After 18 surgeries and a below-the-knee amputation, U.S. Army veteran Stephanie Vazquez was given a gift to improve her mobility for the rest of her life.
Vazquez – described as a "female trailblazer" during her nine years of service – was gifted a customized all-terrain wheelchair from Freedom Alliance, a national military support organization. The organization has been dedicated to helping veterans regain their mobility and independence with all-terrain wheelchairs for the last six years.
On Oct. 14, Vazquez became the latest wounded veteran to be honored with a customized wheelchair meant to "help reduce her burden and ease her pain," Tom Kilgannon, the president of Freedom Alliance, told Fox News.
Vazquez medically retired in 2014 after serving two deployments in Afghanistan and completing the first Female Engagement Team (FET) course in Bagram. FETs, according to Freedom Alliance, are a key part of the "security and success of combat units in Afghanistan."
During her last deployment, Vazquez was left with severe injuries to her foot, leg and spine after a firefight broke out in a village that she was patrolling.
The customized wheelchairs are just one of many ways in which the organization works to "heal the wounds of war" through recreational activities and rehab.
"We do a lot of fishing trips and hunting trips, and those are events to bring veterans together so that they can mentor one another, counsel one another and help one another," Kilgannon said.
The events, however, showed the organization that some veterans, particularly amputees, had difficulty engaging in outdoor activities because of their physical limitations.
Freedom Alliance set out to change that with the all-terrain chairs that are outfitted with treads that look like those on a tank that can handle anything from snow and hills to sand on the beach.
"These are strong-willed individuals, and having a chair like this just allows them to engage in more of the activities they love," Kilgannon said.
It also gives the veterans the ability to complete activities around the house or their property and "do so with a degree of independence that they wouldn't have had," he added.
For instance, the customized wheelchairs help veterans keep up with their kids, handle yard work and enjoy hobbies. For Vazquez, the wheelchair will help her manage her new property in Tennessee, which has several acres and a very long driveway, according to Kilgannon.
After Freedom Alliance started providing the wheelchairs, the group recognized the amount of independence the veterans were gaining.
"It is a tremendous feeling of satisfaction to know that you’ve helped to improve another person’s circumstances and make their life a little bit better," Kilgannon said. "It’s the least we can do for those who’ve sacrificed so much."