(WTOL) - Matthew Drake's morning routine looks familiar to anyone rushing to work or school: He makes breakfast. He puts on his shoes. He has a job at NuStep headquarters in Ann Arbor, where he serves as the attendant at the Wellness Center, stocked with the company's signature rehabilitation machines.
He's also the unofficial company "Hugger-in-Chief," hugging every employee who passes by. Drake's bear hugs come from someone who just 10 years ago was grasping for life, almost dying in a suicide bomber attack in 2004 while serving in Iraq.
"I lost the ability to do a lot of things," he said. "But I retained the ability to do a lot of other things."
Each milestone, however small, is a reminder of a miracle: He's a traumatic brain injury survivor who's thriving in ways never imagined by his mom Lisa Schuster, who is often at his side. Matthew gets better, stronger, and more independent every day because of his daily "boot camp" of work and activities such as yoga.
Each hour of his day is regimented with an army of counselors and therapists who remind him of basics, such as not forgetting to eat or take his meds. This intense therapy is critical to keeping him on the path to healing his brain and living a full life.
But the VA benefits he receives only pay for a fraction of Drake's daily therapy.
"One-on-one daily staff - and that's not inexpensive - it's not covered," said Schuster.
The gap between his benefits and what his care costs will hopefully be bridged by his job and the book sales of the memoir Schuster just released. "Just as He is Right Now: A Mother's Memoir on the Price of Freedom and the Power of Hope" documents Drake's life.
As happens with brain trauma survivors, Drake doesn't remember the blast that almost killed him. But he also often has no recollection of what just happened, such as what he ate for breakfast.
Although his progress is remarkable, each day is marked by uncertainty. In the face of the unknown, Schuster has clung to her faith, including a simple principle she has practiced since the day she learned of the accident that killed the other soldiers in Drake's Humvee:
"Every day, love him, just as he is right now. But believe, hope he'll be a little better tomorrow," she said.
Just as he is right now. The creed of a survivor who faces an uncertain future, but forges ahead, one step at a time.Click here to buy a copy of "Just as He is Right Now: A Mother's Memoir on the Price of Freedom and the Power of Hope."