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ARLINGTON, Va. — Any deployed servicemember can talk about the lifeline the Internet represents when it comes to staying connected to loved ones back home.

But as Laura Brown of Cody, Wyo., knows, that same lifeline is just as important when you are lying helpless in a hospital bed, with time hanging heavy and nothing but pain and bad memories to kill it.

After striking up an e-mail friendship last October with the mother of a young Iraq veteran at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington who was in that very fix, Brown, 50, decided to try and help him, she told Stars and Stripes.

“He was a multiple amputee and he had been in rehab for a long, long time,” Brown said. “His mother said the one thing he wished he had was a laptop computer.”

Brown herself has limited mobility from repeated knee surgeries and suffers from traumatic brain injury from a bad fall down some stairs in 2005.

“In the condition I’m in, I understand the isolation of not being able to be with my buds,” Brown said. “I’m sure it must be 10 times worse for [wounded servicemembers], with their buds at war.”

But at Walter Reed, as Brown learned, “There was only one public computer in the entire rehab center.”

Brown’s own son, Army Reserve Spc. Johnny Barker, 25, a light equipment operator, had returned home safely from his Iraq deployment with the XVIII Airborne Corps in March 2004. But she couldn’t get the Walter Reed amputee out of her mind, she said.

“I thought, if each of my buddies would donate about $3 each, we could buy this guy a laptop,” Brown said.

So Brown hit her e-mail address book and the Internet, and began soliciting friends and even strangers for donations.

As it turned out, the amputee at Walter Reed was given a laptop by another charity organization before Brown raised enough to purchase him a laptop, she said. But the heartfelt responses, particularly from strangers, got the Wyoming mom thinking.

“I knew if there was one out there who needed a laptop, there were more.”

So she set a goal: to raise enough funds to buy four new laptops, complete with Web cameras, for soldiers recovering from their war injuries in one of the military’s large rehabilitation hospitals.

Brown set up Laptops for the Wounded as a tax-deductible, charitable nonprofit organization, and developed a Web site to promote her effort, www.laptopsforthewounded.com.

In the year that she has been working on the project, Brown has raised $8,000 — enough to buy and send four laptops with webcams to Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington; three laptops with cameras to Balboa Naval Medical Center in San Diego; and one to the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, she said.


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