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Child's medical condition challenges Reserve family

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Abigail Klein
  • 931st Air Refueling Group Public Affairs
"Even though she has a breakable body, she also has this amazing, unbreakable sprit," Senior Airman Samuel Taylor said about his stepdaughter, Mara Jade.

The 11-year-old has lived with Osteogenesis Imperfecta Type II/type and dwarfism since birth. Her mother, Elisabeth, met Samuel in 2004 while he served a mission at their church in Colorado Springs, Colo. Mara Jade was just 2.

"My daughter has a sweet spirit to her that just draws people in," he said. "She has something about her that just makes you want to get to know her."

Elisabeth appreciated Samuel's connection to her daughter, and saw how quickly the two got along.

"[You could tell] they had a huge bond when they first met," she said. "He's very sweet and loving to her and she looks up to him quite a bit."

Elisabeth and Samuel maintained a long-distance relationship when he returned to returned to his native California before marrying in 2006. The family now includes Kathrine, 8, John, 6, and Stephanie, 2. In late July, they attended an Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon training event in Southern California. The program promotes the well-being of reservists and their families by connecting them with resources before and after deployments.

Mara Jade revels in her role as big sister, Samuel Taylor said.

"Even though she has a disability, she's still their big sister and she can raise her voice and snap them into place," he said.

Her enthusiasm and drive to be independent often make it easy for those around her, including her family, to forget just how fragile she is.

"There was this time when we were at a Halloween Party at the Air Force Academy, and I tossed her a small beach ball," he explained. "She put her hands up to catch it, and that simple action broke her humorous [bone]."

A break for Mara Jade isn't just painful, it is almost always life altering, and devastating for her and those who love her, he said.

"When you break one of her bones, it something you have to come to terms with. A break can set her back two to four months. Life stops as soon as she breaks a bone."

To help ease her condition and strengthen her bones, Mara Jade has received numerous surgeries, including a couple to place rods in her legs and arms, which also helps her to walk.
"She's learning to get in and out of [her wheelchair], which will help her become more independent in the future," said Elisabeth Taylor. "She's also going through physical therapy and is able to walk a little bit now, which is something we never thought she'd be able to do."

Samuel said Mara Jade is an inspiration to her siblings and greatly influenced his decision to work in the medical field and to join the Air Force Reserve as a medical technician.

"I was working in the car industry, but I started taking a CNA [certified nursing assistant] class to help care for Mara Jade, and fell in love with it," he said. "I've always dreamed of working with people and providing compassionate care. I took a $15,000 to $20,000 pay cut, but I was doing something I love."

When a friend of his joined the Air Force Reserve, she recommended that he try it for medical position. Since enlisting, Samuel has been stationed at the Air Force Academy as a traditional reservist and also works as a contractor for the Air Force Academy as a gastrointestinal technician.

When he was chosen to deploy to a combat medical staging area in Washington, D.C., he knew he would have to make the usual preparations for his family and thought it would be beneficial for his family to attend a Yellow Ribbon training weekend. The events are held regularly and help reservists who will deploy -- or have recently returned from a deployment -- and loved ones of these GIs. The Taylors said they training was beneficial, especially briefings on finances, legal issue and what to expect both, physically and mentally, from the separation caused by military duty.

The Airman said he knows he won't have to worry about Mara Jade being a help to Elizabeth while he is gone.

"She's definitely her mother's helper," said Samuel. " I have no worries about her keeping the kids in line."