Atlanta, GA,
10:05 AM

A Veteran and Purple Heart Recipient Builds a New Life

Thanks to support from Shepherd Center, Sgt. Ian Prescott leads a fulfilling second act on the home front.

It was December 4, 2018, in western Afghanistan’s Farah Province. An hour had passed since heavy Taliban fire had pinned down the lead element of Sergeant First Class Ian Prescott's combat patrol. Ever since, Ian had been leading his team of fellow Green Berets and Afghan Special Operations Forces in a flanking maneuver — trying to work their way around the enemy’s forces and relieve the pressure on their comrades.

Their progress was slow. Too slow, for Ian’s liking.

“Every turn we took, we were in some kind of fight trying to get there,” he recalls. “It was gunfire, mortar fire, a small grenade attack. We just weren’t making the time we needed to be making.”

Anxious to get a better read on where the next ambush might be coming from, Ian climbed to the roof of a nearby building. “Unfortunately,” Ian deadpans, “it was coming from the next roof over.”

An AK-47 round struck him near the left armpit, tearing through his left kidney, spleen, left lung, diaphragm, pancreas and intestines, before splintering his L-1 and L-2 vertebrae.

As he waited to be evacuated, Ian — always even-keeled and prone to levity – had two thoughts. The first: “My wife is going to be really mad if I don’t come home.” The second thought came as he realized he couldn’t feel his legs: “Well, I guess it’s time to try life paralyzed now.”

Coming home

After multiple surgeries at U.S. Army bases in Afghanistan, Germany and at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, the Army had a question: Where do you want to go next for spinal cord injury rehabilitation?

It was weird having the choice,” he says. “After nearly 15 years in uniform, you get used to being told where to go.”

Ian and his wife Carrie went deep into research mode.

We chose Shepherd Center because we saw how well they involve families in the journey,” Ian says. “The on-campus housing for family members is huge. They also asked us questions about what we wanted our future to look like – questions I hadn’t even considered.”

Ian was scheduled to spend about three months as an inpatient in the Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program at Shepherd Center, learning to adjust to life with a spinal cord injury. He ended up only needing about six weeks.

Sandy Alexander was my physical therapist, and I absolutely loved him,” Ian says. “He pushed me harder and harder every day, and that really got me wanting to go further and further. It became a point-of-pride thing. If Sandy and the team could come up with a challenge for me, I had to accomplish it. I’m used to challenges. I loved that motivation.”

It wasn’t long before he was doing dips on the bars with his wheelchair attached to him,” says his staff physiatrist, Anna Choo Elmers, M.D., J.D. “I’m not sure he needed too much of a push. He went at his rehab relentlessly. He’s one of the nicest, most unassuming guys, and he had the most phenomenal attitude.”

The appreciation is mutual.

The whole experience was spectacular, and I don’t think there’s a better substitute for it out there,” he says. “Dr. Elmers’ involvement was one of the most outstanding things. She made sure to see me pretty much every day for something. Her commitment to her patients is mind-blowing.”

One of Ian’s highlights during his stay came courtesy of some behind-the-scenes work by Dr. Elmers. About three months after his injury, Ian’s team returned to the States – and soon reunited with Ian over a special dinner at Shepherd Center.

We wouldn’t have traded that for anything,” Ian says. “We’d been doing teleconferences, but to see them in person again was awesome. And it was great for my wife and mom to get to see the faces behind all the stories I’d been telling.”

One of his favorite stories to share: While a fellow soldier was patching up his wounds and Ian was waiting to be evacuated from the firefight in Farah, another Green Beret actually retrieved the round of ammunition that ripped through Ian.

“Funny enough, at the time he tried to offer it to me as a souvenir,” Ian says with a laugh. “I told him I was a little busy at the moment, but if he would do me the favor, he could hold onto it for me.”

His buddy delivered. Today, the round sits in the Prescott living room — a reminder of how fortunate Ian is to be here today.

A second act

Ian’s had many more stories to collect since returning home to Crestview, Florida. There have been jet-skiing and parasailing beach vacations thanks to Operation Healing Forces. A ski trip to Montana through Operation Second Chance, an organization committed to serving wounded, injured and ill veterans. And plenty of hunting for the avid outdoorsman. 

Several of Ian’s sporting activities have been possible thanks to Jeep Sullivan’s Wounded Warrior Outdoor Adventures – and Ian has returned the favor. He often volunteers at events and gives motivational speeches at the nonprofit’s fundraisers.

Ian also has a job as a paralegal, working for an attorney in Texas – a Semper Fi Mom whose son was killed in combat. Ian can do the work from home, which gives him more time with Carrie and their four kids – Paiten (16), Ryan (14), Aiden (12) and Jilliann (10).

I always tried to stay connected to them while I was deployed,” Ian says, “but it’s great to be here for the moments. That’s the silver lining in all of this. I can actually go to the kids’ ceremonies and events now, instead of just hearing about them.”

Recently, his family got to witness a special moment for him, too.

During his decorated career in uniform, Ian – who served three tours in Afghanistan and two in Iraq – received a host of medals and commendations. Most recently, on January 9, 2020, at a Valor Awards ceremony attended by his entire battalion, Ian was awarded two of the most distinguished honors any service member can receive: the Bronze Star with Valor and the Purple Heart for sacrifice in service to his country.

I told everyone that since I stood for every other honor I’ve received in the military, there was no reason to break with tradition,” Ian says. “With the help of my team, and straight leg braces, I stood for both my Bronze Star with Valor and my Purple Heart.”

His family stood, too — and cheered.


Written by Phillip Jordan

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.