Durham News

Veteran burned by suicide bombing follows in footsteps of those who helped her

Henry Jenkins is learning to live life without his lower right leg.

“I cried for about a day after losing my limb,” said Jenkins, 61, of Durham, a diabetic who had his right leg amputated about two weeks ago. “And I still cry about it.”

Jenkins has an experienced guide to help him figure out how to walk back into his life without his right leg below the knee. On Wednesday afternoon Oyoana Allende worked with him in a Durham Regional Hospital therapy room that included a bed, a dresser and a night stand.

About 10 years ago, Allende worked through her own process after about 80 percent of her body was burned during a suicide-bomber attack while she was serving in the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq.

In 2005, Allende, 32, of Carrboro, was stationed at Camp Fallujah in Iraq. Her duties included searching Iraqi women and children at checkpoints throughout the city.

One night on the way back to camp, two men in a pickup truck with explosives rammed into a truck returning to the camp. Then snipers started shooting at the wreckage.

“The way I survived, I was ejected from the truck as the truck rolled over,” Allende said. A total of 14 people were injured and six died, she said.

Allende was evacuated to Germany, where she was unconscious for three days. After about three weeks, she was moved to the San Antonio Military Medical Center in Texas.

In Texas, she could hold a fork and a cup, but her motion was otherwise limited.

Occupational therapists helped her relearn how to dress, brush her hair and take a shower.

“Just basic activities of daily living,” she said.

Occupational therapists work with people who have physical or mental challenges. They help clients set goals to allow them to participate in daily tasks.

On Allende’s journey back to independence, she decided to follow in the footsteps of those who had helped her. Allende will receive her master’s in occupational therapy from the UNC School of Medicine in August.

Allende left the military in 2007, but her husband remained. They moved to Hawaii, Jacksonville, and then Carrboro. Allende received her undergraduate degree from UNC-Wilmington in recreational therapy, and then enrolled at UNC. After graduating, she will move to Chicago, where her husband will attend school. Allende isn’t sure where she will work, but hopes to work with people who are in rehabilitation.

During Allende’s 12 weeks working at Duke Regional Hospital, she’s worked with patients who have had strokes, been in car accidents and lost a limb to diabetes.

On Wednesday she helped Jenkins take off a plastic-like cast that was protecting his leg.

“I’ve got this,” Jenkins said.

Allende oversaw and stepped in to help occasionally as Jenkins moved himself from the wheelchair to the bed. Then he took off his sandal, and put it back on again. He put the leg protector back on, moved back into the wheelchair.

Then he wheeled a little closer to the night stand to retrieve his watch, which Allende had placed in there before he got on the bed.

“I don’t want to leave that,” he said.

Cheryl Moore, Allende’s supervisor at Duke Regional, said the veteran connects with patients quickly, which is important because they are only in the hospital a short period of time.

“The clients are able to feel that she has kind of had this experience,” said Moore, 56, of Durham. “And she does actually kind of know,” what they are going through.

Jenkins, who has been working with Allende and Moore, said the help has been encouraging.

“I have to just get adapted to all this,” he said.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges