Brian Kolfage Motivational Veteran Speaker

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Mentoring Mykola, an 11 Year-old boy who lost his legs and arm in Ukraine when he found an RPG

  • December 17, 2015
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The war that has been quietly raging in Ukraine for three years has produced a casualty that literally landed in my lap.

On August 24, 2015, while most of us enjoyed the dog days of summer, halfway around the world in Ukraine the life of an 11-year-old boy named Mykola was turned upside down.

Mykola was like any American 11-year-old, but the landscape he lived in is not like America. He was playing tag with his brother and friends when he came across a crate of Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs). Being a curious 11-year-old, he picked up one of the RGPs and began running with it. When he was tagged by a friend, he tripped and fell. The RPG hit the ground and exploded.

The massive blast killed Mykola’s brother and wounded his friends. Of those surviving, Mykola’s injuries were the worst. He lost both legs and his right hand; now a triple amputee. He has no teeth, and he has internal injuries, hearing problems, and severe facial trauma.

An unknown to the world, Mykola sat for three months in a hospital bed in Ukraine with no hope or future until a Canadian medical mission group found him in November and realized how important it was to get him to proper medical care.

Brian Kolfage

The photo that Mykola had of me above his bed

By mid-November 2015, the media was covering Mykola and his tragic story. Articles about him began appearing around the world. In one of them, a media reporter asked Mykola about a photo he had above his bed. It was a photo of another triple amputee holding his newborn son. (http://www.homin.ca/news.php/news/15845/group/24) Mykola explained to them that the photo was of an American soldier injured in a war. He said, “This is my hero. I want to be like him.” It was a photograph of me.

On November 24, I received a message through my website with an article, I saw a child with the kinds of wounds that shatter grown men, what I experienced for a year, hospitalized at Walter Reed Army Medical center, seeing the worst of what war can do to a person. My heart sank for Mykola. I knew the demons he was facing.

I messaged a charity known as Veterans Airlift Command (www.veteransairlift.org), which arranges travel on private planes. I explained to them Mykola’s story. In less than 5 minutes I was told that a jet from the Carrington Charitable Foundation (www.carringtoncf.org) would be made available to me at no cost. On December 1 (my birthday), I received word that Mykola had arrived at Montreal’s Shriners Hospital.

On December 13th, my wife, Ashley, and I boarded the Carrington-sponsored jet at Destin Executive Airport and headed north. The Shriners hospital staff told me that Mykola loved Legos and Star Wars, so en route we stopped in New York City. We went straight to the huge Lego Store at Rockefeller Center and bought Mykola the biggest Star Wars set they had, leaving the next morning for Montreal.

Getting off the plane, it was a “blistering” 30 degrees, but I had the warmest feeling knowing what was about to happen. When we arrived at Shriners Hospital we were warmly greeted and taken directly to Mykola’s ward. This was my moment to help Mykola.

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When I walked into the room, there was Mykola, lying in bed, with no legs. He looked up at me, and after our eyes met, he abruptly turned away, curled up into a ball and cried.  His mother tried to console him, but he kept crying. I asked all but the medical staff to leave the room.

I handed Mykola the Lego set, but he couldn’t stop crying. Then I took off my robotic prosthetic hand and laid it on the bed in front of his face. He suddenly stopped crying and was soon grinning like any 11 year-old boy might. I had his attention. I had his trust.

BrianKolfage

Giving mykola his Star Wars Lego set!

With only a couple of hours together, I communicated through the translator as much information as I could. I showed Mykola and others my video showing how I could swim, scuba dive, surf, walk, dress myself, drive, and just be independent. And then I explained how I even got my Bachelors degree in Architecture without my dominant right hand. By the end of our time together, Mykolas was smiling, goofing off, exhibiting a cockiness that he would conquer his challenge, and knowing that I was his friend.

Brian Kolfage

Ashley and I are now back home in Florida, but Mykola is facing the battle I faced at age 22, twice his age. And heartbreaking to know, Mykola, who thought his brother was just in another hospital, didn’t even know his brother had passed.

