North Caldwell to Donate Pancake Breakfast Proceeds to Wounded Soldier
Mom reports U.S. Army Specialist Derek McConnell is doing "great."
Threats of infection are behind him, his fractures are healed, and he’s regaining use of his right hand. He’s also committed to getting around on prosthetics after losing his left leg and his right leg up to his knee.
And that’s just some of the good news Siobhan Fuller-McConnell has to share about her son, U.S. Army Specialist Derek T. McConnell, a 2008 graduate of West Essex High School in North Caldwell.
McConnell’s life changed forever on July 23, 2011, when at the age of 21 he sustained life-altering injuries after stepping on an improvised explosive device while patrolling in the Zahri District in Kandahar.
He was admitted into the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. last summer where he spent seven months undergoing surgeries and treatments, with more than the occasional infection to fight off.
But Derek is a fighter, his mom says, and since March he has been living in an out-patient facility where he receives physical and occupational therapy.
Although he is expected to remain there for another year or two, Derek's returning to a “normal” life and an August homecoming looks like a possibility, Siobhan said.
“He’s doing great," she said. "It took 10 months, but he’s finally looking like himself again. He finally looks like Derek."
Siobhan just returned to her home in Parsippany earlier this month, after sticking by her son’s bedside for three-quarters of a year. She’s back just in time to attend the North Caldwell Fire Department’s annual Pancake Breakfast on Sunday, June 3, from 8 a.m. to noon. Proceeds from this year’s breakfast will go to the Friends of Derek McConnell Fund, which was set up last summer to support the wounded soldier and his family.
The pancake breakfast is just the latest fundraiser for McConnell and his family. There have been spaghetti dinners, a special mass and picnic, and bags of gifts collected for Derek’s four siblings at Christmas.
“The phone calls, the emails, the Facebook posts, the encouragement has been overwhelming,” Siobhan said. “If we didn’t feel like we were loved before, we definitely know now. It’s hard not to be thankful when you see how much everyone cares.”
Adapting Siobhan’s sister’s house in Parsippany to suit Derek’s special needs will be possible thanks to the donations.
“That’s what we are using a lot of the money for right now,” she said. “Because it’s going to be costly.”
What has kept the McConnell family positive through this ordeal?
“When you are going through this there’s just no other way to be,” Siobhan said. “I’ve seen other wounded warriors and they have a negative attitude about them … That’s just not who we are. We need to get him better. If we dwell on the negative we are not going to get anywhere. We are not going to be able to survive.”
So Derek and his family continue to look optimistically to the future, which includes him marrying his fiancé Krystina Dressler of Fairfield, a 2009 West Essex grad.
“They want Derek to walk down the aisle,” Siobhan said. “He will dance with me at his wedding.”
Derek sends this message to his many friends and supporters back home in Caldwell, Parsippany and surrounding communities:
“I will attempt the nearly impossible task of expressing my emotions and gratitude in a few sentences. My life is a testament to the good will of others, for I would have drawn my last breath ten months ago on July, 23, 2011. However I lived on in thanks to the never wavering support of the community and persistence of my closest loved ones. Everyday is a challenge and has its own obstacles. This doesn’t faze me, for I have a secret. In my heart I know more people than I could have ever imagined have come together and supported me through each step of this battle. I am honored.”
The Pancake Breakfast for the Friends of Derek McConnell Fund will take place on Sunday, June 3, from 8 a.m. to noon, at the North Caldwell Firemen's Community Center on Gould Avenue in North Caldwell. Adults are $6, children 5 to 12 are $3 and children under 5 are free.
Donations to the Friends of Derek McConnell Fund can be sent to P.O. Box 1811
in West Caldwell, New Jersey, 07007-1811.