The reawakening of Capt. Greene

Trevor Greene not only survived an axe blow to the head, he lived to speak, move, write a book, and soon, marry.


The reawakening of Capt. Greene

Canadian army Capt. Trevor Greene is talking. Really, it’s hard to overstate how amazing that is. He’s sitting in the big easy chair in the den off the kitchen of the Nanaimo home he shares with his fiancée, Debbie Lepore, and their 3½-year-old daughter, Grace. The voice is quiet, for a big man of six foot four. The thoughts are clear and unflinching. Words are rationed; the sentences short, stripped of extraneous weight for their march across the wounded terrain of his brain. Like when he describes first meeting Debbie in 2001, at what he calls a Vancouver bar and she prefers to think of as a restaurant. They were with separate groups at separate tables. “I looked across the room,” the infantryman says, “and she captured me.” That says it all.

Lepore, smiling, arches an eyebrow at his hyperbole. “Across the room,” she says, “wasn’t it about five feet?” He shrugs. “It was her smile,” he continues, “and her laugh.” Whatever the distance, they’ve been closer ever since. Except for his deployment to Afghanistan, of course. She wasn’t there on March 4, 2006, when the platoon he was part of visited the village of Shinkay, when they sat with a circle of village elders under the trees, in the shade by the river. It was his last memory of Afghanistan. The Canadians had their helmets off as a sign of respect. Greene’s job was civilian-military co-operation, to help villages in Canada’s area of responsibility with access to clean water, medical facilities, electricity and schools.

The sad irony is, he was waging peace when 16-year-old Abdul Kareem stole up behind him, an axe hidden in his robes. He pulled it out in one fluid motion and with a cry of “Allahu akbar” (God is great) he buried the blade into the top of Greene’s head, propelled by the sort of two-handed swing you’d use to split a log for the fire. Greene’s eyes rolled back into his head; his blood, and, yes, some of his brain matter, spilled all over the Afghan ground. His brain was almost split in half, and yet he was breathing. Kareem reared back for another blow before three platoon members opened fire, killing him with a fusillade of bullets. Chaos reigned: the villagers fled, the platoon came under fire, medic Sean Marshall worked to staunch Greene’s blood loss during a 40-minute wait for a rescue copter. An incredulous radio operator at the Kandahar base asked to repeat the type of injury. “I say again,” responded platoon commander Kevin Schamuhn, “the nature of the wound is an axe to the head. Over.”

By the time Debbie caught up with him, days later, he was in an American military hospital in Germany, in a coma, with much of his skull cut away to ease the pressure of his swelling, fractured brain. The prognosis was awful: the doctors said that if he didn’t die, he would be in a coma; if not in a coma, then in a vegetative state.

They might know brains, but they don’t know Trevor, thought Lepore, who has been at his side ever since. Greene’s aim was to aid in the wartime reconstruction of Afghan villages. Lepore’s goal is to aid in the wartime reconstruction of her fiancé, and the father of their child—two near-impossible jobs.

Except here they are, almost three years later, Greene, 44, with a skull rebuilt with moulded composite plates, a full head of hair, and a brain that powers his thoughts, and his voice, and—with increasing success—his hands, arms and torso. “The recovery is like being frozen in a glacier and gradually warming up,” he says. “First my left hand and my left arm warming up. Then my right arm. Then my neck, gradually my legs until I am all thawed out.” Lepore laughs, surprised at the image. “I never heard that,” she says, “but it’s so true.” Meantime, as the defrosting continues, he’s learning Spanish, which will be his fourth language after English, French and Japanese. And he is writing a book along with Lepore, which isn’t bad for someone whose brain was sectioned with an axe. The working title is Growing My Soul: Capt. Trevor Greene’s Long Journey Home From Afghanistan.

It will be a “motivational book” about their lessons learned in overcoming adversity. He teetered on the brink of death several times only to plunge into deep depression. She was relentless, putting her career as a chartered accountant on hold for the one project that matters most. Even during his coma she’d tell him of the example he’ll set for others, “to be able to struggle through it and to share your insights.” The book, they say, is all about determination and the power of positive energy. Hearing them describe it, watching them together, you have to think there’ll be magic in it, too. You feel it, even stronger later in the day when Grace, a blond bundle of light, bounds into the house, wearing a necklace from preschool made with drinking straws and paper hearts. Medicine and motivation only take you so far. The reawakening of Capt. Greene is a miracle wrapped in a love story.

