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Tristan Ahtone: Navajo veteran returns from war a changed man

Filed Under: Health | National
More on: navajo, new mexico, tristan ahtone, veterans, wars

Reporting for Al Jazeera, Tristan Ahtone shares the story of Lonnie Al Watts, a Navajo Nation veteran who died last year at the age of 37:
Her hair was still wet when she got to the hospital: dark brown locks that fell past the tips of her shoulder blades to the small of her back.

“I woke up at my normal time, 5:30, and I looked at my phone and I got this ugly feeling,” said LaTonya Johnson. “I thought I was dreaming.”

The text message on her phone read: I’m in the ICU. You’re probably sleeping, but I’m here.

Staff Sgt. Lonnie Al Watts was fighting a ventilator when she got to him. His heart rate was shooting up and down. He was hot, so she cleaned his face with a cool washcloth, and when the doctors told her he would need to be transferred to Albuquerque, she prepared to be there for him.

“I prayed with him, then I kissed his head,” said Johnson. “Rubbed his head again, and said, ‘I love you, be strong, I’ll be waiting for you in Albuquerque.’”

Watts never made it.

On Oct. 11, 2013, 37-year-old Watts was taken to the Gallup Indian Medical Center on the border of the Navajo Nation. He had blood clots in his lungs and pneumonia, and his heart — damaged by chronic and heavy alcohol use — was unable to provide oxygen to his body anymore.

Only a year before, Watts had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure. His doctor told him that if he didn’t stop drinking he would die, but he didn’t listen.

“Whatever happened in Afghanistan, it haunted him to drink,” said Johnson. “If this whole post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] wasn’t such a secret, I really feel like he would have got help, and the counseling probably would have helped him to quit.”

Get the Story:
Tristan Ahtone: The family left behind (Al Jazeera America 76)

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