In 2001, at the age of 22, Adam Dean Greathouse thought his life was over. He had family who loved him, children who needed him. But in his mind, his purpose and plan for his life was gone.
That year, the E-4 corporal in the United States Army who was deployed to Kosovo, suffered a chemical burn that ate holes in his lungs. Symptoms that began with tightness in his chest eventually led to hallucinations, labored breathing, and the inability to stand.
Two months later, he woke up in a hospital in Germany with a ventilator, unable to move his arms or feel anything below the hips. The lack of oxygen had caused a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and extensive damage to his lungs, along with organ failure.
Greathouse didn’t care about any of that. All he knew was “I was not a soldier anymore.” And that meant in some ways he was no longer Adam Greathouse. But he was still a fighter.
“They only gave me two percent chance of survival,” Greathouse said. ”I didn’t care, I just wanted to get out of there and go home.”
The struggles had only begun.
Greathouse fell into alcohol and depression for many years. He and his children had to move in with his parents, Dean and Darlene Greathouse, in Roane County.
“I can’t count the number of times I thought of suicide,” he said. “I have no doubt now that God kept me from going through with it. He had a mission for me even though I couldn’t see it at the time.”
Never one to sugarcoat his struggles or the demons he has faced, Greathouse said, “I felt like a failure, that my mom was taking care of me. Much as my parents loved me and I appreciated them, it felt like a prison without doors.”
When his mom talked about having faith and hope, Greathouse thought she was crazy, that the life he was leading was the best it was ever going to get. Then his future wife came into the picture.
“She has been the only woman I’ve really loved but she was tough,” he said. “She told me that I was drinking away the second chance God gave me. For several years, I’d push her away, but she wouldn’t give up.”
Neither would his parents.
“My mom kept begging me to go the Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams VA in Huntington,” Greathouse said. “I remember my dad getting a call from a group asking for money for veterans. He said not till someone helps my son because he was deployed but never came home. I finally gave in and went.”
Greathouse said he counted on the services at the VA to fail. But with his first encounter with his brain injury nurse he describes as a “little country lady,” trust began to build.
Always competitive, Greathouse took advantage of the physical programs the VA offered. One particular event in 2012 changed the trajectory of his life.
“I took part in the National Disabled Winter Sports Clinic in Colorado,” he said. “It offered adaptive sled hockey, snowmobiling, a rock-climbing wall but also classes on adapting to life after injury and becoming more independent.”
From that point, Greathouse dedicated his life to his fellow disabled veterans.
Working with patient centered care and staff engagement, Greathouse has spoken to hundreds of veterans and VA staff members. He takes his message to groups beyond the VA as well.
“Adam speaks with every new employee at the VA,” said Brian Nimmo, the Navy veteran who is the center’s director. “His testimony is very powerful and each one goes out realizing how every interaction with a veteran makes an impact, either good or bad. We give better care because of Adam Greathouse.”
The powerful impact Greathouse has had on veterans at the VA and beyond earned him Disabled American Veteran’s (DAV) highest honor, the 2020 Disabled Veteran of the Year.
“It’s an honor, but I’m most proud of my 5,184 volunteer hours at the VA,” he said. “I can look a veteran in the eye and see the pain. My mission is to communicate and show them that accepting help is nothing to be ashamed of. I refused mental health assistance for years. And I still do exposure therapy which works with PTSD triggers. I feel drained every time but it’s worth it.”
Knowing Greathouse’s experiences led DAV to recommend him to help with a segment of the television program, “What Would You Do?”. The show features actors in scenes of conflict with hidden cameras watching to see how bystanders react.
For the episode involving Greathouse, an actor who actually had a TBI, went to a restaurant where his slow reactions led the waitress, also an actress, to be impatient and aggressive with him. How the other diners reacted was an eye-opening experience. Many confronted the waitress, some came over to help, others approached the manager.
“A lot of things the waitress said have been part of my experience,” Greathouse said. “I can’t always comprehend the menu and the pressure to order makes me more nervous which slows me down. Just like in the show, I’ve been accused of being drunk because my words come out haltingly. Or I’m looked at with suspicion because I get jittery while shopping in a store.”
Stacy Greathouse has witnessed it several times.
“Sometimes I order for him because I know what he likes,” she said. “It takes the pressure off but not everyone has that help.”
One local restaurant is a comfortable place for the Greathouses, who lives in Kenna.
“Your Family Restaurant is the best,” Greathouse said with a big smile. “There’s a waitress there who never gets impatient.”
When Greathouse speaks, it’s clear that Stacy is his touchstone. He credits her strength and patience.
“Sometimes when I’m speaking to groups, I don’t think I’m doing good,” he said. “Then I look over and see her smile and it’s ok.”
Another support in his life gets some credit too, his therapy dog Nash.
“He helped save me because he needed me,” said Greathouse. “I love and want Stacy, but she doesn’t need me because she’s strong. But Nash does.”
The veterans who come to the Huntington VA need him too.
Greathouse says it takes “a lot of guts” for a veteran to say he or she needs help. And each of those who do have a unique story.
“I’ve been told that you can’t save everyone,” he said. “But on my watch, I will. I’m in this 24/7. When I look at my own journey, I think, holy smokes, look where I’m at now. I will dedicate the rest of my life to the Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams VA.”
For his wife, Stacy, who looks at him with love, pride, and respect, it all comes down to one thing.
“He’s a soldier again,” she said. “He’s just on a different battlefield.”
To contact the Hershel “Woody” Williams VA Medical Center, call 304-429-6741, visit huntingtonva.gov or to 540 Spring Valley Dr., Huntington, WV 25704. The center is open 24 hours.