By RJ Kaminski
Despite a significant loss of extremities, Benjamin Harrow made a promise to his best friend Erik Mineo that he’d one day be back on the lacrosse field with him. Harrow is set to fulfill that promise in June, playing goalie at Shootout for Soldiers Baltimore, a charity game that raises funds and generates awareness for hardships facing today’s Veterans. He remembers specific details of the day in May when everything changed.
“It was a clearing operation…” said Harrow, a now 35-year-old United States Army Captain. He recounted a mission on May 15, 2012, in which he led his team of Green Berets on his third deployment to the Middle East.
“I remember flying through the air,” he said. “I remember waking up on the ground totally dazed and confused. I remember getting hit with a jolt of pain and then passing back out.” Harrow stepped on an improvised explosive device, losing both legs and couple of fingers on his right hand.
“I just tried to stay alive and when I felt myself slipping into the black, I felt one of my teammates around me,” Harrow said.
“I heard him yelling, ‘Shit! Holy shit!'”
Harrow couldn’t figure out what had happened to him. He knew he needed to remain conscious until help arrived.
“I knew that with one of my teammates there I could finally let go. And I remember saying out loud, ‘Sorry Gina’ [his wife’s name].” After being medevac’d to Role 3 Trauma Center at Kandahar Airfield, Harrow was conscious, undergoing severe trauma work.
“I don’t remember [any of that].”
Three days later, he awoke in Germany. After battling infections and a fever of 106 degrees while there for five days, doctors deemed Harrow stable enough to fly to Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. There, Harrow learned that if he wanted a chance to walk again, he needed to do some research and take matters into his own hands.
“So much of my right femur got taken off in the blast, I couldn’t wear a regular prosthetic,” Harrow recounted. While overseas, Harrow recognized that women in Russia and China, trying to advance their modeling careers, went to extreme lengths to grow bone matter in order to become taller.
“[They] pay to have their shin bones broken,” he said.
They then use a femur stretching technique to grow bone matter. Medical professionals at Walter Reed told Harrow they couldn’t perform that operation. But they put him in touch with a doctor in Minnesota who could. Using a non-FDA approved device, Harrow’s doctor stretched out his femur after breaking it.
Harrow set two medical world records. One for the shortest femur ever lengthened and one for the most bone regenerated.
“Not only did I get myself up and walking around, but now it’s a procedure that they do,” he said. Harrow was not a part of a medical breakthrough.
“I was it,” he said.
At Walter Reed, Harrow couldn’t begin any type of physical therapy for two months. But once he could, he jumped right in.
“I wanted to play lacrosse with Erik again,” Harrow said of his former teammate.
Harrow is talking about long-time friend and former teammate, United States Army Capt. Erik Mineo. The two met back in 2000 while in the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School. They served in the same company and played on the same squad from prep school though four years at West Point.
Mineo remembers receiving that text in 2012, being told Ben was in critical condition. Now he has a chance to play alongside his former teammate, for the first time since their days at West Point.
Mineo and Harrow will play on the same team, as every Shootout for Soldiers kicks off with a Veterans game. “It’s gonna be pretty awesome,” Erik happily said. “To be in the same place at the same time to play a little lacrosse together will be pretty damn awesome.”
Both Mineo and Harrow will have family in attendance come June 22nd, the kickoff date for Shootout for Soldiers Baltimore, set to be held at St. Paul’s School in Brooklandville, MD. There shouldn’t be too much pressure, as Harrow can seek advice from friends who have played and battled through similar circumstances.
Calvin Todd,fellow ice hockey teammate of Harrow and single amputee, played keeper at Shootout for Soldiers Boston last summer. “You don’t get too many opportunities to play with people you [used to] play with,” Mineo said.
He watched Mineo play from his wheelchair last time he attended SFS Baltimore. Harrow took to Twitter to make his promise….
Four years ago, CPT Harrow was “bordering on life and death,” as he described it. This June he’ll be walking onto the lacrosse field alongside fellow Captain, student, West Point graduate and best friend Erik Mineo.