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St. Louis veteran receives service dog 10 years after IED almost killed him


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    ST. LOUIS, Missouri (KMOV) — A St. Louis veteran is being gifted a dose of freedom this holiday season, nearly 12 years after suffering injuries that almost cost him his life.

Todd Nicely joined the Marines in 2007 and completed a seven-month tour to Iraq in 2008. In 2009, he deployed again but this time to Afghanistan. Six months into the deployment, tragedy struck.

“I stopped the patrol before crossing a bridge and as I was crossing the bridge, I stepped on a bomb,” Nicely said.

The blast tore off parts of each of his four limbs, but none of the 12 men in his squad were injured.

“I didn’t want to put my guys through anything I wouldn’t do, so a lot of the time I was in the front,” he said.

Nicely said his heart stopped three times in the immediate aftermath of the blast, before being stabilized at a military hospital.

“I was in the hospital for about a year and a half, working on physical therapy and occupational therapy,” he said. “Now at home, I just continue occupational therapy on my own.”

Nicely said he was fitted for prosthetics early on, but the loss of his hands makes doing everyday tasks difficult.

“Just learning to not have hands was the hardest thing,” he said. “You take for granted the small movements, like pinching your fingers to pick up a Chapstick on the floor, or a credit card. It’s very daunting sometimes the tasks you have to do in your everyday life but you learn to do it, struggle with it and be okay if you can’t do it sometimes.”

A few years ago, he said his social worker through the VA brought up the idea of a service dog.

“When I saw they have certain skills like being able to pick up a credit card off the ground, I thought, I need to have one of those,” he said.

Nicely contacted CHAMP Assistance Dogs, a local organization that trains and places service animals with adults, children and veterans.

“It takes about two years to fully train the dogs and get them to have a set of skills that we can then add onto to specifically help the person we’re placing them with,” Pam Budke said, executive director of CHAMP.

With the help of the Kaufman Fund, CHAMP was able to place Hugo, a 3-year-old black lab, with Nicely last week.

“Having him here to be able to pick up those things or pick up something I drop is a blessing in disguise,” Nicely said. “It makes my quality of life much better.”

Hugo is able to close doors and pick up a variety of items off the floor, like a credit card, battery pack, or even Nicely’s prosthetic hand.

“Sometimes it pops off or the battery pack pops out and it’s really hard for me to grab it unless I physically get out of my wheelchair and onto the floor,” he said.

Hugo’s trainers, employed by CHAMP, will continue to introduce Nicely to additional commands for Hugo, especially in public.

“Hugo making a difference in Todd’s life, it’s a wonderful feeling for all of us and we all rejoice in seeing someone become more independent because a dog is there to help them,” Budke said.

According to CHAMP, it costs around $30,000 to train and place a service dog. However, the dog is placed at no cost to the recipient.

The process of receiving a service dog takes about two years. CHAMP encourages people to reach out to find out if they qualify.

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