“They were going to make sure I got back to my daughter” ~ Cpl. Melesete Togia

By MaryTherese GriffinApril 30, 2024

“They were going to make sure I got back to my daughter” ~ Cpl. Melesete Togia
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Spc. Melesete Togia competes in rowing competition at the 2023 Warrior Games Challenge in San Diego. (Photo Credit: Courtesy)
“They were going to make sure I got back to my daughter” ~ Cpl. Melesete Togia
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“Working in the gardens at the Soldier Recovery Unit was the most therapeutic thing I could ever do.” (Photo Credit: Courtesy)
“They were going to make sure I got back to my daughter” ~ Cpl. Melesete Togia
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“I am a much better version of myself thanks to the Hawaii SRU.” (Photo Credit: Courtesy)
“They were going to make sure I got back to my daughter”~ Cpl. Melesete Togia
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Togia with her daughter D’zireAmhle. (Photo Credit: Courtesy)
“They were going to make sure I got back to my daughter” ~ Cpl. Melesete Togia
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The Critical Care Air Transport Team signed their patch for Togia(l). The staff at LRMC also signed the Ukelele given to Togia before she headed home to the U.S. in November 2021. (Photo Credit: Courtesy)

FALLS CHURCH Va.,- The world will never be the same after COVID-19 invaded every aspect of our lives beginning in 2020. Cpl. Melesete Togia was half a world away from her baby daughter when COVID-19 nearly took her life. "I felt a little sick and didn't think anything of it, but about day three, I couldn't breathe. I wasn't vaccinated at the time and went to the hospital and learned I was positive for COVID." Within seven hours of testing positive, her whole body shut down.

The mortuary affairs specialist was deployed to Erbil, Iraq, then. "I volunteered in September 2021 at the post office because there wasn't much for me to do when COVID was in full swing everywhere."

Togia tested positive on September 14th, and there isn't too much after that she remembers as COVID-19 ravaged her body with a vengeance. "They took me to a COVID room, and they had to medevac me on a Blackhawk to Baghdad. I was intubated and knew it was bad. I called my husband at the time on my cell phone, which felt so heavy; I was so weak and told him I wanted my one-year-old daughter to be ready to receive my remains. I knew I wasn't going to make it. I fell into a coma pretty quickly."

She accepted in that tent that she would die. She woke up October 4th at Landshtuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) in Germany. "The nurses at LRMC told me I was revived twice in Iraq and more than ten times in Landhstul. It was very harrowing learning what they did to keep me alive," said the Hawaiian Native.

"They found out I had a one-year-old- so they tried- The stories the nurses told me, and what they went through every time to revive me, they were going to make sure I got back to my daughter."

The love and care Togia said she received from the nurses and staff was nothing short of heavenly and family-like to her. "They were angels, I'm not going to lie. They were just like NICU nurses. I don't know how to thank all these people who helped me to this day. I don't know how…even the people who medevacked me."

Nurses at LRMC from September to November 2021 and the Critical Care Transport Flight team, this part is for you! "I never got the chance to thank every one of them for saving my life and returning me to my daughter. When I woke up in Germany, I heard Hawaiian music they played in my room for me. I saw a patch from the flight crew who brought me to Germany. They all signed it and gave it to the nurse who received me. They told her to give it to me and, if I didn't make it, to give it to my family so that we knew they were with me and I was never alone."

Togia was thankful to be alive through their efforts. "When I was leaving to come back to the States, I had nurses coming up to me I never met that said you didn't know us, but we were here for you, praying for you." They told her in the beginning they felt she wouldn't last two days as she was so sick, but she kept coming back. "God put all those people there at the right time. I know they were there for a reason."

She had to regain her strength before Togia could go to Walter Reed and, eventually, the Soldier Recovery Unit in Hawaii. "I was in the ICU for my time there, but I just wanted to get back home. I was determined to breathe on my own and walk. I didn't want my daughter to see me not able to walk or breathe."

Togia had a long road ahead. She says her recovery was physical and mental, and that's where the SRU in Hawaii came into place. "I just wanted to get back to my daughter. I was getting so depressed and was so tired of Hospitals."

By the end of November, she got to go home at Thanksgiving. "I was so weak I couldn't hold my daughter when I saw her. She is such a love bug."

Togia says she is divorced now and co-parents wonderfully with her daughter's father. She found strength literally and figuratively through adaptive sports introduced to her at the Soldier Recovery Unit in Hawaii. "Today I'm great, and I love these adaptive sports. These sports have saved me."

"I didn't know about this Army Recovery Care Program. It saved my life physically and emotionally. It gave me a safe space to open up and connect with other people with the same background. It gives me a positive version of myself."

Now retired, Togia competed last year at the Warrior Games Challenge for Team Army and is a Team Army Athlete this year, competing in June at the 2024 Department of Defense Warrior Games in Orlando. "I love being part of this team. When I say it changed me, it truly did. This program helps us have hope. You know what you can still do. I will compete in field events, rowing, sitting volleyball, and powerlifting. My goal is to bench 200- I'm training hard, and I'm going to represent Team Army and help with the skills and form they've taught me- I'm ready."

Togia wants to share her recovery beyond adaptive sports at the Hawaii SRU. She found peace and tranquility in the garden, which she highly recommends to anyone facing a challenge. "The garden at the SRU was very therapeutic for me. Everyone should try it."

Never realizing she would need help from an SRU, Togia tells anyone facing going to an SRU with a non-filtered tell-it-like-it-is public service announcement: "It's going to be hard, but you work hard and ask for help. Trust me, You will thank these people later for all the help they will give you. I am a way better version of myself today because of the SRU."

She survived COVID, is raising her now 4-year-old daughter, and is ready to show the world what she can do for Team Army. Look out, Orlando, here she comes!