A wish in the Pacific

by Sgt. Austin Fox
DMA AFN Pacific Bureau-Korea

A hemorrhagic stroke can occur one of two ways. A blood vessel will rupture and cause blood to pool within the brain, or a vessel will break and cause blood to accumulate between the brain and the skull.

Both ways, the former known as intracerebral and the latter as subarachnoid, are terrifying when they occur. An individual suffering from the aforementioned ailment may experience, among other things, paralysis in parts of the body, loss of consciousness, seizure, coma and in some cases, death.

Jacob Silva was a 17-year-old boy when he had a stroke in 2017. The stroke, and other serious medical conditions prior to the stroke, led the medical team around Silva to a diagnosis of neuro-Behcet’s syndrome.

Around the time of his diagnosis, the Make-A-Wish Foundation began working with the boy’s family to come up with one wish that could be made a reality.

Many kids’ wishes involve a favorite sports team or celebrity; Silva, however, had something unorthodox in mind.

Silva’s wish resided in the Pacific region, in a dream to visit Camp Carroll, South Korea. His wish was to experience the country that his father always told stories about from his time in the Army as a chaplain assistant.

After two years of effort from an international team of Make-A-Wish personnel, and with support from the United States Forces-Korea, Silva’s wish was granted Aug. 11.

The organizations that aided in Silva’s wish were peppered all over the world. Starting with the Make-A-Wish Greater Virginia, travelling to the affiliate in South Korea. From there, the organization reached out to the Republic of Korea Ministry of National Defense. 

Soon after, U.S. Forces-Korea received the information and tasked U.S. Army Garrison Daegu and the 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command with the execution of Silva’s wish.

“My dad served here for two years, and my mom was able to come back in 2009. It was too expensive for me and my brother to come,” Silva said. “I just wanted to be able to experience what they did.”

Silva, now 19, is large for his age. He has the frame of a football player and stands above 6 feet tall. Fair skin is peppered with freckles in close proximity to one another. Eyes that fall somewhere between grey and blue dart like tracer rounds at night. A bit shy but consistently polite, the more he speaks the more the thought of a life threatening disease dissipates from the conversation. 

The Silva family’s first stop on the visit was the Camp Carroll Community Chapel, where they attended a church service. Before the family got through the chapel doors, they were greeted by familiar faces.

Army Lt. Col. Byung Min, a chaplain with the 19th ESC, was stationed at Camp Carroll when Silva’s father, Cort Billie Silva, was a chaplain assistant more than a decade ago. The two had not seen one another in years.

“It was just a surprise—actually shock,” Min said. “By the end though, emotionally, I was so moved.”

Following the church service, the Silva family toured the facilities and had lunch with soldiers from different bases and units in the area. Min’s sentiment was shared with many who attended the events of the day.

Army Sgt. Morgan Britton, a human resources specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, U.S. Army Garrison Daegu, was one of the over two dozen soldiers who spent time with Silva.

“I’m really glad that we’ve made Jacob [Silva] feel like he’s one of us, and that Korea is a little piece of his home because he got to see where his family was at,” Britton said.

Silva’s last stop was in the Camp Carroll Community Activities Center. While the guest of honor toured the area, Make-A-Wish Foundation personnel prepared a party, complete with air hockey, video games and an award ceremony.

Though Silva was presented certificates and coins from Army Brig. Gen. Mark Simerly, the commander of the 19th ESC, he conceded that his favorite part of the trip was interacting with the soldiers.

“I really liked how when we came here the soldiers were really welcoming,” Silva said. “They’re really nice and it was really fun being able to play video games with them.”

Simerly, along with Command Sgt. Maj. LaDerek Green, 19th ESC command sergeant major, also presented Silva with a certificate of appreciation from Army Gen. Robert B. Abrams, commander of U.S. Forces-Korea, United Nations Command and Combined Forces Command.

The appreciation was reciprocal. Silva’s mother, Amber Silva, took every opportunity she could throughout the day to express her gratitude; often through teary eyes.

“This is a very precious memory that we’ll remember forever, thank you for these very lovely, thoughtful gifts,” she said.

Simerly said he was humbled by the experience.

“I think this was really about the legacy of military service, when a son wants to come see where his father served overseas as his wish, that speaks volumes about that family’s commitment,” Simerly said.

Green shared the sentiment, and was honored by the opportunity to take part in Silva’s wish.

“In order for us to maintain our credibility as a force, and maintain our credibility as professionals, we have to ensure that our deeds match our words,” Green said. “This gives us the opportunity to do so.”

When a person has a stroke, there is no shortage of harmful effects. One of the more pernicious aspects comes not in the form of physical ailment, but in the realization that a person is never the same after a stroke.

In the most extreme cases, a person may not live. Often the best case is months of rehabilitation to learn the most basic of tasks.

Silva said in his case, aside from the ability to speak, he had to relearn how to do everything. He also said one of the most challenging parts was that his parents and brother had to readjust to new person.

The challenges that arise with a stroke, or any serious medical condition, have the potential to weaken the spirit of even the strongest people.

In some cases, though, people fight back. In some cases, people do not allow an auto-inflammatory syndrome to stop them from graduating high school and attending college in 2020. 

Jacob Silva was 17 when he had a stroke and was diagnosed with neuro-Behcet’s syndrome. With the support of a loving family, a bit of help from the militaries of two countries, and the hard work of Make-A-Wish Foundation volunteers, Jacob Silva was 19 when his wish came true.

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