RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — This Fourth of July weekend holds special meeting for a Long Island veteran, who was observing the tenth anniversary of injuries that nearly killed him in Iraq.
As CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported Friday, Sam Cila has a canine friend who has helped him through his inspirational recovery.
For Cila, Independence Day is personal.
“It was a day that did change things for me a lot for me,” he said.
Motivated by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Cila left his Long Island family — placing himself in harm’s way….
“He said: ‘Hey, I’m going to do something about it. I’m going to join the military,” said his wife, Anna Cila.
And thus, Sam Cila joined the fight against terrorism.
“Why not me?” he said. “If it’s good enough – if someone else’s son should do it, then so should I,” he said.
But on July 4, 2005, as America celebrated independence, Cila — on a mission in Baghdad — lost a part of his own.
“The enemy unleashed a bomb, and took off most of my left arm, my bicep, my tricep,” he said.
Nearly 50 surgeries could not Cila’s his hand, and then came the fight of his life as an amputee.
“He had to re-identify himself,” Anna Cila said. “He had to find something to wake up to every single day.”
Helping Sam Cila do that was a service dog named Gillian.
“I always say that she serves as my right hand. She really does, because I can only do so much with one,” he said.
Canine Companions for Independence has matched 119 service dogs with veterans, many of them injured soldiers at first reluctant to accept help.
“I thought, well, why do I need a cute service dog? You know, I’m a soldier. I’m a warrior. It made sense to me,” he said. “And just like I don’t remember what it’s like to have both hands, I don’t remember what it’s like not having Gillian.”
With Gillian at his side, Cila found healing through sports,
He has opened a gym, climbed the world’s highest mountains, completed Ironman triathlons, and motivating wounded warriors facing down adversity.
“Everyone faces adversity and challenges, and no one’s is more or greater or less than someone else’s,” Cila said. “It’s how we deal with it and choices that you make.”
July 4 is a special anniversary for the Cilas.
“It’s a day of celebration. It really, really is, because my husband came home,” Anna Cila said.
The Cilas hope people take a moment “to think about the men and woman long before July 4th, 2015 who have fought and sacrificed.”
According to the Congressional Research Service, more than 1,500 members of the military have lost limbs in amputations since Sept. 11, 2001.