With months of recovery condensed into an hour of television, Greene seems to grow before your eyes, gaining weight, mobility and speech, with remarkable speed. In fact, it was “a marathon of baby steps,” as the film notes. Until Greene and Lepore had an advance look at the documentary a day before a Maclean’s reporter and photographer visited, there is much of those early days he simply didn’t remember. He is pleased with the results, and believes it serves the purpose he intended. “I wanted people to know what it’s like for Afghanistan veterans, what we went through,” he says. “[Canadians] thought we were peacekeeping, and it was war. I wanted them to see the effects of war.”

Ridout looks at two platoon members, Schamuhn and Sgt. Rob Dolson, who carried an unwarranted load of blame after the attack. Dolson, in particular, left the Afghan theatre early, agonizing over his failure to foresee the attack, though by all accounts he was the first to react. “I got up, took my weapon off safe, fired two rounds into him but he just stood there and stared at me. And it took another 10 more shots to drop him.”

The cameras roll near the end of Greene’s stay in Ponoka as a surgeon delivers the news that there’s little likelihood he’ll walk again, a prognosis they don’t accept. The mood lightens moments later when, in a hospital hallway, there is an emotional reunion with Marshall, the medic, who last saw Greene when he bundled him onto the chopper some two years earlier. He tells Greene: “It had a huge impact on me, and the person I am today.”

The cameras also record Greene’s plunge into depression, during the Christmas period in Ponoka last year. At one bleak point Greene stares blankly ahead, his eyes devoid of hope. “I was supposed to die,” he says.

Grace was born by the time Greene got orders to deploy to Afghanistan, but that didn’t change the equation. Lepore had known from the get-go this was his dream. “Even if I wasn’t okay with it, I would never keep him from going.” Besides, his job was to help Afghanistan rebuild—how dangerous could that be? “He always seems—what’s the right word—invincible,” says Lepore. “Just everything seems to go well for him, so I never expected that anything would happen.”

Greene knew better. To help the villages, you must get to the villages. During one such convoy their LAV III, a Canadian-made light-armoured troop carrier, bogged down in a river, stranding them under a full moon, a fat target for anyone with a rocket-propelled grenade. They were lucky that time. Not so in February 2006 when a roadside improvised explosive device rocked the LAV that Greene was riding in. Most of the injuries to the 10 inside were cuts and bruises, but Greene was removed to Kandahar airfield hospital with a concussion. It was the first time military personnel delivered bad news to Lepore. The second time, a 6 a.m. knock on the door a month later, was worse.

Before Greene left for Afghanistan, he taped a number of videos for Grace, his dear little “wabbit.” There were pictures of him drying her from the bath; pushing her in the stroller; singing the ABC song. “My life expanded,” he says of her birth. “It was like a new chapter of a new book.” Of the videos, he says with an infantryman’s clear-eyed practicality: “I thought if I died they would be the only thing she’d have to remember me by.” He also wrote and sealed a last letter to Lepore, “in case I got killed, in case something happened to me.” After the axe attack, with his life hanging by a thread, she ripped open the letter and read its contents.

Greene spent much of his time in the intensive care unit. He fought off two near-fatal bouts of pneumonia, and a failed initial attempt to rebuild his skull that nearly killed him. “Fortunately I wasn’t cognizant at that time,” he says, “or I would have freaked out.” Lepore communicated with him initially through a code of eye blinks. She was spelled off by her family, and Greene’s parents, Elizabeth and Richard Greene, a retired RCMP officer, who shuttled back and forth from their home in Nova Scotia.

Lepore, frustrated by “an extreme amount of doubt” from the medical establishment about Greene’s prognosis, turned to alternative medicine. She’s always believed in “the power of intention,” that visualizing a result can often make it happen. She told a friend: “We’ve got to do something; we don’t have a hope in hell here.” The friend told her about a Vancouver-area distance healer, a young man who guards his real surname but calls himself Adam Dreamhealer. They went to his website, which includes advertisements for his books and workshops, and testimonials, including that of rocker Ronnie Hawkins, who credits Adam with helping him beat a terminal diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in 2003. Lepore wrote Adam an email, the subject line: “Canadian soldier injured in axe attack needs your help.”

