No regrets part 4: Getting through a hellacious fire
Maj. (Dr.) Jeffrey Woolford, Air Force Institute of Technology student, has a moment of reflection upon departure to the flightline Jan. 17, 2013, at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. Woolford was taking his final flight as an A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot. He is now studying public health at Johns Hopkins University through AFIT. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)
by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard
42nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
2/7/2014 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Editor's note: This part four of a six part series about the obstacles U.S. Air Force Maj. Jeffrey and his wife Nicole faced, and how the Air Force helped him persevere to his highest potential.
After years of trying to have a child, they were elated to learn that Nicole was pregnant with twins: a son, Wyatt, and a daughter, Rowan.
"Every time she would say I can feel the twins moving, she would use both hands," he said. "After December, she started saying, 'oh, I'm feeling movement,' and only put her hand on one side -- it made me nervous."
His nerves unfortunately foretold the worst.
After a 30-hour workday, Woolford met his wife at an ultrasound appointment a state-away to get a better anatomical survey of their daughter Rowan's face. The technician took the ultrasound of Rowan, and that's when Woolford noticed there was no heartbeat. The technician instantly moved the ultrasound to the other side. He saw Wyatt's heart beating.
Neither the technician nor Woolford could tell Nicole. Legally, only her doctor could.
Nicole walked out of the room.
Woolford shut the door and looked to the technician.
"I know you can't say anything," he said to the technician. "But she's dead, isn't she?"
The technician nodded in the affirmative, confirming Woolford's worst fears.
"I know ... I could see it myself, but I just wanted to confirm that," Woolford said.
He asked the technician for a moment alone with his wife.
Nicole walked back into the room and mentioned that today's visit was strange -- they'd never checked for any of these things before.
Woolford's expression dropped, and he couldn't contain it anymore, "Nicole, we don't have a daughter anymore."
Nicole's face flushed and she began to cry. The doctor came in to talk to her, but she was in such shock that she couldn't even process the words. All she remembered was what her husband told her- that their daughter was gone.
Because the pregnancy was far enough along, Rowan was delivered the same day Wyatt was born, April 25, 2007.
"We each held her and got to see her, and she's buried at Arlington now," Woolford said. "The worst part was we had to go home. I had to get someone to get Nicole out of the house because we already had two cribs and girls clothes. I had to get that out of the house so Nicole could get home and just be ready for Wyatt."
When she returned home, she found a pregnant picture of herself and told her husband how strange it is to look at it now that Rowan's gone. He encouraged her not to think of it like that.
"This is the moment you got to hold her before she was gone," he reminded his wife.
Even with some of the reminders gone and their changed perspective of that photo, Woolford said, "It was a hellacious fire. Facing the day became a challenge for her and me. Fortunately, we didn't turn on each other. We became closer than we had ever been before.
Being there in that moment with her, and it may be doing nothing, not even speaking--it's just being in that moment. I can't put terms on it. I can't define it, but I think that's what we learned going through that common fire. It was so terrible there was no other way out of it. We were either going to tear each other apart or we were just going to survive it, and that's what we did."
But Rowan wasn't the only one who left that year. The fire raged on.
"My grandfather died," remembers Woolford sadly. "I stood there until the last piece of dirt was on his grave. I was destroyed."
Woolford had a very close relationship with his grandfather. He had always looked to his grandfather as a father figure. They would spend a lot of time together some of his best memories were crabbing together and watching television shows to include specials that featured space launches. He was an admirable man, one who Woolford always looked up to.
When his grandfather's funeral service was over, he and Nicole went to his grandfather's coffin in the emptied church. He turned to Nicole and said, "The light has gone out of my life and it will never go back on."
Shortly after his grandfather's death, his godmother also died. Then his brother in-law was shot in duty as a Baltimore County Police Officer and put in a shock-trauma center.
He was done. "Life had given me more than I could handle," he said.
He walked into his medical school's administration office and said, "I quit. I'll get my wings back. My life will go on, and this whole prospect of medicine is over."
"He just shut down," remembers Nicole.