Craig Lost, alone and disoriented, it was U.S. Marine Cory Hixson’s survivor instinct that delivered him through two harrowing days of cold, wet weather after he disappeared from his Broomfield home March 11.
His wife, Shala Hixson, hopes that it’s the dramatic nature of this ordeal that will finally deliver the family into the hands of those that can provide them with real, effective help.
With promises of support from Colorado senators and congressmen, the Wounded Warriors Project, and an outpouring of love and support from friends and family, the future is looking more hopeful, but the Hixson’s battles are far from over.
Suffering from the effects of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder from serving in the Iraq War in 2004, Cory and his family left their hometown of Craig a year and a half ago to seek better care from the Veterans Affairs hospital in Denver.
But a change in medication a couple days before Cory’s disappearance proved to have severe negative effects, Shala said. He shaved his head and started acting differently. After awaking from a nap, he couldn’t remember where he was and didn’t recognize his own family.
Their two kids, age 4 and 5, were already in bed, and when Shala called 911 for help, Cory bolted out the door and off the second floor balcony into the night.
“He had no shoes, no coat, no money, no phone. It was raining and 20 degrees out that night,” Shala said. “Definitely what saved him was the military training. He did some things that were really extraordinary just to survive.”
A full-blown search effort was initiated by Broomfield Police Department, and Cory was finally located two days later about 10 miles away in rural Weld County. Still coatless and barefoot, he was cold and hungry.
Looking for help, he took a sweater, a stocking cap and container of Cool Whip from a garage. He left his Broncos cap in exchange for the items, Shala said.
A neighbor watched it all unfold. When Cory told him he was a Marine and asked for help, Scott Rairden offered him wool socks, boots and an old coat.
“I can see that it’s freezing outside, he’s completely barefoot and his feet are a mess,” Rairden said. “I could tell he was starving to death and freezing.”
By that time, Rairden knew the police had already been called and feeling remorseful, suggested Cory run.
The Weld County Sheriff’s Office, not yet knowing he was the missing disabled veteran out of Broomfield, took Cory into custody, who was finally reunited with his family the next day.
The saga is far from over. Cory is now in the hospital — for how long, Shala doesn’t know. He was only able to get a bed in the VA hospital after elected officials advocated on his behalf.
“When I watched Cory sit in the hospital getting denied a bed in the VA, I’d had enough,” Shala said. “I’d had enough with people that can’t do anything.”
That’s when Shala put a call out to Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., to help, and enlisted her network of friends and family on Facebook to do the same. Her post was shared more than 1,600 times.
“Thankfully, people and friends in our community shared it like crazy,” Shala said. “Twenty-four hours later, I had a phone call from Cory Gardner, and one from Michael Bennet, then Friday, Mike Coffman called me and flew in from Washington to talk to me.”
Gardner had met Cory Hixson a year or two earlier when he had toured the Grand Junction VA Hospital, where Cory was being treated.
“Somebody in the other room said ‘Hey, is that Cory Gardner?’ and the VA staff said yes. He came out and this guy just gave me this big huge hug and it was Cory Hixson,” Gardner said in a phone interview with the Craig Daily Press. “I said, ‘We’re two Corys, we gotta stick together.’”
The offices of both Gardner and Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., have promised to investigate and follow up on Cory’s case. Coffman, a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and also a former Marine, expressed concern to Shala about drugs prescribed to her husband that have caused adverse reactions in other veterans, too.
Gardner promised Shala he’d follow up on some of Cory’s claims that have been lost in bureaucratic purgatory for two years. He also spoke with the director of Denver’s VA hospital, Sallie Houser-Hanfelder, who promised they’d reach out to the Hixsons with treatment options and ideas.
“We’re following up to make sure he gets the help he needs after he did so much to help our country,” Gardner said.
Cory was injured in Fallujah in 2004, losing his left eye to shrapnel from a mortar round during Operation Phantom Fury, considered to be one of the bloodiest battles of the Iraq War. Losing his dream of being a career Marine was far more devastating than the loss of his eye.
Now, his wife is picking up the fight for him, fighting for his ability to simply live and thrive as a husband and father 13 years after his injuries removed him from the fight abroad.
“They call Cory the wounded warrior and the spouse the warrior,” Shala said, referring to The Wounded Warriors Project, which has also stepped forward to help the Hixsons. “They’ve been helping us with getting him into a long-term treatment plan and be the guy that we all know and love and be the wonderful husband and father he is.”
Though far from home as they fight to get the care they need, the Hixsons are feeling the love from their longtime friends, neighbors and family in Craig.
“Even though we’re in a new community that supports us, nothing’s going to change that we’re from a great community and there, Cory is their hometown hero,” Shala said. “We appreciate everything they’ve done for us.”
To support the Hixson family, visit the Go Fund Me campaign launched to help pay for treatment at www.gofundme.com/coryhixson.
Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1795 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @LaurenBNews.