The day following my time with Mykola, I received an email from the staff saying how excited he was, and that he couldn’t stop talking about our visit and the videos that I showed him. I cannot describe how good that makes me feel.

Life is at best uncertain, and while people measure a successful life in many ways, maybe the best measure is the impact we have on the lives of others.

How can you HELP?

Please visit Mykola’s website, they are accepting donations to ease the financial burden on their family. http://www.helpmykola.com/

You can ‘Like’ his facebook page here https://www.facebook.com/HelpMykola/

Mykola and Brian Kolfage

 

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Senior Airman Brian Kolfage

A heroic story of survial

Brian Kolfage is handed an American flag from his daughter at the NYC veterans day parade- 2014

Brian Kolfage is handed an American flag from his daughter at the NYC veterans day parade- 2014

Brian is NOT available for speaking engagements at this time, please check back later.   

Brian Kolfage isn’t just the most severely wounded US Airman to survive his wounds, he’s a motivational speaker who inspires Americans to a greater success, with a powerful message of being resilient in the face of adversity.  If you’re looking for a veteran speaker, allow Brian to be the warrior who not only motivates your group but will inspire them to be better people in their daily life.

Brian Kolfage endured a life-changing event that would have sent someone of lesser spirit into a downward spiral. But for this former SF Airman turned Architect life is about looking forward to what you can do, not what you cannot.

Then Senior Airman Kolfage was on his second deployment for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004. On September 11, 2004 after working a night shift at Balad Air Base, Iraq, he awoke in the afternoon, left his tent to get some water and walked no more than 25 feet when the airbase came under a rocket attack. It would be the last time he would walk on the legs he was born with. A 107mm rocket shell exploded about three feet from Airman Kolfage. He was thrown several feet in the air and landed against a wall of sandbags, still conscious, and began calling for help.

Airman Kolfage’s best friend was thrown from his bed during the attack. He heard the screams and rushed outside to find his friend bloody, mangled, and clinging to life. The Airman and a medic rushed to help Airman Kolfage, who was struggling to breathe with only one lung after the other had collapsed. Brian’s friend desperately tried to divert his attention from the seriousness of his injuries, but calmly, Airman Kolfage assured him that he already knew the extent of his wounds, and that he just wanted to go home to his family.

Despite suffering multiple amputations and the looming possibility of death, Airman Kolfage still maintained incredible strength and courage throughout his recovery. The fact that no one with his level of amputation has ever been able to walk independently didn’t discourage him. With undiminished spirit, he still saw opportunities and worked with feverish determination through his physical therapy program, gaining strength and balance every day.

Incredibly, Brian walked out of Walter Reed only 11 months after being injured; this is unheard of. Till this day he is still the most severely wounded Airman to survive any war. After leaving the hospital he immediately continued his service to the Air Force, and was assigned to Davis Monthan AFB 355 SFS as the base security manager. Brian furthered his service to the community by proudly accepting to be on Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s Veterans Advisory Committee. He provided crucial inside information to help the congresswoman make vital decisions which helped veterans nationally. He was invited by the Congresswoman to be her special guest at the 2012 Presidential State of The Union Address when she resigned. Brian continues to work for his local congressman on the veterans advisory committee.

Brian is a now 2014 graduate from the University of Arizona’s School of Architecture, where he rose among the ranks to the top of his class. He never let the daunting tasks of learning to draw without his dominant right hand affect his ability to perform. With persistence and determination he has beat the odds that were stacked against him and recently was awarded one of the most prestigious military scholarship’s, the Pat Tillman Scholar award. Brian continues to embrace a positive attitude as he makes great strides, both literally and figuratively, in learning how to walk with his prosthetics.

Brian and his wife continue to make trips back to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to visit with newly wounded vets, his insight and ability to connect with the veterans gives them new hope for their future. In 2014 Brian was bestowed the most honorable award that a wounded warrior can receive, the George C. Lang Award for Courage, not only for his fearlessness, but his selflessness actions of taking care of other wounded veterans who were in need of mentoring