Remembering Capt. Trevor Greene’s courageous battle back from Afghan ax attack

·National Affairs Contributor

Hundreds of Canadian soldiers have returned from Afghanistan badly wounded, facing physical and psychological challenges that will probably last a lifetime.

But perhaps none of those stories is as remarkable as that of Capt. Trevor Greene, who has not only come back from what should have been a fatal ax attack that split his skull, but plans to launch a charity to help the Afghan people.

It was March 4, 2006. Greene, an officer with the Canadian Forces' civil-military co-operation unit, was meeting with village elders north of Kandahar. He had taken off his helmet as a mark of respect at this peaceful encounter.

From behind the group, a 16-year-old boy charged from the crowd. Yelling "Allahu Akbar," he drove an ax into Greene's skull. The attacker was cut down immediately by other Canadian soldiers but Greene appeared to be mortally wounded, with a deep gash in his brain. Troops came under fire as he was flown out by helicopter.

He was not expected to survive the flight to hospital in Kandahar. When he did, doctors warned his wife Debbie that he would likely be permanently comatose.

But Greene, a former journalist and author who joined the navy at age 30 before becoming an army reservist, would defy the experts. After being stabilized by the trauma team at Kandahar, he was transferred to a U.S. military hospital in Germany. There, a team of neurosurgeons determined the extent of his brain damage before he was moved to Canada.

A few weeks after the attack, Greene woke up in a Vancouver hospital and weakly whispered "hi," to Debbie.

It was not a steady climb back, though. In an interview with the Toronto Star, Greene said he was plunged into depression when he first learned how he was injured.

"I thought I was just taking a rest before going back to Afghanistan. I had down days after that."

There were physical setbacks, too. A failed cranioplasty to restore the top of his skull, pneumonia, atrophy of his muscles. Doctors were pessimistic.

His recovery really began when he went to the Halvar Jonson Centre for Brain Injury in the small town of Ponoka, Alta. The road was gruelling, often so frustrating that Greene admits lashing out at his wife and young daughter, Grace.

But years of therapy, including visualization and repetition to help remap his brain to control simple movements, has given him some ability to use his arms. Now living in Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island, Greene and his wife are working on his goal of walking again.

The Greenes received a $100,000 bequest from the estate of James Motherwell, a Vancouver man they'd never met. The plan is to use it as seed money for a charity aimed at educating Afghan girls.

Greene, who before joining the military wrote a book about Vancouver's troubled Downtown Eastside neighbourhood, has co-written a book with his wife about his recovery. It is scheduled for publication next March and some of the proceeds will also go towards the Greenes' Afghan charity.