Adam, during an initial visit, saw in an unresponsive Greene “a white light. I don’t know, I guess I could describe it as your connection to source, or God,” says Lepore. “He could see that connections were there, there was still brain activity.” His sessions, mostly done from afar, involve directing his energy. As he claims on his website, “with a focused intention to heal, and the power of energy, we all have the ability to heal ourselves.”

Adam conducted a series of “distant energy” treatments, he told Maclean’s. Lepore, who was with Greene in the intensive care unit, says “things seemed to be going on at the exact time of Adam’s treatments, like eyes opening and closing, body movements, eyes moving.” He performed a second treatment after doctors warned they might have to remove one of Greene’s lungs. “The following day doctors then decided they didn’t have to remove a lung,” Adam says. “I continued with occasional treatments and told Debbie that improvements would continue, but slowly.” Lepore credits Adam with a role in Greene’s early path to recovery.

The couple has since employed many alternative therapies to complement medical care and established rehabilitation techniques. Among them: acupuncture, and reducing stress by manipulating the body’s energy through reiki and craniosacral therapy. “The philosophy is when you go through a trauma like that it gets trapped in your body,” she explains. “They have training to work with the fascia of the body to release those energy blockages.”

Such techniques, she knows, don’t sit well with the medical establishment. She kept doctors on “a need-to-know basis,” she says. “What’s the expression—act now, ask for forgiveness later?” Adds Greene: “Forgiveness is easier to get than permission.”

The medical establishment itself has gone through a major rethink about the brain, and its powers of adaptability and recovery. Dr. Shaun Gray, department chief of the rehabilitation centre in Ponoka where Greene spent 14 months, puts it this way: “We used to think of the brain as an organ that didn’t really heal. The presumption was always if part of the brain was damaged that those neurons didn’t regrow. It was like plucking a chip out of your computer—the functions of that chip were now gone and that was all there was to it,” he says. While he wouldn’t comment on Greene’s specific case, he says the evidence now shows that with proper rehabilitation, and especially with a motivated, high-functioning individual, the brain can regenerate and rewire itself. “So, when a part that is responsible for a particular function is damaged, that capacity can be shifted to other parts of the brain.”

Greene insists that during his rehab in Ponoka he could sense his brain was healing and compensating. “I’ve even felt it when I was studying Spanish online,” he says. “I felt the neurons growing in my brain. It felt like a caterpillar crawling across the top of my skull.” The actual limits of a brain’s ability to recover are among the great unanswered questions, Gray says. “There are neuroscientists who suggest that we don’t have the brain capacity to understand our own brains.”

There is a part of Peace Warrior, early in his rehabilitation in Ponoka, where Ridout asks Greene what he dreams about. Afghanistan, the village meeting, and his assailant, he replies. “We are friends.” The answer stunned Ridout and the film crew. “It was very moving. It was very unexpected,” Ridout says. Asked today if he has forgiven his attacker, Greene stares out the window. “To move on I had to forgive him,” he says. “It was self-preservation.” Later he returns to the subject. “I was engaged with the elders. He saw me as a Canadian spokesman and I was his target. He didn’t know me. I didn’t know him. Nothing personal there.”

There are emotional as well as physical aspects to Greene’s healing. His sporadic bouts of depression, which only lifted this February, were compounded by post-traumatic stress, or what the military now calls “operational stress injury” (OSI). He could not watch anything about Afghanistan on television, nor could he handle the sight of military uniforms. He describes a visit by a contingent led by his commanding officer. “They wore uniforms because they thought I would be comfortable,” he says. “I was terrified.” He took anti-anxiety medication and worked with a psychologist at the centre, as well as a new OSI unit created under former chief of defence staff Gen. Rick Hillier.

Both Greene and Lepore say they’ve had exceptional support from the Canadian Forces. Last Christmas in Ponoka they were given a specially equipped van that was jointly paid for by the Department of National Defence and the Military Casualty Support Foundation (MCFS), a new charity for injured veterans started by Ontario-based military contractor IMT. The van was the charity’s first major donation, says Theresa Hacking, the founder and president of MCFS. “I was really happy we could do that,” she says, “it makes such a difference in their lives.”

