so cute. I understand, but on the flip side, there is that working mechanism that is happening. I described it as a tightrope. If somebody comes up and starts petting Isaac and everything, then it unbalances me on the tight rope that we were walking because we are in that mode. It is distracting and everything.
Does he look at people and go, “Stop it. I am doing my job here.” Do you know what I mean? Do you think he knows better?
He does know better. However, with him being a little bit older and he is friendly, he does like to give kisses. He will sneak in kisses. He truly is one of a kind, but then these Labs are a special breed. They are the smartest, the cutest and most loving.
They are hard to clean up after though. Do you have somebody help you with all that stuff? As big as they are, they have things that will be behind that they will leave which are big and they shed.
They shed. Isaac is groomed every other week to help with the shedding.
I have a friend who actually shaved his Lab. I did not know you could do that and it did not look that bad, it was cute. In Arizona it is so hot too, you are trying to give him a break. There is so much hair with the Labs. It is something you consider.
You get to a point where it is on your clothes and it is part of your outfit. It is everywhere. It is one of those things, but you overlook all that because the dog is so fantastic.
What’s your plan? If I read the words on who you have spoken with from the White House people, Michelle Obama, that would be pages and pages to read, all the people and all the companies, the makeup and Bobby Brown. It is unbelievable. Bobby Brown appreciated that story of the makeup. What do you do next? Where do you go from here?
The new thing that I am working on, I call it Healed Up and it is a combination of wanting to wear high heels, that first question, that is the earlier story. It is more of less healed up, no fear, walk strong. That what you are faced with whatever challenge, you can overcome more or less staying strong. You will walk strong again. For me, that drive to want to wear high heels, pretty shoes, they make you feel great. When I had lost my leg, Walter Reed actually made a special high heel leg because at that time they were not in the market. I would lock myself in my bedroom and practice. I would fall down and get back up. It’s part of the identity with me and Isaac. My prosthetist at Walter Reed has said on many occasions, “We will have another female amputee say you know that girl that comes in with that high heels because I can do 4.5 inches, five inches is the limit, of heels with the service dog. I want her leg.” Emily is like, “Really?”
People like to see that and overtime hearing that. I’m always in heels that it has become that part of me, but it makes sense because that was my first question and that was what was important to me. Sometimes things do happen when they do. They do happen in time. I have been like, “Why did not I think of this several years ago? It was not the right time.” I am trying to foster different approaches to Healed Up. Off the top, I see going into let’s say a hospital, talking to patients and leaving them a pair of beautiful shoes. Let them pick from a couple of different type of auctions, even if it is sparkly slippers. Who would want to wear sparkly slippers as you’re recovering?
That can give you hope that things are not so different and what you are doing is helping people in this recovery process. I know part of you, you have done 5K races, marathons and all these things. Are you doing them before or after you have lost your leg?
What people can do, there is so much. You’ve been such an inspiration for many people and I was excited to have you on the show because so many people think they would give up because it sounds awful. What you went through is horrible, but what you did was find another life, a different life that you feel comfortable in. It is an inspirational story for a lot of people and anybody reading is going to want to know more about you, if you speak, or how can they reach you?
The best way is through Facebook since everybody seems to be on Facebook. I am on there as Leslie Nicole Smith. Send me a friend request or send me a private message. The GarySiniseFoundation.org website is another way if you are interested in checking out that website and through the Ambassadors Council part of the website but directly Facebook, even like LinkedIn. My number is on Facebook because I do tell people when I give out my card. Call me 24/7 and I am always here to help because that is what the premise is. It’s not a 9 to 5 life. You may feel sad at 3:00 in the morning, you might be upset or down or just need to talk to somebody. You have that question of, “How do I navigate through the VA? What can I do to get more involved? My interest is rock climbing. What organization would be able to help me pursue that activity?” It is the whole gimmick of everything, how I can help and get people to the right resources or the right network, peer group or support group. That is what everything is for me. Giving back and trying to help other people get to that right place so that they can feel like me, empowered and find that peace and find their new purpose that they are looking for.
Thank you for sharing your story. This has been inspirational and I appreciate having you on this show.
Thank you so much. This was great and I do love to share my story because I do hope that it can help somebody in some way. I do encourage people and the readers out there to please feel free to contact me.
I hope they do and this has been an amazing show. I appreciate it.
I like to thank Captain Leslie Smith for being on this show. Her story is so inspirational. I could have kept her for hours just to share the awards, the things that she has done and achieved in her life. It’s unbelievable what she has had to go through and how she has overcome, and help other people so much. She was a real inspiration to me and I enjoyed talking to her. I love that she kept her sense of humor throughout everything because she has had to go through so much. I had so many great guests on this show. Other people who have experienced a lot of unusual things, Erik Weihenmayer and some of them I mentioned, Tanner Gers. There are a lot of people who have been on this show who inspired me to not give up. It is easy to think that things are difficult and then your perception changes quite drastically when you hear other stories like that.
There are so many great guests on this show. If you have missed any of the past episodes, you can go to DrDianeHamilton.com. If you go to the topic radio station, you can listen to it. Of course we are on the other stations as well not only AM/FM stations, but iHeart, iTunes. You name it, you can find us everywhere. Please feel free to go to the site and tweet some of tweetable moments. If you are looking for more information on curiosity as far as cracking the Curiosity Code Book or the Curiosity Code Index, you can find it on the site too that is up at the top under the Curiosity Code System. You can find all that there. I enjoyed this episode and I hope you did. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead.
- Gary Sinise Foundation
- Leslie Nicole Smith
- Wes Wesselhoeft – previous episode
- Erik Weihenmayer – previous episode
- Tanner Gers – previous episode
- American Heroes
- Gary Sinise
- Vets and Pets
- Leslie Nicole Smith – Facebook
- Ambassadors Council – Gary Sinise Foundation
- LinkedIn – Leslie Nicole Smith
- iHeart – Take The Lead
- iTunes – Take The Lead
- Curiosity Code System
About Captain Leslie Smith
Leslie Nicole Smith, a retired Army Captain, graduated from Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia with a degree in Communications/Public Relations. She received her commission from the Army ROTC program at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Leslie was assigned to the Nuclear Biological Chemical Corps and later attended the Army Defense Information School to serve as a Public Affairs Officer for additional duties.
Leslie served in a variety of positions including NBC Instructor, Recruiting and Retention, and Media Relations Liaison with the Military District of Washington in 1998 during the highly publicized sergeant major of the U.S. Army court-martial at Fort Belvoir. In 1999, she was featured on the official U.S. Army Uniform Poster and was deployed to El Salvador for Task Force New Hope to support Hurricane Mitch relief and recovery mission efforts.
Leslie deployed to Bosnia in September 2001 with the 29th Infantry Division for Stabilization Force 10 during Operation Joint Forge. She developed a blood clot and returned stateside two weeks before the end of her deployment. Leslie was admitted to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for complications resulting from exposure to a chemical agent or toxin. Leslie lost her left leg below the knee and vision leaving her legally blind.
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