Brothers Once Again; War Injuries Brought Them Back Together
October 29, 2007
This is a story about a Wounded Warrior and his brother, who had drifted apart as they both finished High School and went their separate ways. This is an inspirational story about how the war in Iraq, brought those two brothers back into each other’s lives and reintroduced them to the gift of brotherly love.
They grew up in the home of a Cambodian refugee. Their mother and known war and survived it, coming to the United States as a teenager. As they grew older, they each went their separate ways, drifting apart and rarely communicating. Dara went off to college at Penn State University and Pisey joined the Army. For years they had barely spoken to each other, but that all changed, courteosy of a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2004, that left Pisey a double leg amputee.
Smiles all around during the ribbon cutting, with Tan; his mother and brother, Bo Mao and Dara Soun; and Karen and Frank McKee, of the McKee Group.
Today Pisey and Dara Tan share a home in Pennsylvania and are a close as two brothers could possibly be. Dara is now 22, changed his life to help care for his brother, who is 4 years his elder. He’s carried him, pushed him, picked him up, encouraged him and even sometimes fought with him, the way that brothers do. Pisey has learned to walk with ease on his prosthetic legs.
“He thinks I’m a psychopath maniac sometimes and I think he’s a stubborn hardheaded dude sometimes,” said Pisey. “It’s brotherly love, though.”
They reconnected and strengthened those brotherly bonds, while Pisey was still at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, recovering from his injuries. Dara at the time was attending Penn State University in Abington, but he didn’t hesitate to drop out of school and move to Walter Reed for almost a year to help his brother.
“He’s family,” Dara said. “It’s a given.”
He rushed to his brother’s bedside before Pisey even regained consciousness. It was hard, he cried every time he walked into his brother’s hospital room. Once he regained consciousness, Pisey wondered how he was going to tell his mother that he has lost his legs. Being a war refugee from Cambodia, he didn’t want to upset her and worried that telling her would bring back unpleasant memories of her own.
“I thought I was just going to keep it low-key and just disappear off the radar, don’t even mention it to my mother,” he said.
His younger brother though had already taken care of telling their mother, translating the news for her, in a conference call with an Army Official. But telling his mother wasn’t Pisey’s only worry. He has his future to worry about and wondered what that now held for him.
“We heard about how the people treated the people that went to Vietnam… All that stuff went through my head and I was like what am I going to do now? How am I going to live? Who is going to take care of me?”
His little brother stepped up to the plate once again. Even though they had went their separate ways and barely communicated with each other; mainly keeping up through their mother, Dara wasn’t about to let his brother down. He stepped in to be there for his brother, without a second thought. Dara’s dedication to Pisey quickly made him the envy of many of the other patients at Walter Reed.
“That was the fastest way I could get things done. My brother pushing me around in my wheelchair,” Pisey said. “My brother was like the biggest key when I was there because he would have to go do some of the things that I couldn’t do, like run to buildings, getting papers signed and stuff like that.”
It was hard for Pisey to accept the fact that he had to rely on his brother. Being used to doing for himself, it was a big change to have to rely on someone else to do those things for him.
“I felt pretty low and always like sad … having to depend on my brother,” said Pisey. “There were days I felt embarrassed.”
After his release from Walter Reed, Pisey and Dara moved in with their mother in North Philadelphia. There they faced new challenges, as their mother lived in a two-story row house, which was not compatible with Pisey’s wheelchair. He was still working on learning to use his prosthetic legs at the time. There were many a night that Dara carried Pisey piggyback-style up the stairs to his bedroom. Another night, Pisey became ill, experiencing sharp pain in the area of his kidneys. Dara carried him to the ambulance. If Pisey fell as he was learning to walk on his prosthetic legs on the uneven streets of Philadelphia or trying to get on a bus, his brother was always there to pick him up.
“Without Dara, I would have been screwed, basically,” Pisey said.
In December 2006, things too a turn for the better when Pisey was presented with a custom built two-story home in a Philadelphia suburb by the nonprofit group, Homes For our Troops, who teamed up with builder The McKee Group to build a customized home for Pisey and his family. The home, with it’s wide doorways and wheelchair accessible shower, makes it much easier for Pisey. He no longer needs to have Dara constantly at his side. But Dara, wanting to stay near his brother, moved in upstairs.
“He’s there for me and I’m always there for him,” Pisey said. “It’s the least I can do after everything that he’s done for me.”
They spend a lot of time together nowdays, playing video games, working on their cars or heading to the local Italian deli for sandwhiches. Together time, time well spent, reconnecting with each other after so many years of being apart. Pisey still attends regular therapy and has plans to attend college to become a High School history teacher and Dara’s plans are to train to become a mechanic. Dara is glad to be with his brother and happy to help in any way that he can. They’re enjoying being brothers again.
“I don’t think of it as time wasted or anything,” he says. “Everything turned out pretty good for him.”
“We’re a bunch of old, young kids,” Pisey added.