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This one is about: Gulf War Hell

(c) 1996 Wide Smiles
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    by Diane Gates Dulka

Let me begin at the beginning so you can better understand why I feel compelled to write. Five years ago yesterday my hell began. That was the day the Gulf War began. My husband Joe was a National Guardsman with the 143rd MP Company here in Connecticut. His unit was activated and sent to Saudi to guard Iraq POW's.

He was gone 4 months. I was left home with our then 4-year-old daughter, Lindsay. I did well when Joe was away. I held down the fort and managed to get through the long days and nights by forming support groups and networking with other wives. When Joe returned he received a hero's welcome.

We had been trying to have another baby since my daughter was two, but we had not been successful. I had one blocked tube and my ovulation time and uterus were not working on the same clock. I got pregnant one month after my husband's return from the Gulf. I was so happy. This child was a miracle. A gift from God.

When Joey III was born, he was born with a cleft lip and palate. I had never seen a child with a cleft, but I had heard of it and knew it could be repaired. The cleft never really bothered me. This child was a gift from God. Who was I to question what God had sent me?

When Joey was first born I was visited by a representative from a local cleft palate team. She was just wonderful. I connected with her instantly. She explained everything that would be done and left me with a complete feeling of confidence and ease to handle the situation.

Unfortunately, Joey's cleft became the least of my concerns. I have a bleeding disorder called ITP. Joey was born with this disorder. He was born with 11,000,000 platelets. Normal range is between 150,000,000 and 300,000,000 platelets. He was treated with steroids and blood transfusions. After 40 days, children born with this condition return to normal. Those first 40 days with Joey were touch and go.

During this time I discovered that my husband didn't have a clue as to how to handle my son's cleft. He blamed himself and suspected that something had caused this that he had been exposed to in the Gulf.

I never understood this self-blame. I never placed blame on anyone, including myself. I believed that God had sent me this child because He knew I could handle it, land I considered it a challenge. When Joey gained weight and thrived I was on a cloud!

I soon learned that my husband was so self-absorbed in guilt and shame that he couldn't bring himself to even feed his son. I had to take total control of Joey's care and feedings. I learned to be even more independent than I had been when my husband was away at the Gulf. Little did I know this was God's way of prepping me for more heartache.

After my son's second surgery, my marriage began to hit rocky points. I grew tired of doing it all with no support from my husband. My husband was slowly becoming a stranger. He was turning into a depressed, miserable man. Where did my husband go?

I soon found out. After 8 months of deteriorating health my husband was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer. He was given 3 to 6 months to live. He was 37 years old.

The day this happened, the light came on for me. All my questions were answered. This explained why my husband was acting so strange. When Joey learned his fate, everything became clear to him - - why he couldn't be who he was and why he would feel like he had no control over the way he was acting. In a strange way, it was a relief to know that our marriage was as good as I remember and there really was a "why". It wasn't us to blame, it was the cancer that changed this man and strained our relationship.

I brought my husband home in June 1994 and cared for him in our home. He died on August 28, 1994. We were blessed with some time to say the things to each other that people never get to and regret it later. The time that we had gave us all time to absorb what was happening.

After Joe died I began to investigate the rumors I had been hearing about the Gulf Veterans. In a very short time I learned that 85% of the veterans were sick. Cancer rates were way too high and according to the Association of Birth Defects in Florida, Clefts and other birth defects were higher than normal among Gulf Veterans.

I quickly became a Veteran Activist. The Veteran Administration has denied my survivor's benefits three times and continues to turn away its Gulf Veterans and their families. I have become very outspoken on this issue. Over the past year and a half since Joe's death I have been to Washington twice to speak before the Presidential Committee on Gulf War Syndrome, and the Scientific Committee on Gulf War Syndrome, and became President of the Gulf War Veterans of New England, CT chapter. I am also trying to raise funds for a program designed to eliminate from the body the toxins and chemicals these veterans were exposed to. They have had great success in treating many Vietnam Veterans and others who were exposed to pesticides and job related chemical accidents.

No, I have not buried my grief in a cause. I have turned my anger into motivation. I have used this situation to try to do something good. It would serve no purpose to allow myself to sink into a deep depression. I have grown and learned more during the past few years than most people have in a lifetime.

I returned to school last summer. During my class I met the Director of the School. After I completed my class, the Director asked me to become the assistant of the school. It is a great opportunity for me. I usually worked part-time when my children were born so I could devote my time to my family. I am starting to feel comfortable being alone and I know now that God was preparing me slowly over the last 5 years for this new life.

I have now learned to look at whatever comes my way as a new challenge. My daughter Lindsay, now nine, keeps me running with her activities. My son keeps me going with the sparkle in his eyes. Each new sound he tries in speech therapy he tries with gusto and quite often I look to him for my inspiration. He is now almost four years old and in nursery school and doing well.

When I read WIDE SMILES I usually wind up in tears reading about these children. These are not tears of sorrow, they are tears of joy. All of these children are truly gifts from God. They bring us tears and joy. I consider it an honor to have been chosen to be the recipient of such a beautiful child.

If you are a Gulf Veteran who is sick or have a Gulf Child with a birth defect and are in need of assistance or would just like a shoulder, please call me at 860-623-1456. I will be happy to help in any way I can.

--------------------Diane Gates Dulka welcomes contact with any persons who were involved in the Gulf Conflict . She can be reached at 17 Midland Road, Windsor Locks, CT, 06096.

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