Veteran overcomes brain injury to obtain master's degree

SPOKANE, Wash. — Chris Carver spent weeks in a coma after encountering an improvised explosive device in Iraq. Doctors gave him little chance of survival; the U.S. Army flew his wife and parents to Germany to say goodbye.

“I woke up two months later in a California hospital,” Carver said. “I couldn’t talk, couldn’t walk and couldn’t sit up.”

Less than seven years later, Carver will graduate from Eastern Washington University with a master’s degree in social work. The 30-year-old veteran is among more than 2,680 undergraduates and nearly 600 master’s degree and doctoral students who will cross the stage on Saturday in Cheney.

Carver is glad to be on the other end of a tough journey.

The Spokane native first enlisted in the Army on Sept. 11, 2001, when he was a senior Rogers High School. A recruiter asked: “Do you want to jump out of planes, eat snakes and kill people?” Said Carver, “I was 17, so I said, yeah.”

Carver spent his first few years on a military base in Hawaii. He was deployed to Afghanistan in 2004. After a short break back in Spokane, Carver was sent to Iraq in 2006. Nine months later, as the infantry soldier’s vehicle led the way in a nighttime reconnaissance, the troops hit the explosive, injuring all but one of the men in the truck.

The Spokane native was sent to hospitals in Germany, Washington, D.C., and Palo Alto, California. When he awoke, there were two health care workers in his room speaking Vietnamese. “It was confusing and frightening,” he recalled. “I screamed for a few days.”

Carver suffered a traumatic brain injury. Recovery took two years and hundreds of hours in intensive therapy – speech, aqua, physical, occupational, recreational, driver’s education and hippotherapy using horses.

“That was all he did for eight hours a day,” his wife, Laura, said. “It was like a full-time job.”

Carver stayed home with the kids while his wife worked. Then in 2009, he told his Veterans Affairs counselor he wanted to go back to school.

“He wanted me to take it slow,” Carver said.

He finished his associate degree in a year and half instead of two years. He earned a bachelor’s degree from EWU with a 3.78 GPA, and was accepted into an accelerated master’s degree program for social work – a two-year program crammed into a single year.

“It’s amazing,” Laura Carver said. “I was a little worried about him. I thought it would be pretty stressful. I’m really proud that he was able to handle the internship and school and the job and being a father.”

The couple are parents to 1-year-old Annabelle; Jack Bower, 4; and Elizabeth, 6.

His wife added, “He’s a determined, persistent person. Some might say stubborn. He doesn’t let anyone tell him he can’t do something.”

Chris Carver’s last exam was 10 p.m. Thursday, but already he’s landed a job with the U.S. Army as a Wounded Warrior Advocate.

“I used to think, ‘If you weren’t doing well, you weren’t trying hard enough,’ until this experience,” Carver said.

“But I was trying as hard as I could, and I couldn’t walk. I was trying as hard as I could, and I couldn’t talk. Because I’ve been there and done that, I can relate, so that helps develop relationships.”

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