Moving Forward From The Pain And Finding A New Family
Elliot was born and raised in North Philadelphia by his great aunt and uncle. His uncle, also a former Marine, served in the Vietnam war.
Elliot signed up for the military when he turned 17, during his senior year in high school and left for boot camp right after graduation. “College wasn’t an option for me and I wanted to get away from Philly—many of my friends in Philly were either getting arrested or being killed!” At 17, Ruiz was the youngest Marine in his division. After bootcamp and infantry school, he was shipped off to Iraq in January 2003 spending his 18th birthday on ship.
In April 2003, during the 7 POW rescue mission, Ruiz was injured when an Iraqi drove a car through barbed wire at a checkpoint. The wire broke, wrapped around his leg and tore his leg apart—opening it to the bone and dragging him several yards.
Ruiz suffered severe nerve damage requiring a total of 14 surgeries to attempt to repair some of the damage. “The doctor handed me a cane and said I would probably use it for the rest of my life.” At one point, a neuro-stimulator was implanted in his lower back with the battery implanted on his hip. “It worked for a while, but the wire leads in my spine kept moving and required more surgeries. I finally just asked them to remove the stimulator.”
During his recovery, Ruiz was prescribed pain medication to help alleviate some of his pain. “I needed drugs for the pain, but by 2005 they were ruining my mind and body. I stopped all the drugs cold turkey. I dealt with the pain and moved forward with my life—it could always be worse.”
Elliot was medically retired from the Marine Corps with a Purple Heart in 2005. He decided to move to Los Angeles instead of returning home to Philadelphia. “I had no family, no friends, and no money. I had my car and I met someone at one of my temporary jobs and we became roommates.”
For several years Ruiz worked as a military technical advisor for the movie and TV industry. “I advised on military tactics for movies, television, commercials, and sometimes played law enforcement. It was a temporary way to pay my bills and not have to go back to Philly. I didn’t have a career plan at that time.”
In 2008, Elliot took a job with a large healthcare company assisting with moving duties. “I was hired to move boxes, but they kept asking me to do more and more—then they offered me a full-time job as a Mail Room Representative.” His position at the company grew and after 10 years he is now a Senior Facilities Manager. He has also earned a BA in Business Management.
“By 2015 the VA had done everything possible for me and my rehabilitation. I needed more help physically—I also missed the camaraderie I had in the Marines. I asked myself: ‘What’s the next thing or goal to drive me?’” A friend who was working as a trainer at Unbreakable Performance Center told Elliot about MVP, a new program for vets.
“They created a modified workout for me and I became part of a new team. MVP gave me another family. I still go to the weekly meetings and it’s nice to have a place with the support to speak my mind and share my emotions.”