A hero comes home

A hero comes home

Nursing professor welcomes son home from war after year of worry

By April Frawley

Cynthia Figueroa-Hass and her son

In September, Cynthia Figueroa-Haas, Ph.D., A.R.N.P., A.N.P.-BC, got the news she and her family had been waiting for almost a year to hear: Her son U.S. Army Sgt. Christopher Daniel Figueroa was headed safely back to the United States after a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

For Figueroa-Haas, it was a year of avoiding the news for fear that every report of a troop death or downed helicopter or explosion could mean her son was never coming back. It was a year of sporadic phone calls and never knowing exactly where or what her youngest son was doing.

It was a year of anxiety.

It was the second deployment for Figueroa, a combat medic in the Army and a former staff member in the UF College of Nursing, where his mother serves as a clinical assistant professor. The tour was particularly challenging for Figueroa-Haas and her family because he was called to active duty less than a year after returning from his first tour in the country. He was also sent to an area of Afghanistan that was potentially more dangerous than where he had been before.

“Chris has always had the desire and passion to serve in the military. His family and friends are so proud of him,” Figueroa-Haas said. “He is very good at what he does; he loves his job and is willing to make this his career path of choice. Nonetheless, it was a shock to the entire family after hearing he was called back so soon after his first deployment.

October marks the 12th year of war in Afghanistan, and in that time, more than 2,000 American troops have lost their lives. For families and friends of soldiers, the stress can be emotionally taxing. Figueroa-Haas says she spent the past year learning this firsthand. As a result, she says she would like to work with other faculty and staff members to take part in a support group.

“Sometimes you are emotionally resilient and sometimes not,” she said a few months into her son’s tour of duty. “In addition, individuals need to be cognizant of this particular type of suffering and emotional distress that occurs when family members are deployed.”

Support is also needed for returning soldiers. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than one-fifth of soldiers returning from war have post-traumatic stress disorder. Half of all soldiers do not seek treatment for PTS D, according to the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.

After her son’s return, Figueroa-Haas got to spend a couple days with him before he returned to Fort Stewart in Georgia, where he is stationed and where his wife and two daughters live.

“The array of emotions are indescribable … having the opportunity to caress and hold your child who had literally been shot at and nearly killed a week prior to coming home, is a blessing from God, never to be forgotten,” she said. “I desire to have the opportunity to offer support to others who are also experiencing these emotions related to deployment associated with the possibility of the loss of a loved one, namely their beloved child.”

Tips for coping

1. Talk with others going through the same thing
2. Prepare for the deployment as a family
3. Plan things to look forward to,
try new hobbies and attend events
4. Focus on things you can control
5. Don’t pay attention to rumors
* From the U.S. Department of Defense