President Obama pops in to visit wounded local soldier

Injured local soldier Spc. Dane DeGrace got a special surprise in his hospital room Tuesday afternoon: a visit from President Barack Obama.

DeGrace’s mother, Val DeGrace, said the president was in her son’s hospital room for three to five minutes.

“He was very personable and straightforward,” Val told the Enterprise in an email.

Val described the visit to the Enterprise in the email:

Val, Dane’s dad Nick and his mother were all in the room visiting Dane when Obama came knocking. First, Secret Service agents swept the area of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center where Dane is recovering. Then Obama knocked on the door, and when the family invited him in, he said, “Hi, Dane, how are you?”

Val said Obama walked up to the bed, shook Dane’s hand and said he heard Dane was one of the lucky ones and he was glad he is doing well. He thanked Dane for his service and said he heard Dane is working hard at recovering and he knows the soldier will be out soon.

Dane said he appreciated it and said his recovery is going well.

Obama then introduced himself to Nick and shook his hand. He introduced himself to Val, who put her hand out to shake, but Obama said, “No, Mom, you get a hug. It’s not easy seeing your son go through this,” then he hugged her. He also hugged Nick’s mother.

They all took a group photo, which Val said the president’s office will send in six weeks, and Obama asked Val where the family is from.

Obama told Dane that if he needs anything, now or when he’s released from the hospital, to get in touch with his official liaison, and she will pass the information on to the president. He had the liaison give the family a business card, and he gave Dane his official coin.

“It was really a blur,” Val wrote. “But that’s the few things I remember. He has a real presence, but was friendly, and made us all feel at ease.”

Dane, who graduated from Saranac Lake High School in 2006 and whose family now resides in Tupper Lake, is at Walter Reed recovering from severe injuries after an improvised explosive device blew up next to him in mid May in Afghanistan. He is an explosive ordnance disposal technician in the Army, a job that means he seeks out and tries to disarm bombs. He had been serving in Afghanistan since Nov. 1, 2012.

Val told the Enterprise Dane is making progress every day.

“He has an amazing positive spirit, and he wants to get out of the hospital as soon as he can so he can meet his company in Georgia when they come back from Afghanistan,” she said.

He has three surgeries scheduled in the next week-and-a-half, the most recent in a string of operations he’s had since the injury.

Dane has a wheelchair to get around in, but he insists he won’t need it long, Val said. He used a cane Tuesday to get himself up and walk to the bathroom on his own.

Val said the family hopes Dane will be out of the hospital and move on to outpatient rehabilitation in another two or three weeks.