Financing from DND and from a trust fund created by Greene’s legion of friends has helped convert their Nanaimo home into a rehab centre. Technicians created what is essentially an elevated railroad, a lift that starts above their bed and can carry Greene right into the bath. A second hoist can move him from his easy chair into a wheelchair. His latest project, in fact, is gaining the ability to use a standard arm-propelled wheelchair, something that would have been unthinkable even a few months ago.

Much of the credit goes to Lepore, his drill sergeant, who helped convert the family garage into a gymnasium where Greene begins each day. There are weights, and a series of rubber bands hanging from the ceiling. Two wooden poles—equipped for traction at one end with a pair of Grace’s rubber boots—are used to work his shoulders and arms, as is a bicycle-style hand crank. He wears for his workout the pair of military-issue black gloves he had in Afghanistan. Look closely and you notice the index finger on the right glove is cut away—his trigger finger.

That afternoon includes a tough session with occupational therapist Lila Mandziuk, assisted by Lepore and her stepfather, Bill Inglis. “This guy just doesn’t quit,” Inglis says in a quiet aside. “This lady,” he says of Lepore, “has said, ‘The word quit doesn’t exist in our household.’ ” Greene is straining with an eight-pound dumbbell, additional weights strapped on his wrists. How does this compare to basic training, he is asked. “Easier,” he grunts. Mandziuk’s hands go to her hips. “I’m not impressed with that statement,” she says. “After Christmas, the honeymoon is over.”

It was less than three years ago that Greene wrote his “last letter” to Lepore. It went something like this: “Mourn me and move on. Don’t shackle yourself to a dead man. I died performing a mission I was proud of.” It was just 2½ years ago that a doctor quietly advised Lepore to place Greene in a long-term care facility so he, and she, could get on with their lives. And it was a bleak day in Ponoka a year ago when he wondered aloud if he wasn’t supposed to be dead.

Capt. Greene has come to realize a few things since then, now that the black dog of depression has slunk away and his arms can reach for the future. He didn’t die, quite simply, because he was meant to live. And the soldier’s mate didn’t move on—and this he never doubted—because she isn’t one for running away.


The reawakening of Capt. Greene

  1. My wife and I just watched the documentary on Trevor Greene, and Debbie and their daughter Grace.

    What an inspiration they are. Trevor, for his determination and awsome example of true forgiveness, and his love for his family and people. Debbie’s undying love, faith, and belief in him is inspirational, and little Grace’s love for her father shows and means so much. Why don’t we hear more about them? I believe, as Trevor and his fiance Debbie do, that he will walk again.

    The surgeon that told him he will not walk, can not see beyond her scalpel and unfortunately doctors with that God-like attitude do more to harm a patients recovery than they realize. Why can’t they just say “There’s nothing I can do, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen if you want it to.” Why do they think they are God? To quote “Love and faith are really great medicine.”

    Trevor and Debbie, please set up a blog or website and keep us informed of your awsome love, faith, and determination. With that you will do the impossible, and we want to hear about it!

    God bless you all.

    Gavin and Liz Martin

  2. what an inspiring story, except it’s not a story, it’s reality. i have long believed that healing is a pie shaped thing, cut into many slices. each slice is a segment of that healing modum. allopathic medicne is only one slice, not the whole pie, and when we place faith and hope in that one piece to do many things that it is incapable of doing we either throw up our hands in sorrow, or we start searching, and that is the crux of the whole business. — do your homework..
    having been to a workshop in burnaby , i know how powerful, and totally focused is dreamhealer’s message. intention fostered by motivation both physical and spiritual uses parts of our brain and our aura to effect long term change. the whole concept would be considered sacriligious, and heretical by both medicne, and church not that long ago, but we as thinking humans on this planet now, are changing attitudes of both, very slowly, but thats how effective change works
    may your angels guide and guard you both, and know that the energy you put into your journey is given back many times over, and spills over into all those people that surround you lori

  3. A truly inspiring emotional story which has to be shared.

    Intention, the power of positive thinking, visualization, the power of prayer, meditation, touch, all of these things create energy which can create change.

