Local Fort Hood shooting survivor to be presented with a Purple Heart
(THE MED CITY BEAT) - A Rochester man will be presented with a Purple Heart medal during a ceremony this week at the Fort Hood Army Base in Texas.
Staff Sgt. Patrick Zeigler (Ret.) was one of 32 people injured in a 2009 shooting rampage on the military base. Thirteen others were killed in the attack, making it the worst mass murder at a military base in U.S. history.
The victims of the attack were initially not eligible for the Purple Heart or its civilian counterpart, the Defense of Freedom medal, because it was described as "workplace violence." However, that changed earlier this year when Congress expanded the criteria of what's considered an attack by a foreign terrorist organization.
The U.S. now considers the shooting a terrorist attack because the gunman, Maj. Nidal Hasan, was in communication with a foreign terror group before the incident.
Hasan was convicted in 2013 of 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder. He is being held at a military prison in Kansas while he appeals the decision.
Zeigler was shot four times in the attack, including once in the skull, and underwent emergency surgery that removed about 20 percent of his brain.
He had just returned from his second deployment in Iraq and was moments away from being cleared to attend school to become an officer.
"I could see [Hasan's] laser pointing around and it actually hit me in the eyes," Patrick said in a recent interview with KARE-TV. "And I looked right at him, and then he pulled the trigger, and that was it."
The fact that Zeigler survived the attack was nothing short of a miracle. He was even nicknamed No. 14 because few thought he would live.
Since then, he's spent more than 800 days in various hospitals across the country. His brain has been operated on at least a half dozen times.
"I've had to re-learn how to walk four times," he told the Army's news service in 2013. "After every brain surgery, I'd be set back to the point where I'd have to re-learn."
Though the left side of his body remains partially paralyzed and he suffers from recurring headaches, he is now able to live independently with his family in Rochester, his wife Jessica's hometown. Together they have a two-year-old child named Liam.
But perhaps the most impressive part of the recovery isn't physical, but emotional. Both Patrick and Jessica have become friends with members of the Hasan family.
“What I learned about them is that they’re phenomenal people who have a beautiful faith,” Jessica Zeigler recently told KERA-TV in Texas. “And they’re good family members. They love one another, they care about the victims, they’ve done kind things for the victims, us included.”
(Cover photo: Patrick Zeigler / U.S. Army)