At spa day, partners of wounded soldiers get some TLC for themselves

The Yellow Ribbon Fund takes a group of caretakers out to a spa day. These women are helping their loved ones recover at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 22, 2011; 8:30 PM

Already Tuesday morning, Angelina Gasca's delicate hands had scraped the ice off the windshield of her husband's car and hoisted his wheelchair into the vehicle, so he wouldn't have to stand on his artificial legs all day.

She had fed and dressed their two boys, buckled them into her car with the "Marine Wife" license-plate frame, scraped the ice off her own windshield and driven off to day care.

Now, with her banged-up nail polish and wedding and engagement rings removed, her pale hands rested like tired athletes on a white towel as nail technician Svetlana Nemykina massaged her fingers with cuticle oil.

"My mind is just blank," Gasca said.

This was precisely the idea.

Gasca, 23, of El Paso, was one of nine women caring for injured soldiers and Marines from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center, who got a chance Tuesday to get some tender care for themselves.

The group - mainly wives and one mother - was treated to free facials, manicures and pedicures, courtesy of the Bethesda-based Yellow Ribbon Fund, which supports families of injured service members.

It seemed like such a simple thing: an hour or so by themselves, while their hands or feet were massaged and their faces bathed in warm steam and fragrant oils. But for that hour, at the Roxsan Day Spa in the White Flint Mall, some of the stress of upended lives, injured loved ones and often monotonous days was left behind.

"We do a lot of times get overlooked," said Ashley Bowers, 24, from Yorktown, Va., who is living with her Marine husband, Christopher, 26, in Silver Spring.

He was injured in 2008 when he jumped off his armored vehicle in Iraq and landed on his foot at a bad angle, dislocating his left ankle and fracturing the heel. The injury never healed properly, and last April his lower leg had to be amputated.

People "see your husband, he's missing a foot, [and they'll say,] 'Thank you for your service,' '' Ashley Bowers said in an interview last week.

"I've kind of been there from day one, too," she said. "I haven't had to personally deal with the amputation . . . haven't had to deal with the pain. But you go through a different kind of pain . . . You go through emotional. You go through mental. It's very exhausting."

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