    In Nursing I used all of the above, and have been told I have healing hands :)

    Thank you for supporting Captain Green’s story as an inspiration to all who are in need of empowerment.

  4. I just caught the tail end of the Trevor Greene story on TV , and thought that this was one brave soul who was saved by Gods Grace to do more than be a Peackeeper. By telling his story, he will show the world that there is more to the human body and to energy healing that we can ever imagine. It is time to learn all about this method of healing ,and Adam Dreamhealer is a young leader and pioneer in this field. Soon he will have the education to lean on and show the nay sayers that in fact Energy is the way of Nature and the World, The Universe.
    Finally, we are learning.

  5. This story – about the soldier and about the woman who refused to abandon him – hits home, and really is inspiring. When I got sick 15 years ago, I urged my husband to move on, but he refused. As difficult as this has been for our family, we’re ultimately stronger for it.

    I’m very pleased to see Adam (DreamHealer) get credit for the work he does. He does so much work quietly – and refuses to take credit or seek publicity. Instead of grandstanding and chasing glory, his goal is to teach people how to heal themselves. When I met Adam a couple of years ago, my daughter and I took his seminar on self-healing. I was impressed by his genuine compassion for every single person he encountered. Before I met him, my life was nearly unendurable. Today, although I wrestle with chronic pain and other demons, I’m happy to wake up each morning.

    I’ve always had excellent doctors, but I’ve survived only because of personal intention. My motto these days: “My body’s not the boss of me.”

  6. This is an excellent example of the two kinds of medicine. The allopathic has the technology for crisis intervention and emergency care. But for true healing, you need alternative medicine. Yet with the way big Pharma acts, they want all alternative approaches squashed. We need to be vigilantes on this issue and urge our political representatives to protect our basic rights to access all kinds of medicine.

    • Bonnie,

      I agree with you about the challenges of big pharma and our current state of affairs. My father just passed from pancreatic cancer and I created this site so people can share their stories of fight and victory over cancer. Mycancure because everyone will ultimately choose a different path from nature whatever that is, but we need a spot whereby people in a community can come share and gain strength.

      My father was a proud strong man with a brilliant mind as a chemist. To see him in pain and succumb to big pharma and see just how poor his care was disgusted me to no end. After the oncologist in Hamilton told him he has two weeks with no hope of them doing anything except for pain management, his very next breath was lets get you in for chemo. My brother ex military went sergeant on their asses and terrified them with his commanding presence and voice that they would even suggest that.

      Until we prevent, and really understand what cancer is through all the research by Rife, Caisse and others in one place that everyone can make decisions and choose even perhaps both paths its a deadly fight for most.

      Thank God for the internet in this matter and I hope they dont get their way with that either.

      Russ Field

      Join for free!

  7. I am so happy to hear that Mr. Greene is improving. I am sorry I missed the program. Thank you for this report — I had often wondered how (or whether) he was recovering.

    I credit the long-distance healer-by-thinking-nice-thoughts-for-a-fee not one bit. Trevor Greene is healing thanks to his own inner strength and the commitment from his friends and family, aided by modern medicine that supported him long enough to achieve this recovery, and for all that I am grateful.

    Gracias, Senor Greene!

  8. I watched the show on tv the other day. It’s wierd as I immediately thought of Adam and I thought his helpful materials would certainly be beneficial. I am an older person and use his techniques every day in deaing wigth my many ailments and they work,

  9. Wow. I am truly amazed and inspired. It’s stories and accounts like these that make us stop and think and appreciate life’s many intricacies. It made me think about relationships and the strength that can come from those that love and support us; the human brain and what we are truly capable of; the healing energy that is all around us but that we have yet to fully understand or even utilize. Congratulations to them for everything and for not giving up. May we all have the strength and willpower to believe and hope beyond what others would tell us is unthinkable and impossible.

  10. I believe in the faith and love and music that carries His Infinite Grace to all who call.
    Adam, you are a systems buster,
    full of lustre
    I am a poet
    and an author and minister of God’s Living word Ministries.
    The only thing I disagree with in your book, Adam, is the Big Bang,
    because it is a big song, this universe, and quantum physics and mathematical theory is still catching
    up with the reality that we are co-creators!
    Believe in yourself!
    That is the key to life!
    We all have the keys, but we don’t even see the door.
    Adam and Trevor
    Bless you and keep you whole and holy!
    The name of god is GOOD!
    Let us begin to see the truth of universal and unconditional love for all beings,
    and the inner truth of our miraculous nature.
    Contact me at my web site or read some of my work and see how much we are all on the same page!
    WE LOVE YOU!!!!

  11. Thank you so much for the beautifully written article about these amazing and wonderful people. The tears have just poured out of me and I am so touched by them, their journey and their dedication. Many blessings for continued discovery and recovery.

  12. I agree with Andi: we are co-creators. I just listened to Stuart Koffman on CBC discussing his book “Reinventing the Sacred: A New Vision of Science, Religion and ….” and he says essentially the same thing. We are all connected and co-creating. I too have been to Adam’s meetings and he is in touch with the essence of who we are. I am very happy to hear that Mr. Greene is recovering. I will include him in my Treatments.

    Marguerite Alfred

  13. While the above “treatments” will be as effective as piercing dolls with pins, I am sure the positive intent is appreciated.

  14. Very pleased to see all the POSITIVE comments posted here. Good intentions can only help.

  15. Our family has a similar story. Almost 14 years ago my mother was sent home from the hospital in a vegetative state. The doctors gave us no hope. We chose not to give up. With more medical attention and complementary tharapies similar to what Capt. Greene used she is living at home with a caregiver and has a reasonable quality of life. We still use various healing modalities. We tried to get Adams help a few years back but he was unable to help because of time constaints. Maybe when he finishes his studies he will be able to see more people one on one. It would be interesting to see if his treatments would work on someone who has had an injury for sometime. If they did, it would bring hope to a lot of people who have been told that improvement after a brain injury stops after a year or so.
    I encourage Mr Greene to keep up the good work. The journey will be long but if continued many interesting experiences will manifest. Greene and Lepore you are both an inspiration.

  16. There is one tough dude. I used to row on the same team as Trevor many years ago, and I still remember his unstoppably positive attitude, and of course his pain tolerance.

    Congrats Trevor for staying strong and not giving up!



  18. A truly inspiring story. As someone struggling with ALS this inspires me NOT to give up !!! Thank you

    • Karl, I know an obstretric/gynecologist surgeon who was diagnosed in Canada with ALS. He lost the use of his right arm/hand fairly quickly. He went to the Mayo Clinic and was discovered to have Lyme disease, from which he is recovering now. Seems many neuro and other syndromes are falsely diagnosed as ALS, MS, fibromyalgia, arthritis, etc. when they are caused from Lyme disease. The tests for Lyme in Canada are only 10% accurate.
      Good luck!

      • Thank you so much Luella,

        I DID have a lyme test here and it came back negative. I would like to further explore my options. Would you kindly give my email address to the surgeon that you know. If he would be willing to give me more information, that would be greatly appreciated.

    • I too have recently been diagnosed with ALS. I have heard of this being misdiagnosed as lyme disease too! Did you know that different countries diagnose lyme disease in different ways? I am currently investigating this information. where are you from?


  19. Trevor:
    Greetings from Japan. I can’t even begin to understand what you’ve been through since the last time I saw you at Sloan’s New Year party, but you always seemed to want to do what was right and work for the underdog. As my compatriots over here would say — Ganbatte!

  20. Thank you all very much for your kind words and thoughts and prayers. I only just found this blog recently that is why it has taken so long to post on it. Debbie, Grace and I are firmly "home". We are enjoying life together. I'm doing very well in my rehab. My goal is still to walk down the aisle at our wedding next year.

    Thank you again,

    Trevor & family

  21. I would like to contact Trevor regarding our son Michael who sustained a TBI.

    Thank you,

    Bob Coss

  22. “I looked across the room,” the infantryman says, “and she captured me.” That says it all.

    I love it.

  23. What an amazing story of courage, resilience, love, respect, forgiveness and an IMMENSE amount of hard work. My son is recovering from a TBI and I am going to print out this article to share with him. The brain is amazing and learning about its neuroplasticity is encouraging.God bless this family and extended caregivers and may he make a full recovery.

    Tina Sullivan